Having strong shoulders is not all about having big deltoid muscles. The shoulder joints are involved in a lot of calisthenics workouts. A good shoulder workout does not only focus on building bigger delts, but also ensures that you build strength evenly, increase mobility, and stay away from injuries.
Whether you’re a beginner or an advanced athlete, you should develop your shoulders as it will enable you to execute harder fitness skills such as the handstand, handstand push ups, and planche in the safest and most efficient way. According to the National Library of Medicine, strength training on the shoulder promotes the shoulder’s proprioception (increase body awareness), which develops the sensitivity of muscle spindles, therefore, greater neuromuscular control in the shoulder.
Here I will show you a comprehensive shoulder workout that will hit the three parts of your delts (anterior, posterior, and lateral deltoid), but also works on your rotator cuff which is in charge of your shoulder stabilization. Developing your rotator cuff will help supplement your shoulder training, improve longevity, and bolster your calisthenics progress.
The Anatomy of The Shoulders
To better understand what we’re dealing with, let’s take a look at the shoulder’s anatomy. Similar to the biceps with two heads and the triceps with three heads, the deltoid muscle is split into three parts: the anterior, lateral, and posterior heads, otherwise known as the front, middle and back shoulders. We want to target all three deltoid heads to give them a three-dimensional look.
The shoulder muscle joints are complex and can move in eight different ways. We will be focusing on the vital few that will derive the most results. This includes:
Shoulder joint movements
How To Target Different Shoulder Muscles
- Front shoulders. Any pushing and shoulder extension movement. For example, push ups and dips,
- Rear shoulders. Movements such as shoulder extension, the horizontal extension will work on the rear delts.
- Mid shoulders. Think of movements such as pike push ups where you’ll perform overhead presses, along with shoulder abduction, for instance, raising your arms up outward to your sides.
It is common and unintentional that people work on the anterior deltoid and neglect the lateral and posterior deltoids, which would create an unbalanced shoulder and undermine their aesthetics. The beauty of calisthenics is that you can make small adjustments to the body position angle to target different sections of the muscle. Let’s explore these movements.
Bodyweight Exercises For Shoulders
Pike Push Ups – Front Delts
This is the exercise that will give you the most bang for your buck when it comes to working out your shoulders, and it will engage all three heads in your shoulders. This exercise would replace the shoulder press in the gym which you’d normally see at the gym with a barbell, dumbbells, or machines.
- Get into a push-up position with your hands underneath your shoulders, legs extended, feet together, and core tight.
- Walk your hands back towards your feet into a pike position. Keep your legs straight. Be on your tiptoes to shift the weight onto your hands. Tuck your ears in between your shoulders.
- Inhale as you lower your forehead towards the ground by bending the elbows and lower down until your head touches the ground.
- Exhale to press back up to the starting position.
- Repeat this between 5-10 reps for 4 sets.
Once this becomes easy, you can progress by placing your feet on an elevated surface such as a chair to increase the load on your shoulders, this is called elevated pike push ups. Make sure your hips are stacked on top of your hands and execute the movement with the same movement path as you did with floor pike push ups.
Ring Face Pulls – Rear Delts & Rotator Cuff
The face pull will require either a pair of gymnastic rings, resistance bands, or TRX cables. Your body position will be similar to the Australian pull ups. This exercise is great not only for building muscle but also for an evenly and balanced trained shoulder with regard to strength and stabilization. This will target your middle, read delts, and rotator cuffs.
- Begin in an overhand grip with your arms extended and your body at an inclined angle. The steeper the slope is, the easier the exercise will become, and vice versa for the flatter the slope, the harder it will be to perform.
- Retract your scapulars (pull your shoulder blades together) and pull the rings towards your face, keeping your elbows lower than the height of your shoulders, while simultaneously externally rotating your shoulders so that your hands move back and up.
- Slowly return to the starting position by reversing the movement.
- Repeat this between 10-12 reps for 4 sets. You can vary the difficulty of this by changing the slope of your body.
Prone Arm Circles – Front, Lateral, & Rear Delts
Prone arm circles are great for developing your shoulder strength as well as your shoulder mobility and health. This exercise will promote scapular stabilization and will recruit all regions of your deltoids.
- Lie on your stomach with your head facing towards the ground and arms down by your sides. Do not arch your back.
- Raise your arms off the ground then move out to the side and over your head while you rotate from the internal to external shoulder rotation. Your palms should be facing upwards once your arms are extended overhead.
- Slowly return back to the starting position.
- Repeat this for 10 reps for 4 sets.
Elevated Plank To Pike Press – Front Delts
This exercise will build your shoulder strength while improving your core stability. The main region worked is the front delts, which is ideal if you are working towards the handstand, or conditioning your shoulders for the place.
- Place your feet on an elevated surface to be in a decline push up position. The higher the surface, the harder this exercise will be.
- Exhale as you push up into a pike by leading with your hips up and tucking your ears in between your shoulders while keeping your arms and feet straight. Keep your core and glutes tight.
- Inhale as you slowly return back to the starting position by bringing your hips down and leaning your shoulders forward.
- Repeat this between 8-10 reps for 4 sets.
Bodyweight Shoulder Exercises Plan
Let’s wrap this up with a sample workout plan that you can follow based on what I have covered. Feel free to make any changes to the workout by adding different exercises into your training.
Now that you know four amazing exercises to target the three heads of your shoulders and your rotator cuffs, you should be fully equipped to work toward building strong, mobile, and healthy shoulders. These exercises range from beginners to intermediate and advanced level movements.
If you’d like more personalization to your plan that would reflect on your current physical level and is optimized for maximal results: we offer online coaching to help you set realistic goals, avoid injuries, keep you accountable, and help you to see results sooner. Book a consultation with one of our coaches to get started!
I’m Pat Chadwick, a qualified Level 2 and Level 3 calisthenics coach and athlete from London, England, with six years of experience. I’ve competed in various UK competitions, including the Kalos Stenos Championships, where I achieved third place in the lightweight category. My passion is highlighting the beauty of calisthenics as an authentic and pure form of body expression. I believe that everyone has the potential to become a champion of their body and mind, and that calisthenics opens the door to personal empowerment.