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As calisthenics enthusiasts, building our shoulder muscles is important.
Many exercises require strong and mobile shoulders. Also, having strong bouldering shoulders looks and feels amazing!
There are many exercises for the shoulders that we can do, but some of them are not efficient as others regarding muscle-building potential and strength development!
Take note that these exercises that aren’t efficient with muscle development aren’t bad in general. They just are just not as effective as the other exercise we will be mentioned at the end of our list.
💥Factors used to consider shoulder exercise effectiveness:
Before moving forward, we need to first talk about the criteria on how we judge which bodyweight shoulder exercises are effective, and which are not for shoulder strength and muscle definition.
Photo from ehealthstar
First on the list is specific shoulder activation. The exercise should engage the shoulder muscle fibers the most and activate enough to stimulate muscular hypertrophy (muscle-building potential) and strength gains
Exercise requirement 🔥
Since our focus is on muscle building and strength training, mobility calisthenics exercises are for now EXCLUDED from the list. We’re talking about only exercises that build muscle and stimulate the nervous system for optimal strength gains.
The shoulder workout should activate the shoulders without requiring other factors to achieve proper form. For example, if balance, stability, or skill is required (especially for advanced exercises), the less the exercise will do better for getting strong shoulders. This is because other factors will play an important role before you can stimulate enough your muscles.
❗ Disclaimer ❗
Mobility exercises are not included in the list. Our focus here is upper body exercises that develop shoulder strength and muscle.
The exercises in the worst category aren’t necessarily bad as a shoulder exercise. They just do not compare well to the upper body exercises mentioned in the best category.
The best bodyweight exercises work shoulders hard and require fewer elements to stimulate enough intensity and volume.
Worst Calisthenics Shoulder Exercises
⛔️Side plank twist
This is a great bodyweight exercise that you can always include in your bodyweight training.
Although it hits your lateral deltoids, it requires more stability in which your obliques play a major role.
Before you can build muscle on your shoulders, your obliques will surely get tired first and won’t be as effective as the other bodyweight shoulder exercises that we will mention later on.
⛔️Back bridge push-up
This is a good exercise for the posterior chain but it does require a good amount of overhead shoulder and back mobility.
Your rear deltoids won’t be able to push up into the top position if you cannot achieve the required open position. Half reps won’t do and if you want to achieve arms straight at the top push-up position, you need to train your mobility first!
The back plank hits your rear deltoids which are often neglected in bodyweight training which is great!
The problem is that you need good shoulder mobility, a strong core, and other back muscles to perform the exercise. Your other muscles will get fired up first before you hit the point of muscle development for your shoulders.
Best Bodyweight Shoulder Exercises
Now that we’re done with the worst exercises, let’s move to the ones that are the best bodyweight shoulder muscle development, and strength exercises.
✅Pike push-ups/ handstand push-ups
The pike push-up and the handstand push-up are great for your shoulders because you need to have a strong core and shoulder mobility.
In addition, these exercises will help you develop an overall upper body strength as well!
These two bodyweight movements hit all three heads of your deltoids very effectively, plus they won’t create an imbalanced look with bulging front or back muscles.
The pike push-up gets better as you go more inverted. The more horizontal variation kinda looks like decline push-ups which are also effective as a shoulder exercise. Pike push-up simulates the handstand pushup.
If you can do pikes, you can also use it as a warm-up for your handstand pushups or even one-arm handstand pushup if you’re a beast!
✅Freestanding vs wall-assisted
We need to mention that the wall handstand push-up is better for strength and muscle development compared to the freestanding variation.
With freestanding handstand push-ups, you will get tired first of focusing on balance and gaining stability in the inverted position.
With the wall-assisted handstand pushups, you can focus on repping out, creating much volume while not thinking about other factors.
✅Rear delt fly
Rear delt flys on rings performed by Victory Calisthenics.
Rear delt fly on gymnastics rings one of the best exercises to hit your rear deltoids.
If you plan to build massive delts on top of your broad shoulders, rear delt fly is a must in your training.
You only need a pair of gymnastics rings then you can get access to the best of this amazing rear delt exercise with bodyweight only.
The difficulty of the movement can easily be scaled by adjusting the height of the rings. The more vertical you go, the easier; the lower, the more challenging.
✅Planche push-up/ Pseudo planche push-ups
Planche push-ups with any form are a beast for beefing up your shoulders.
The forward lean during the complete range of motion is required if you want to hit your shoulders properly.
The planche variations might be too difficult, but you can easily scale it with pseudo planche push-ups. It’s basically a push-up but you must maintain a forward lean all throughout the exercise.
Here are also other honorable mentions that hit the shoulders very well, but also target other muscle groups too much which is why they are not regarded as the BEST bodyweight shoulder exercises. But they still offer good gains for your shoulders.
- Standard push-ups
- Bench dips
- Planche holds
- Wall walks
All of these exercises are actually amazing but it depends.
We just need to put into context our goals so that each exercise could fit what we need to achieve our goals efficiently.
You want to get a bigger and stronger shoulder, then use the exercises that meet the exact description of building your bouldering shoulders.
Many exercises do help you build shoulder strength and muscle, but some exercises are just much better in that context.
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