Shoulder bodyweight exercises to build a stronger upper body

Build strength and power with these shoulder bodyweight exercises – no equipment required!

Man and woman both completing a plank exercise
(Image credit: Getty)

If you're working on building upper body strength, shoulder bodyweight exercises are probably on the top of your list. Whether you want to work solely on your shoulders or you want to incorporate some shoulder exercises into your cross-fit routine, we've got you covered. 

Check out our guide to the best cross training shoes if you're hoping to incorporate some shoulder exercises into a full-body workout. Shoulder training doesn't just give you sculpted arms — it also helps to improve posture, back pain and arm mobility. If you're planning on focusing on building shoulder strength, you don't necessarily need to invest in tons of expensive equipment. In fact, there are plenty of effective shoulder bodyweight exercises you can try at home or at the gym. 

Today, we'll be looking at the benefits of shoulder training, why using bodyweight is surprisingly effective and finally, how you can include shoulder bodyweight exercises into your routine today.

Do you need to work out the shoulders?

For many people, shoulder training is all about the aesthetic appeal of having sculpted, toned upper arms. However, in addition to creating that toned look, there are plenty of other reasons why building shoulder strength is important.

"Our shoulders are vital in so many of our everyday tasks and in our specific sports and activities," explains Helen O'Leary, physiotherapist, and Director of Complete Pilates.

For one thing, building shoulder strength can help your posture. Because we often spend hours a day hunched over a screen, many of us end up with weak upper back muscles leading to postural issues. Training your shoulders can help to counteract this problem. As one 2014 study published in Physical Treatments showed, just six weeks of shoulder training can make significant improvements in postural problems by helping to realign the shoulders.

If you experience regular pain or discomfort in your shoulders, shoulder bodyweight exercises may help. According to a study published by BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders, 20 weeks of high-intensity neck and shoulder training three times a week resulted in "significant reductions of neck and shoulder pain."

Another 2008 study from the Journal of Strength and Conditioning found that shoulder training that includes the rotator muscles can also help to protect you against injury by eliminating muscle imbalances around the joint. 

"Anatomically the shoulder is a shallow ball and socket joint which makes it inherently unstable, this causes it to be at higher risk of subluxation or dislocation than a deeper ball and socket joint such as the hip joint," O'Leary says.

How does bodyweight exercise build muscle?

But wait, you may be thinking – surely to build shoulder strength you'll need weights or at least a few of the best resistance bands. As it turns out, bodyweight training can be just as effective at building muscle, especially for beginners.

"To build strength we need to work with weights used in a variety of exercises to target all components of shoulder strength," says O'Leary. "However other activities can help to build shoulder strength such as body weight exercises like push ups. But, our bodies are amazing at adapting so you may find that to make further strength gains you will need to get into the gym and start a good programme of weights to challenge the muscles further to see more adaptation and progression with your strength."

Six shoulder bodyweight exercises

"Using your body weight can be just as challenging as using weights and shouldn’t be underestimated," Peter Maciver, personal trainer and founder of PMAC Fitness tells us. "If you don’t have any equipment, you can still get a serious burn and work up a sweat using your own body."

Here are the six shoulder bodyweight exercises Maciver uses in his own routine.

Peter Maciver
Peter Maciver

As an experienced personal trainer and respected fitness influencer, Peter is equipped with the knowledge to help people achieve their goals and help them get life-changing results. He has made it his mission to motivate and inspire people to live an active lifestyle. He uses his own bespoke nutrition plans and fitness plans to help helped men and women from all ages and sizes reach their fitness goals.

 1. Pike push up  

Peter Maciver performs a pike push up

(Image credit: Peter Maciver)
  • Start in a push up position and lift your hips in the air so that your body makes an upside-down V shape
  • Keep your hands and legs straight and bend your elbows until your head nearly touches the floor then press back up
  • Repeat this movement

 2. Plank up down  

Peter Maciver performs a plank up down

(Image credit: Peter Maciver)

 3. Plank to downward dog  

Peter Maciver performs a plank to downward dog

(Image credit: Peter Maciver)
  • Start in a high plank position and then lift your hips towards the ceiling into downward dog position
  • Hold this pose for a few seconds then lower your hips back to plank
  • Repeat

 4. Plank toe taps  

Peter Maciver performs lank to toe taps

(Image credit: Peter Maciver)
  • Start in a high plank position and reach your right hand back towards your leg foot then back to plank
  • Reach your left hand back towards your right foot then back to plank
  • Repeat this movement 

 5. Shoulder taps  

Peter Maciver performs shoulder taps

(Image credit: Peter Maciver)
  • Start in a high plank position and touch your left shoulder with your right hand, then switch sides and repeat this movement
  • Keep your core engaged throughout

 6. Bear crawls  

Peter Maciver performs bear crawls

(Image credit: Peter Maciver)
  • Start on all fours and lift your knees slightly off the ground so they’re at a 90-degree angle
  • Move your left hand and right foot forward simultaneously then move the opposite hand and foot
  • Count 5 reps forward and 5 reps backward and repeat this movement

"Create a circuit and do each exercise back-to-back for 60 seconds and repeat 5 times," Maciver suggests. Not only will you start to build deep shoulder strength, but you'll also get a great core workout, too. 

Working on your shoulder strength is a wonderful way to improve posture, reduce the risk of injury and gain arm mobility. Plus, adding shoulder exercises to your routine will eventually give you a more sculpted and toned look.

Whether you're a beginner or a more experienced trainer, you don't need to invest in expensive equipment to create an effective shoulder training program. In fact, all you really need is your own body weight. With these six exercises, you'll soon find that your shoulders look and feel a whole lot stronger.

Go ahead and try this yoga for shoulder mobility and strength routine after training with weight to remove any tensions. Plus, if you are looking to really increase the size of your shoulder you can read up on what is the fastest way to build muscle?

Meg Walters

Meg is a freelance journalist and features writer based in the UK. She covers culture, entertainment, lifestyle and health. Her writing has appeared in Cosmopolitan, Shondaland, Healthline, HelloGiggles, Reader’s Digest, Apartment Therapy, and more. Meg has been interested in fitness for over a decade. She loves trying a wide range of exercise techniques including yoga, hiking, pilates and HIIT.