8 of the Best Body-Weight Shoulder Exercises

Some muscles, like your legs, are easy to work even if you don't have equipment. There are plenty of exercises, like squats and lunges, you can perform with just your body weight. Shoulder exercises, on the other hand, aren't as well-known and require a little creativity. The options range from simple exercises like arm circles to more complex ones like handstand walk-ups. If that sounds intimidating don't worry, there are plenty of exercises in-between.


Get ready to flex your muscles — no weight required. (Image: undrey/iStock/GettyImages)

First, a little anatomy: The shoulder muscle is about the size of your hand and wraps over your entire shoulder joint. Technically it's one muscle, called the deltoid, but there are three different parts. The front is the anterior deltoid, the middle part is the medial deltoid and the back is the posterior or rear deltoid.

If you have weights, you can do exercises like dumbbell presses and front raises. However, you might not always have equipment available. So try some of these body-weight shoulder exercises. They're in order of difficulty from easiest to most difficult, so if you have trouble with one, simply move back to an easier exercise until your shoulder is stronger.

You'll be surprised how quickly your shoulders fatigue with arm circles. (Image: Patrik Giardino/DigitalVision/GettyImages)

1. Arm Circles

Use this exercise in the beginning of your workout as part of your warm-up or during your workout to really feel the burn. Your only resistance is the force of gravity pulling your arms down, but you'll be surprised how tough this one can be.

HOW TO DO IT: Stand and hold your arms out to the side, parallel to the ground. Form small circles going forward with your arms. After 10 reps, make the circles bigger. Keep increasing the size of the circles every 10 reps until your shoulders are too tired or the circles are too big. Then, repeat the exercise, drawing circles backward.

2. Corner Lateral Raises

This exercise might make you feel like you've been sent to detention, but it's a creative way to work your shoulders if you're at home without any equipment.

HOW TO DO IT: Find a corner in your room with nothing in the way. Stand in the corner, facing the walls. Raise your arms up into a goalpost position and press into the walls (press against the wall and resist with your shoulders and back). Gradually press harder until you feel your shoulder muscles working. Press as long as you can, take a break and repeat three to four times.

3. Prone Swimmers

The deltoid is the main shoulder muscle, but there are also smaller muscles around your shoulder blade that help control your shoulders. To work these muscles, you need a larger range of motion than the simple shoulder press.

HOW TO DO IT: Lie on your stomach with your arms stretched out in front of you and your forehead on the ground. Lift both arms up. Then, slowly pull them back and up at the same time, making a half circle until your hands are back near your butt. Then, lift them up and reverse the half circle until your arms are reaching overhead again.

4. Bench Dips

This exercise works well for triceps, but it can also target the front of the shoulder. Avoid going too low, or it can hurt your shoulder instead of helping it.

HOW TO DO IT: Sit on the side of a bench with your hands planted next to your butt. Then, walk your feet forward so that your butt is in front of the bench. Bend your elbows and drop your butt below the bench. Keep going down until your elbows are at a 90-degree angle, and then press yourself back up. To make the exercise harder, straighten your legs or put your feet up on a chair in front of you.

Start in downward facing dog, and then do an upside down shoulder press. (Image: RyanJLane/E+/GettyImages)

5. Pike Push-Up

Chief Instructor at Barry's Bootcamp in New York City, Keoni Hudoba, recommends pike push-ups because they mimic overhead shoulder presses. They work your core muscles at the same time, giving you more bang for your buck. It's difficult but useful if you need an exercise that isolates the shoulder.

HOW TO DO IT: Start in a plank. Lift your butt up, lower your head and straighten your elbows. From there, bend your elbows and lower the top of your head toward the ground. Press back up until your elbows are straight. The range of motion is short, but you'll feel your shoulders working.

6. Side Plank

The side plank is well-known as a core exercise, but holding yourself up requires an impressive amount of shoulder strength.

HOW TO DO IT: Set up in a side plank position: Your legs and hips should be stacked on top of each other. Plant your hand under your shoulder and lift yourself into a side plank with your body as straight as possible. You can do a side plank on your forearm, but it works your shoulder more if you plant your hand and keep your elbow straight. Modify the side plank by dropping to your knees, according to the American Council on Exercise.

7. Divebomber Push-Up

This move is similar to Chaturanga in yoga, but you only use the front of your deltoid. With the divebomb push-up, you'll feel the exercise throughout your shoulder.

HOW TO DO IT: Start in Downward Dog with your butt in the air and knees and elbows straight. Come down slowly, leading with your head. Divebomb down close to the ground. Before your forehead hits, start to lift your head up and drop your hips. Keep going forward and simultaneously straighten your elbows. You should end in Upward Dog. Reverse the movement back to the start.

8. Handstand Walk-Up

This is a very advanced shoulder exercise. Don't try this unless you can confidently do body-weight exercises like push-ups and dips. The greater difficulty means that this exercise can help you build impressive shoulder strength.

HOW TO DO IT: This exercise requires a wall you can put your feet on. Start on an all fours in front of the wall, facing away from it. Straighten your legs and plant your feet on the wall. Only your hands should be on the ground. Slowly walk your hands back and, at the same time, walk your feet up the wall. Keep going until your body is almost completely vertical against the wall. Be careful, because if you go too far, you'll tip over and fall.

REFERENCES & RESOURCES Yoga Journal: Chaturanga Washington University Physicians: The Anatomy of the Shoulder Ace Fitness: Side Plank - Modified