If you are aspiring to build an impressive physique, it’s no question that a broad pair of shoulders are required to top off that well-rounded V-taper and complement those bulging bis and tris. When it comes to shoulder day, it can sometimes be hard to steer away from the bread-and-butter lifts of the mundane gym split: overhead press, lateral raise, Arnold press, etc.
But innovation and variety not only are the key attributes of a determined bodybuilder, but of an impressive physique as well – straying from the norm is what sets the determined individual apart from the rest… and when it comes to innovation, sometimes success can be achieved through purity and simplicity.
Sure, you can heave tons of weight above your head for an impressive amount of reps, but simple (and complex) bodyweight exercises may be just what you need to take your shoulder musculature to the next level! In this article, you will not only learn the benefits of bodyweight shoulder exercises, but also acquire a substantial list of lifts that you can perform in your very home (yes, yes, even without going to the gym)!
Why Train Without Weights?
At first you may be thinking, “But wait, I thought that in order to build larger muscles I needed to lift heavy weights!” Well, although resistance weight training is incredibly beneficial (and should not be avoided) for stimulating muscle growth and protein synthesis, performing calisthenics (i.e. bodyweight workouts) to build muscle has exclusive benefits all in its own.
By focusing more on form and higher repetitions rather than heaving extraordinary weight, calisthenics can stimulate the muscle fibers through slow, strict concentric and eccentric lifts, building up the core and strengthening the body as a holistic unit in the process.
Once the form is mastered, a faster rate of execution or a higher rep scheme can be implemented in order to increase the intensity of the workout – this leads to a greater muscular stimulation, increased rates of muscle-protein-synthesis, and deeper muscular striations as a result of subsequent muscle growth.
In addition, the focus on form and lack of heavier weights reduces the risk of shoulder injury (a common development among avid lifters) and the muscular endurance acquired could potentially carry over into quick-twitch strength gains that are used during heavier weighted lifts. As a bonus for those on a budget, the majority of these calisthenics workouts can be performed either at home or at a local park – a much cheaper option that the traditional gym membership!
Now that the science lecture is out of the way, it’s time for the exciting part – the lifts! Below is a compiled list of some of the most beneficial and effective bodyweight exercises for building better shoulders:
- Arm Circles
Thought of as a warm-up by many, this exercise can be performed for an extended duration of time & repetitions in order to stimulate a serious burn in the lateral head of the deltoid. It’s a rather simple exercise that can lead to serious gains in the long run. If this is too simple for you, don’t shun it quite yet – Arm Circles can serve as a great warm-up routine for more intensive exercises to come.
Execute It!: Simply hold out your arms to your sides in a 180-degree locked-out position. Without bending your elbows, use your shoulder muscles to rotate your arms in small, repeating circular motions. Perform this motion until a deep burn is felt in the shoulders – when this occurs, reverse the pattern of motion and move your arms in backwards circles. Perform this until the muscles are too tired to maintain the proper 180-degree angle.
- Handstand Push-Up
Considered a Franken-lift of sorts, the Handstand Push-Up is a conglomerate of two of the most revered bodyweight exercises known to man – the handstand and the push-up.
Execute It!: Simply go into a handstand with your arms fully extended above your head (but not locked out). Stabilize your core and slowly lower your body until your head touches the ground, then push through your shoulders and propel your body back into the starting position. If this is too difficult, consider attempting this exercise while leaning against a wall in order to provide support. If you want a greater challenge, you can attempt to perform this exercise while balancing on a Bosu Ball – just be sure to have a spotter or a padded mat to fall on in case you fall!
- Pike Push-Up
If you simply cannot perform a handstand, have no fear! This is where the Pike Push-Up comes into play. The more stabilized position allows you to place more emphasis on the deltoids and aim for a higher rep range in order to stimulate the muscles to a greater degree!
Execute It!: Place your feet together in a pike on an elevated table, bench or chair. Keep your legs straight and bend your hips at a 90-degree angle, balancing on the palms of your hands and keeping your arms fully extended above your head. Slowly lower your body until your head touches the ground, then push through your shoulders and propel your body back into the starting 90-degree angle.
More of a balancing move rather than a lift, the Planche is the epitome of stabilization, utilizing both your deltoids (primarily the frontal head) and the abdominal wall. The longer you can hold this exercise, the more benefits you will reap – try to last as long as possible! Just make sure to steadily breathe as you go!
Execute It!: Assume the starting position on your hands and knees. Leaning forward and positioning your arms at a straight palms-out 30-degree angle, follow through by lifting your legs up with your core and keeping your spine in a 180-degree alignment with the rest of your body (i.e. head, back, legs & feet). Stabilize your core and maintain your balance via the stabilizer muscles in your deltoids and abs – the longer you can hold it, the better!
- Crab Walk
Not just for crustaceans, the Crab Walk is a great exercise for igniting that deeper burn in the shoulders. Utilizing both the stabilizer muscles and the more prominent deltoid heads makes adding the Crab Walk to your shoulder-training arsenal a no-brainer. Try to walk as far as you can for as long as you can. For an even greater challenge, try attempting this backwards!
Execute It!: Begin by sitting with your hands firmly planted behind your shoulders. Lift your hips so that your glutes are above the ground, your knees are bent and your body is supported by your hands and feet. Proceed to walk forward (or backward!) by simultaneously moving your left arm with your right leg then following through with your right arm with your left leg. Be sure to maintain the proper positioning and form as you walk by bracing your shoulders – that’s where the effort should be made, after all!
Now you have it what takes to build lean and strong shoulders without having to go to the gym! These exercises can be performed anywhere, from at home to at the park to even in the office (should you ever feel inclined!).
Although not as popular among the typical gym crowd, calisthenics are an immensely useful tool in aiding overall musculature conditioning and development. So, be sure to add these exercises to your pre-existing training split in order to FUEL YOUR AMBITION and add a new dimension to those deltoids!