The Eight Best Bodyweight Exercises for Shoulders

The Eight Best Bodyweight Exercises for Shoulders

Photos from only a generation ago show people who looked taller. They walked with more purpose and swagger. That’s no optical illusion. These days, people are more hunched over and thus shorter from our sedentary lifestyles of sitting combined with being slouched over smartphones has produced a stooped population with rounded shoulders.

That’s not just unattractive. It’s setting us up for a chain of ailments, including back pain and hip tightness. According to the Mayo Clinic, there’s a direct link between poor posture and shoulder pain. Our shoulders have shut off, which is a shame since they’re designed to work hard. There’s a reason we call it shouldering a burden.

That’s why any shoulder workout should include bodyweight exercises that both strengthen the shoulders but also reset posture to avoid shoulder injuries while training and long-term ailments.

Here are eight of the best bodyweight exercises for legs.You can use these as part of a regular workout or as a standalone circuit. If you do a circuit, do two sets of 10.

Reverse Hand Clasp

What it does: This is a good test of your shoulder mobility.

How to do it: Stand with one hand behind your neck and your elbow pointing up. Use your other hand – or your other hand gently pulling a rope or towel held on both ends – to pull your elbow down. You’ll likely find this easier on your dominant side (i.e. right-handed people pointing the left elbow up). Unlike a lot of stretches, you can make fairly quick progress on this one if done daily, to the point where you can forego the towel or rope and gradually grasp hands on both sides.

How many? 2 sets of 10-second holds on each side.

Hand Walks

What it does: Though this is a full-body move that lengthens your hamstrings and calves while opening up your ankles and lower back, it also stabilizing the shoulders,

How to do it: Stand with legs straight and hands on the floor. Walk your hands out. Keeping legs straight, walk your feet back to your hands using short steps from your ankles.

How many? 2 sets of 10 reps with 30 seconds rest between sets.

Bent Over Ys

What it does: This move not only strengthens the back and shoulders, it counteracts the effects of sitting by pulling your shoulders back and down where they belong.

How to do it: Stand bent over at the waist with your back flat and your chest up. Squeeze your shoulder blades back and down and lift your arms above your head to form a Y. Keep your thumbs up and initiate the movement with your shoulder blades, not your arms.

How many? 2 sets of 10 reps with 30 seconds rest between sets.

Bent Over Ls

What it does: Like the Bent Over Ys, this move strengthens the back and shoulders by pulling your shoulders back and down where they belong.

How to do it: Stand bent over at the waist with your back flat and your chest up. Squeeze your shoulder blades back and down, lifting your elbows to the ceiling as they bend to 90 degrees, and rotate your hands to the ceiling, palms down. Return to the starting position and continue for the prescribed number of reps.

How many? 2 sets of 10 reps with 30 seconds rest between sets.

Side Plank

What it does: Your shoulder is the underrated engine of this movement – and so many movements in life.

How to do it: Start on your left side with your left forearm on the ground and your elbow under your shoulder. Push up off your elbow, creating a straight line from ankle to shoulder. Your hips should be off the ground and only the side of your bottom foot and your elbow should be on the ground. Hold for 30 seconds or do 10 reps of 3 seconds each.

How many? 2 sets of either of the above options.

Acceleration wall drill/holding

What it does: This promotes core stability through the shoulders, hips, and torso.

How to do it: Stand leaning forward with your hands on a wall. Your ears, shoulders, knees, and ankles should be in a straight line. Lift one knee and foot toward the wall. The foot should be directly under the thigh with toes dorsiflexed (pulled toward your shin).

How many? 2 sets of 30 seconds per side with 30 seconds in between sets.

Pushups – Feet Elevated

What it does: This version of the pushup places more emphasis on the shoulder, thus packing on more muscle.

How to do it: Assume a pushup position with your feet on a stair, bench, or Swiss ball. (This being a bodyweight routine, let’s stick with natural equipment such as a staircase or park bench.) Lower while inhaling until your chest nearly touches the floor. Exhale as you push back up.

How many? 2 sets of 10 with 30 seconds in between sets.

Reach, Roll, and Lift

What it does: A variation on yoga’s familiar child’s pose, this stretches your shoulders and upper back.

How to do it: Sitting on your heels, extend your arms and the back of your hands on a foam roller. Roll the foam forward while keeping your hips back, dropping your chest toward the ground. Lift and hold the stretch for 2 seconds. Return to starting position.

How many? 2 sets of 10 reps


Pete Williams is a NASM-CPT and the author or co-author of several fitness books, including Core Performance and Every Day is Game Day. His work has appeared in publications such as Men’s Health, Men’s Journal, and USA Today.