6 Shoulder Exercises Without Weights

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How often have you thought about exercising the shoulders? I’m guessing not very often. These muscles are often forgotten about when training. But, it’s important that they, like the other muscle groups, are developed and strengthened.

Concentrating on the shoulders will provide the following benefits:

  • Improving appearance - broad shoulders enhance the physique, creating an aesthetically pleasing ‘V-shape’.
  • Boosting other workouts - when exercising the arms or chest, the shoulders are always involved. Strong shoulders improves stability allowing for better performance.
  • Reducing injury risk - the shoulders are the most unstable human joint, as the shoulder socket is smaller than the ball of the humerus. Strengthening these muscles reduces stress and likelihood of damage, whether exercising or carrying out daily chores.

This article includes a powerful workout to ensure that your shoulder muscles are in top form. It also has some brief information about the shoulder muscles themselves.

These exercises include no weights or specialized equipment, and can be completed at home.

The Shoulder Muscles

The shoulders consist of seven muscles:

  • Anterior, Lateral and Posterior Deltoids

These muscles are located at the front, side and back of the shoulder respectively. They allow the arms to be pushed straight out in front, behind and elevated to the sides. The exercises in this workout target all of these muscles, ensuring they remain in perfect proportion.

  • Rotator Cuff

There are four muscles in the rotator cuff—the teres minor, infraspinatus, subscapularis and supraspinatus.

These muscles are responsible for allowing the arms to swing in a circular motion. Developing these muscles does not lead to visible physical change. However, it will increase flexibility and reduce the possibility of injury.

How to Complete Shoulder Workouts?

The workout below is designed to work the main seven shoulder muscles in an intense training session.

However, if you wish, one single shoulder exercise can be combined with other exercises for an allover body workout. In this scenario, I would recommend choosing the powerful pike press and then selecting one exercise for each of the other muscle groups. These exercises can all be found on this site.

If that is the case, always finish with a shoulder exercise, never begin a workout with one. The shoulders can be easily damaged. Putting them under stress first and then pushing them even harder, with weighted bench presses for example, can cause injury

In an allover workout, I always start with the bottom of the body, then work upwards, with the shoulders being exercised last.

At Home Shoulder Workout

This full workout will take 60-70 minutes to complete, including resting periods. I would recommend that it is done twice a week, with a two or three day break between your sessions. 

You can complete an alternative muscle group on the following day if you wish. Personally, I would recommend a leg workout, as chest and arm exercises still involve the shoulders.

Follow the exercises in order in this program, and always finish with a cool-down as detailed below.

Crab Walk

I always recommend beginning a shoulder workout with the crab walk. Not only does it work the deltoids, it gives the shoulders and back a good stretch before the harder hitting exercises.

This exercise should be completed without arching the back too much. Do not confuse the crab walk with a yoga bridge. 

  1. Sit on the floor. Your knees should be raised, with feet flat in front of you.
  2. With arms by your sides, place palms on the ground. Fingers should be pointing forwards towards your feet.
  3. Ensure that your arms are locked.
  4. Lift your buttocks from the ground by pushing upwards from the hips. Your legs should be bent at 90 degrees, or slightly less, never more.
  5. Your only points of contact with the floor should be feet and palms.
  6. This is your starting position.
  7. ‘Step’ your left foot forward about six inches. At the same time, move your right hand forward the same distance.
  8. Now move your right foot forward while simultaneously moving your left hand.
  9. You are now doing the crab walk.
  10. Complete 10 steps forward (five on either leg).
  11. Then take 10 steps backwards.
  12. That completes one set.
  13. Rest for three minutes.
  14. Do two more sets with a three minute break in between each.

This exercise may involve a little practice to master the ‘left foot-right hand’ movement, but it will soon become natural. If you do not have sufficient room for ten steps, do five forwards and back, and then repeat. Just ensure that you complete 20 steps in total.

Shoulder Dips - Chairs or Parallel Bars

These dips are one of the most powerful exercises that you can give your shoulders. It works the deltoids and the rotator cuff muscles.

This exercise can be completed at home by using two strong chairs. However, ensure that they are sturdy, otherwise it can result in broken furniture. Alternatively, children’s play areas often have parallel bars which work just as well.

  1. Place two chairs side by side, approximately 24 inches apart.
  2. Stand between the chairs.
  3. Crouch down and place hands securely on the chair seats, palms downwards.
  4. Fully lock arms.
  5. Extend your legs along the floor in front of you until they are straight. Just your heels should be touching the ground.
  6. Raise legs about 12–14 inches from the floor.
  7. You are now supported on your palms alone.
  8. This is your starting position.
  9. Breathe in and slowly lower yourself down by bending your arms. Always ensure your feet remain off the ground.
  10. When your arms are at 90 degrees, breathe out and push yourself back into the starting position again.
  11. That completes one repetition.
  12. Do 12 repetitions, then rest for three minutes.
  13. Complete two more sets of 12, with a three minute break period in between.

It may be the case that the chair seats are not high enough to keep your feet off the ground. In this circumstance, you can use the top of the chair backs instead. However, always ensure that they are strong enough to take your weight and have a wide base for stability.

If you find this exercise much too tough to begin with, the difficulty level can be decreased. Instead of lifting legs off the ground, remain in contact with your heels and ‘pivot’ on them as you push up and down.

