Calisthenics exercises are a great way to build strong and healthy shoulders.
Almost all upper body calisthenics exercises will target the shoulders in some way but in this article I’m going to show you the ones that will really build you some massive and powerful deltoids.
The first set of exercises will focus on the front of the shoulders and the second group will focus on building the main deltoids on the top.
All of the exercises are grouped progressively with the easier versions in the beginning.
But before you start your workout it’s important to know how to take care of your shoulders.
How to Bullet-Proof Your Shoulders
Your shoulders are one of only two joints in your body that are known as a “ball and socket,” the other being in your hips.
Because of this they have an incredible range of motion!
We can rotate our arms all over the place in order to perform a range of actions but because of this we have to take extra care of this very versatile and well used socket.
If we don’t properly warm-up our shoulders and stretch the muscles after a strenuous workout they can become stiff and we can begin to lose some of our mobility.
You can sometimes see this in people who look incredibly strong but seem to have trouble lifting a simple object up and over their head.
This stiffness can also lead to an increased chance of injury so it’s important that we actively maintain a full range of motion in our shoulders.
Some simple exercises to do this include shoulder dislocations and even just passively hanging from a bar.
Here’s a video on doing shoulder dislocations below:
The shoulders also contain an intricate set of supporting muscles which surround the socket point of our shoulders known as the rotator cuff.
Luckily for us awesome calisthenics practitioners we don’t have to worry about this as much as people who are hitting the bench press three times a week in the gym though.
That’s because the nature of the exercises which we do put our shoulders through a much wider range of motion than many of the weight training exercises which have become so popular from the 1970’s bodybuilding world.
As we move our bodies through space we tend to naturally strengthen the rotator cuff as it’s forced to support our weight from different angles and positions.
But still, it’s important to occasionally modify the exercises we do so that we develop the kind of well-rounded strength that will make us both stronger and less prone to injury.
What Muscles Make up the Shoulders?
Our shoulders are comprised of three main muscles; the anterior deltoid, the lateral deltoid, and the posterior deltoid.
The anterior deltoid is on the front facing side of your shoulders and is used in all of the forward pushing motions that you do.
The lateral deltoid lies on top and is used whenever we lift something overhead, or in the case of calisthenics, lift our own bodyweight.
Finally, the posterior deltoid is located on the back of our shoulders behind us and is used whenever we pull something towards us.
Because the posterior deltoid is used so differently than the other shoulder muscles I’ve placed it in a separate article you can see here that addresses how to strengthen your back muscles.
How to Grow Your Front Shoulder Muscles Using Calisthenics
The anterior deltoids are worked whenever we push something forward and away from us.
So, in the case of calisthenics we want to push ourselves away from something that lies in front of us in a manner that will allow our own weight to put enough stress on the muscle to cause it to grow.
The two best exercises to achieve this are push ups and dips.
Below I’ll go into more detail on how to progressively build the front of your shoulders starting with the easiest exercises first and then ending with the most challenging.
Push Ups on Your Knees
If you’re just getting started with a resistance training program then you can begin by doing push ups with your knees on the floor instead of your toes.
This will make the exercise a little easier to do and help your body grow strong enough for the more rigorous work to come.
Once you can do three sets of twelve reps, with good form, then it’s time to move on to something a little more difficult.
Regular Push Ups
Once you feel comfortable doing push ups from your knees it’s time to start doing them the normal way with your legs stretched out straight and your toes on the ground.
This will increase the difficulty and also engage more muscles throughout your body.
You’re essentially doing a plank with your arms stretched out in front of you and your hands on the ground under your shoulders.
Doing a push up with good form is important as it teaches your body how to have good tension throughout an exercise and forms a base for many of the other exercises you’ll do later.
One Arm Push Ups
Being able to do a one armed push up is a great feat of strength.
It requires both balance and great shoulder strength along with many other muscles throughout the front of your body.
In order to do a one-armed push up you want to be able to get your pushing hand closer to your center of gravity by keeping your feet spread further apart and making sure you keep your elbow in close to your body.
You can also take the arm that’s not doing any work and place it across your back if it helps you.
Once you’re in position you can go ahead and try.
Don’t be discouraged if you can’t do it on your first try.
Just practice doing the eccentric lowering movement which will still build muscle and continue doing two armed push ups until you’re ready to do a complete one armed push up.
Here’s an awesome video on progressing towards your own one-armed push up:
Dips are an awesome way to build the front of your shoulders.
