Ah, the shoulders.
The crowning parts of that famous V-shape that we all strive to either attain or maintain.
It’s no exaggeration to say that the shoulders are probably the first thing anyone will notice on any athlete, with the possible exception of the biceps.
When you walk around with a pair of shoulder boulders, you’re certain to raise a lot of eyebrows.
But looking good is not the only reason you’ll want to build those powerful shoulders.
In fact, having a strong pair is not a luxury but a necessity for any fitness enthusiast.
Keep reading to find out why.
Benefits of Shoulder Calisthenics
Appearances aside, there are plenty of reasons for you to consider putting your shoulders through a vigorous exercise program. These include, but are not limited to:
- More functional strength. It’s not only your biceps and forearms that do the lifting, pushing, or pulling. Granted, today’s world is less physical than it used to be, but when something needs moving around the house, you’re going to need that strength. If your shoulders are lacking, you’re going to feel it. Which brings us to…
- Less neck and back pain. When your shoulders are weak, your body tries to compensate by putting your other muscles to use. This leads to more strain than they are used to, and is often the cause of chronic pain. By keeping your shoulders strong, you’ll be cutting your back and neck muscles some well-needed slack.
- The ability to tackle more challenging exercises. Shoulders are the gatekeeper of calisthenics. A certain—or rather high in fact—level of shoulder strength is a prerequisite for a lot of calisthenics moves. If you want to improve your overall fitness, or perhaps master a calisthenics skill or two, you won’t be able to do it for as long as you ignore your shoulders.
Bottom line is, whatever your fitness goals may be, shoulder calisthenics is not something that you’ll want to skip.
Shoulder Calisthenics Exercise List
Let’s just start by saying that this list is by no means all-encompassing.
Most calisthenics moves are compound moves, therefore pretty much anything that works your upper body will, to a certain degree, work your shoulders.
However, not all shoulder exercises are created equal, and we have composed what we think is the best selection.
We’ve put them into three self-explanatory tiers: Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced.
As always, don’t forget to warm up and stretch before starting your workout. It may seem like a precious few minutes of your life, but in the long term it will save you a lot of pain and trouble. Better safe than sorry.
If you are unsure of where you stand with your shoulder strength, it’s best that you start here.
The bread and butter of nearly every calisthenics routine, push-ups may not be the most effective shoulder exercise, but they are a prerequisite for the two more specialized variants: pike push-ups and handstands (more on that later).
If you find yourself unable to do proper push-ups, do knee push-ups until you get strong enough.
There are many different ways to do an assisted dip. You can put a stool to prop up your legs, or you can use a rubber band like in the video.
Either way, dips are great for your triceps and shoulders, and keep getting better as you move on from the assisted version.
While it’s true that pull-ups mostly engage your lats, they also work your shoulders.
Like the dips, you can make them easier with a resistance band, a chair, or (if you have access to a gym) by using a specialized machine.
Either way, you don’t want to miss out on pull-ups as they are another essential move.
This is where we start getting serious. Don’t be surprised if you spend a lot of time on this level.
They may look a bit goofy, but pike push-ups are a killer for the shoulders. Make certain that you follow proper form, as putting your body off-position will kill what makes the move special.
Dips (Bench or Parallel Bar)
If you have access to parallel bars and can handle this, more difficult version, then by all means go ahead and do it. If not, bench dips will do the job almost just as well. Like the basic dips, these hit your triceps and shoulders, but with more intensity.
When you no longer need the assistance, you’ll know that you’re getting somewhere. Pull-ups are a move that is notoriously difficult to start with, but once you do your first proper rep, you’ll never look back. As said in the video, the pull-up is one of the best exercises you can do, period.
If you stay on course and don’t slack, eventually you’ll be able to reach this level. Don’t be discouraged if it takes long. These are moves for experienced athletes.
Handstands (or Handstand Push-ups, or Wall Walks)
Handstands are a positively brutal way to exercise your shoulders, but don’t be surprised if you can’t do them right away. After all, this is why online guides exist. If you want a similar but lighter exercise, try wall walks. On the other hand, if you somehow find handstands too easy, then handstand push-ups are for you.
Adding gymnastic rings to any exercise automatically makes it more difficult. Due to the rings moving around, you’ll not only need to complete the movement, but also prevent them from getting away. And as we all know, a more difficult exercise engages the muscles more, leading to greater gains.
A demanding move that hits most of your upper body, the muscle up will drive your shoulders through their entire range of motion. Yes, it takes a lot of time to master, but it will be well worth it in the end.
Workout Schedule for Shoulder Calisthenics
By now, you’ve probably noticed that there is no workout structure.
The thing is, with the moves we’ve listed, you can easily compose your own.
All you’ll need will be one variant of push-up, dip, and pull—up.
Feel free to mix and match exercises from different difficulty levels, so if you’re good at push-ups but bad at dips, you can do pike push-ups and assisted dips, etc.
After your warm-up, you’ll want to do 3-5 sets of each exercise.
Your sets should have between 6 and 12 repetitions.
If you’re doing the maximum number of sets and reps of a move, that means that it’s probably time to move on to a more advanced version.
And that’s pretty much it.
With a program so simple and effective, there’s no reason not to work out your shoulders!
Chris is an experienced Calisthenics practitioner focused on isometric exercises and street workout. He founded thehybridathlete.com in 2017, which was subsequently acquired by theyhybridathlete.com
He is based in Portland and has been working out using solely his own body weight and bars for the past 6 years.