Elevated Push-Up

A useful variation on the traditional push-up. It reduces stress on the pectorals while increasing resistance on the shoulder muscles.

This exercise requires a household object to elevate your feet. For this description I have used the example of an exercise ball. However, anything which lifts the feet of the ground is equally useful—such as a bench, chair or box.

  1. Kneel down on the floor, facing away from the exercise ball.
  2. Place hands flat on the ground directly beneath the shoulders. Your fingertips should be pointing away from you.
  3. Lock arms fully.
  4. One leg at a time, place your foot and shins onto the exercise ball until you reach a ‘steady’ position.
  5. Inch forwards slightly to ensure that your legs are fully extended, and form one straight line with the back.
  6. This is the starting position as pictured.
  7. Breathe in and lower yourself downwards by bending the arms at the elbow.
  8. Once the arms are at 90 degrees, stop.
  9. Hold for one second.
  10. Exhale and push back up into the starting position, trying to concentrate on using your shoulder muscles as much as possible.
  11. That is one repetition.
  12. Complete three sets of twelve push-ups, with a three minute break between each one.

While any object can be used, an exercise ball is ideal since it takes skill to remain balanced. This puts greater pressure on the back and shoulder muscles to stay in this position.

Side Single Arm Plank

The plank is usually used to increase core strength. Completing the below alternative is a great way to work the lateral and anterior deltoids.

  1. Lay down on the floor on your right hand side, legs outstretched.
  2. Place the right foot behind the left, so that the toes of the right foot touch the heel of the left foot.
  3. Clench your right fist.
  4. Lay your forearm on the floor in front of you. Your upper arm should be directly below your right shoulder.
  5. Push into the floor with your shoulder and arm muscles, while raising your legs and hips off the ground.
  6. You are now supported on feet and forearm.
  7. This is the starting position.
  8. Hold for 30 seconds, breathing steadily in and out throughout.
  9. That completes one repetition.
  10. Slowly lower yourself down again and complete on the left side for a further 30 seconds.
  11. That is one set. Rest for three minutes.
  12. Complete two more sets, always having a three minute break period between each.

As your strength increases through sessions, try to increase the length of the hold period.

Pike Press

Another variant on the push-up, which works the deltoids and additionally the triceps.

  1. Lay face down on the floor, legs together and outstretched behind you.
  2. Place palms on the ground, outside your shoulders, approximately 8 inches on either side.
  3. Lock arms fully, lifting your chest, hips and legs off the floor.
  4. You are now in a wide push-up position.
  5. Without moving the feet, ‘walk’ your hands backwards so that your buttocks are raised high in the air.
  6. Stop when your back is vertical, or as close as possible.
  7. You should be able to clearly see your feet.
  8. This is the starting position.
  9. Inhale and lower yourself downwards by bending the arms at the elbows. Stop when your head touches the floor.
  10. Breathe out and push back up again with the shoulder muscles—raising your head again until arms are fully locked.
  11. That completes one repetition.
  12. After twelve repetitions, one set is complete.
  13. Do two more sets of twelve repetitions, ensuring a three minute rest period between each.

As your head will be touching the floor at times in this exercise, I recommended you use an exercise mat. Alternatively, a thin cushion or towel can be used.

Scapula Push-Up

The scapula push-up works the muscles supporting the scapula (shoulder blades). It does take a little determination to find the proper technique, but the results are worth it.

  1. Lay face down on the floor. Legs outstretched behind you at hip width apart.
  2. Place palms face down on the ground, slightly wider than shoulder distance apart.
  3. Raise yourself off the ground by locking arms fully.
  4. Your only points of contact with the floor should be your toes and palms of the hands.
  5. Ensure that your back, buttocks and legs are in one straight line.
  6. This is a typical push-up configuration, and your starting position.
  7. For the rest of the exercise, concentrate hard on your shoulders.
  8. Breathe in and pull the shoulders in and backwards towards each other. This will have the effect of lowering your chest slightly as seen in the image.
  9. Hold this position for five seconds.
  10. Breathe out and move your shoulder blades apart again. Your torso will lift. Hold for five seconds.
  11. This completes one repetition.
  12. Ensure at all times that the elbows do not bend, and the back and legs remain in one straight line.
  13. Do three sets of twelve repetitions, including a three minute break after every set.

As you begin this exercise, you may feel that you are doing it incorrectly as there is little movement involved. That’s deliberate. You are purely concentrating on pushing the shoulder muscles hard. However, by the end of the set, you will feel that you have really worked these muscles.

Concluding the Workout

I like to finish shoulder workouts with a really simple cool-down exercise. It also increases flexibility in the rotator cuff muscles.

Stand and swing your arms in circles in a ‘windmill’ style. First one way, then the opposite direction. Do this for about 30 seconds on either side. This will loosen up the shoulders and provide blood flow to help reinvigorate the muscles.

Final Thoughts

Working out the shoulder muscles increases flexibility. What's more, it reduces the chance of injury and improves performance in chest and arm workouts. Broad shoulders create an impression of strength and can also make clothes appear better fitting.

As the shoulders are intrinsically weak, don’t try to push them too hard at first. If you feel that the repetitions for each exercise are too much, drop them down to a more comfortable level. Then, try to increase numbers by one repetition every session.

The above workout comprises every exercise you need to improve and enhance your shoulders. It will leave you looking and feeling great.

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