If you’re wanting to strengthen shoulder muscles, calisthenics has some fantastic options, ranging from basic skill-building exercises to the seriously extreme.
Improving your shoulder strength can help you protect upper-body joints and muscles, including your rotator cuff. Your rotator cuff is made up of a group of smaller muscles and tendons that work to keep your arm in its socket. As a common area for sports injury, this is definitely one spot you want to protect. Another major muscle in your shoulder is your deltoid, which affects movement in your arm and chest – another one to keep a close eye on.
You should be training your shoulder muscles up to twice a week, which will leave a good amount of time for rest and recovery between workouts.
While you are trying out these exercises, remember that everyone’s body is different and has different limitations. And that’s okay! It’s perfectly fine to modify a workout to make sure it can be done safely. It is better to work up to a new exercise through modification than to get an injury doing something your body isn’t prepared for. As with any new workout, please consult a physician to make sure your workouts are safe for you and your body’s specific needs.
They might seem simple, but a good warm-up is essential to mastering your calisthenic routine. Warm-up exercises literally warm up your muscles, improving your flexibility so you can safely perform the tougher movements.
You should absolutely be including push-ups as part of your warm-up, especially if you are wanting to focus on your shoulders. Even some of these beginner exercises require you to be able to do a few push-ups correctly. If you aren’t there yet, no worries! Focus on building up your skill in that area before you move on.
We’ve laid out a few workout options for beginner, intermediate, and advanced athletes below.
While these exercises are for beginners, you can still adapt them to fit your current level of skill.
The Fighter’s 4
This move is also known as ‘YTWL’ because of the shape your body makes during each aspect of the exercise. While it’s designed to loosen up the shoulders of professional fighters, this shoulder circuit is excellent if you have poor posture or often sit hunched in front of a screen.
For each position in the circuit you should begin bent over at the waist with your legs shoulder width apart and your knees slightly bent.
Y – Begin with your arms close together next to your knees. Swing your arms out in front of you diagonally in a Y shape, then pull them back in to your knees. Repeat.
T – Begin with your arms straight down and palms close together by your knees. Swing arms out to either side, making a T shape. Your palms should be level with your eyes. Repeat.
W – Begin with your elbows stuck to your chest and forearms straight out, parallel to each other. Keeping your elbows bent, move your arms back in a W position, trying to connect your shoulder blades together. Repeat.
L – Begin with your arms parallel and pointed straight down. Pull your arms up until your elbows are at a 90 degree angle, with your hands still pointing towards the ground. Lift both your forearms forward until they are at the level of your elbows. Then, reverse the move until your arms are straight down and parallel again. Repeat.
Pro Tips: Go slowly through this circuit to give your muscles time to feel the tension.
Equipment: You can use basic hand weights to give your workout an edge.
Push Up Plank
Begin in a plank pose with your arms straight and your hands under your shoulders, shoulder-width apart. You should be on the balls of your feet with your body stiff and your back flat.
First, lower your right arm to a flat elbow, then lower your left arm to a flat elbow. Next, tighten your core as you bring your right arm back to a straight position, then your left arm back to a straight position.
Pro Tip: Make sure your head and hips don’t drop, and make sure your hips stay stiff – no swaying!
Pike Push Ups
Begin with your hands on the ground, shoulder width apart. Drop your head (so you’re looking at your legs) while keeping your back flat and your knees straight. You should be on the balls of your feet with your body in an A-frame position.
Then, bend both elbows to bring the top of your head to the floor. Keeping your head between your arms, push yourself back up. Repeat.
Equipment: To make this exercise more comfortable, you can place a folded hand towel on the floor where you plan to lower your head.
Decline Push Ups
Kneeling on the floor, put your hands shoulder width apart in front of you. Lift your feet onto an inclined surface, keeping your hands below your shoulders. With your back straight, lower your body and bend your elbows at a 45 degree angle. Your shoulders should be angled down and to the sides. Push back up again. Repeat.
Equipment: A Plyo Box can make a great inclined surface.
Plank To Down Dog
Begin in the yoga pose known as Down Dog, arms straight down in front of you with legs and arms both shoulder width apart. Your body should be in an A frame position with hips up high and knees bent slightly. Shift your hips down and forward until your back is straight and your body is in plank position. Slowly reverse the move back into the down dog position. Repeat.
Elevated Pike Push Ups
Put your hands on the ground, shoulder width (or slightly wider) apart. Lift your feet one at a time onto an elevated surface. Complete the same movements as a Pike Push Up by slowly lowering your head down to the ground, keeping your back straight. Push back up. Repeat.
Pro Tip: Keep your head as far forward as you can.
Equipment: You can use a Plyo Box or a standard weight bench for your elevated surface.
Begin in push-up position with your feet against a wall. Using the balls of your feet, slowly move your feet up the wall. Move your arms backwards as you go. Keep moving up the wall until your stomach touches its surface and your arms are extended into a handstand position (with your feet still touching the wall). Then, walk your feet and hands back down into the push-up position. Repeat.
Bridge Push Ups
Lay on your back, bringing your heels as close to your hips as you can. Keep your feet flat and your knees hip-width apart. Place your hands flat next to your ears, fingers pointing behind you.
Lift your hips up and, with your hands, push up just high enough to allow the crown of your head to touch the ground. Your eyes should be looking behind you and you should be keeping pressure on your hands to avoid straining your head or neck. Push up with your arms, then lower your arms until the top of your head touches the floor.
Equipment: You can also put yoga blocks underneath your hands, but keep them up against a wall or on a textured mat to prevent them from sliding.
Handstand Push Ups
Stand in a straight handstand. Carefully lower yourself, moving your shoulders forward. While your body must stay straight, you should be shifting out of your vertical position to a lower angle to stay balanced.
Your elbows should be pointing backwards towards your feet(pointing them out to the sides can cause joint injury). Push yourself back up again, back to a vertical position. Find your balance again in between repetitions
Pro Tip: Your body should not be arched during this exercise. If it is, try working on other shoulder exercises to strengthen your shoulder muscles.
Equipment: You can use parallettes to perform this workout.