Unlike push ups you have to be able to lift your whole body making them much more difficult and allowing you to really grow you shoulder muscles.
To do dips you have to find parallel grips that you can hold and will allow you to support your whole body.
The easiest way is to use a dip station but you can also find lots of ways around your house if you don’t have one.
Once you have your parallel holds set up go ahead and lift yourself up off of the ground so that your body is perpendicular to the floor and your arms are straight while they support the weight of your body.
Then lower yourself down until your upper arms are parallel with the ground before pushing yourself back up again.
This is a great way to work out your anterior deltoid along with your chest and triceps at the same time.
How to Grow Your Upper Deltoid Using Calisthenics
In order to really get that nice “V-shape” that you want you’re going to have to build your lateral deltoid.
This is the top part of your shoulder muscle that really makes you look built but it takes a lot of work to make it grow relative to other larger muscles in your chest and arms.
That’s why it’s important not to neglect it when you create your routine.
Below I’ve listed the best calisthenics exercise to really build up those upper shoulder muscles that will give you the definition you want.
I’ve listed them in order with the easier ones in the beginning and the most difficult ones to master at the end.
Elevated Push Ups
The elevated push up is both a great way to make push ups more difficult and to make the focus of the exercise be the top part of your shoulder as opposed to the front.
It’s done by elevating your feet behind you so that your head is lower than your feet.
This means the angle of your body is different and you’ll have to engage the muscles in the upper portion of your body more.
You can do it anywhere you can find an elevated surface to place your feet on.
Once you find something just do a push up as normal making sure to maintain tension throughout your body by maintaining the plank position.
When you start to feel strong enough you can move on to the next level:
Elevated Pike Push Ups
Pike push ups differ from regular push ups in that you’re going to be hinging at your hips.
That means that you’re going to lean forward without bending your back or your legs.
To get a good idea of what I mean it might help to imagine sitting on the ground with both of your legs stretched out straight in front of you while your upper torso is sitting up straight and perpendicular to the ground with your hands pointing straight up over head.
Now, when you go to do a pike push up you’re going to maintain this same position except your feet will be on a raised surface and your hands will be on the ground.
Imagine making an upside down “V” with your body.
To do the elevated version of this exercise you’re going to place your feet up onto something above the ground to further focus on the upper parts of your shoulders.
This is one of the best bodyweight exercises to really work the upper shoulder muscles.
The more elevated your feet are the more difficult the exercise becomes.
Once you’re in position go ahead and lower your head down to the ground using your arms and then lift yourself back up again.
Do your best to maintain proper form by not breaking the “V” shape and maintain as close to a ninety degree angle in your hips as you can while doing the exercise.
The more your upper body is perpendicular to the ground the better.
Handstand Push Ups
Handstand push ups are an awesome way to build powerful and sculpted shoulders.
They’re the next step in your progression as they force you to be able to lift the weight of your entire body above your head.
Don’t be worried if you can’t do a perfect handstand yet.
You can use a wall or other surface to help balance against if you’re not yet ready to do an unassisted handstand.
To use a wall you can start facing away from it and then walk your feet backwards up the surface into the air.
Once your body is close to parallel with the wall and your arms are outstretched straight beneath your head you can begin to lower your head slowly down to the floor.
Then push yourself back up again using your arms.
If this is your first time make sure you have some space in front of you and something vaguely soft to land on if you lose your balance or if you can’t lift yourself up again after you lower your head down to the floor.
Once you get strong enough, and you’re comfortable doing a handstand without help, you can try to do it free-standing without support for an incredible full body workout.
Here’s a video to help:
One Arm Handstand Push Up
For the ultimate calisthenics shoulder workout you can try the one armed handstand push up.
If you are physically capable of doing this you will be in an elite group.
In order to perform a one handed handstand push up you have to be able to press your own body weight overhead using just one arm.
Not an easy feat by any means!
If you feel up to the challenge you can use a wall to balance against and first practice doing a handstand with just one arm before you try to do the push up.
Make sure you’re placing your hand under your center of gravity by moving it under your head and adjust your body accordingly.
Calisthenics is an awesome way to build sculpted and powerful shoulders.
Not only do bodyweight exercises build strength but they also teach you how to become more confident and comfortable using your own body.
By beginning with push ups and slowly adjusting the angle of your body you can progressively target all of the muscles in your shoulders to build well-rounded strength and definition.
Go ahead and try some of these exercises today!