Calisthenics shoulder workout

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In the series of calisthenics workouts for different parts of the body, we have now come to a part that is extremely important to keep a good focus on.
What I’m talking about is the shoulders. And why is then that so important you might ask. And if you don’t do that and just want to get going with an actual calisthenics shoulder workout, then just scroll down 🙂calisthenics shoulder workout
Ok, if you asked the question, then here is the answer:
The structure of our bones, joints, and muscles are extremely complicated and built to do incredible things. However, when it comes to the shoulder, I dare to say that it is probably the most sophisticated area and where a lot of things can go wrong if we don’t have a good movement pattern. Exactly therefore, we need to focus a lot on our shoulders.

Here is my story.

ScapularBefore I started my fitness path I had been desk bound for more than ten years, spending several hours a day in front of a computer or with a mobile phone in my hand. Due to this I had issues in two areas when I started to workout. My hip and my shoulders.
The hip came from the massive sitting and the shoulder issues from the many hours in front of a computer, which had made my shoulders weak and stiff.
Luckily enough, I started out with some good coaches that taught me great functional movements, which strengthened my shoulders through natural movement patterns. I also found some great mobility exercises from the MobilityWOD, and the combination of those two made my shoulders healthy and strong. Today I can do muscle-ups, handstand push-ups, and am close to a planche, and I never have any shoulder issues. And by the way i’m +40 🙂
You see, when it comes to fitness and strength straining it’s never about what we accomplish in three weeks. We want to focus on longer goals. One year, or even five years ahead and without  healthy and strong shoulders, this will never be possible.

So what will we talk about?

Well, not just my boring fitness story, but we will cover the following:
  • Identify the muscles which the shoulders consist of
  • The best calisthenics shoulder exercises
  • How to work with progression
  • Mobility for the shoulders
  • A complete beginner, intermediate & advanced calisthenics shoulder workout
Let’s get going.

Muscles which the shoulders consist of

As always, lets identify the muscles we are aiming to strengthen, when we are focusing on a calisthenics shoulder workout. Please look at the illustration.Shoulder muscles
Actually, this is a simple illustration, but it gives us an idea of what we talking about. Probably, you can understand from the photo that there are big muscles attached to the back and front side. We therefore need to have a good balance of strength. Also, you probably understand the complexity of all the muscles that have to work together in a limited space.
Luckily enough you don’t have to care so much about each individual muscle, as we will now go through some of the best exercises that will strengthen all of them, and thereby give you a healthy shoulder.

Calisthenics shoulder exercises.

Scapular exercises
The scapular, we also call the shoulder blade, and when we talk about scapular exercises, it is exercises that moves the shoulder blade in different directions.
As discussed above, a lot of people have weak and stiff shoulders do to our modern living style. What happens is that our scapular stays in the same position most of the day, and we move it very little. This of course causes weakens and stiffness in the supporting muscles — you use it or loose it 🙂
In the scapular exercises, we put focus on movement and strengthening of the muscles around the shoulder blade.
The stronger guys and girls might think that they don’t need these exercises, but I guarantee you that it will not just give you a healthier shoulder, but it will also improve some of the more harder exercises. Therefore if you don’t want to do them as a part of a calisthenics shoulder workout, make sure to include them now and then in your normal routine or even as a warm-up — you will thank me later for that advice 🙂
Scapular push-ups can be performed on knees or even against a wall. The arms need to be locked out completely and the movement is only in the shoulder. This is a very good exercise to start with.scapular push-up (full)scapular push-up
Horizontal scapular pull-up can be modified by the angel that the body has toward the ground. The more vertical, the harder it is. Please look at normal horizontal pull-ups here, and see the different versions. Remember, that the movement is only in the shoulders as the arms are locked out.scapular horizontal pull-ups
Scapular pull-up can be a bit hard for beginners but a couple of them will help you a lot. If they are totally out of reach, then work with the horizontal until you have gained some strength.Pull-up progression
Scapular handstand push-ups are hard but again very beneficial to master. It is a good preparation for handstand and handstand push-ups.scapular handstand push-up
Where the scapula exercises are more or less 100% shoulder focused, the remaining exercises will cover more muscle groups, but with a good portion concentrating on the shoulders.
Bear Crawl
Bear Crawl comes in two versions. The stiff legged and with legs bent. As we focus on shoulders, the stiff legged is the right one to select. Please notice the picture is with bent legs.bear crawl
Not only will Bear Crawl strengthen your shoulders, but the exercises will also teach you a natural movement pattern. Do it as a part of a calisthenics shoulder workout or as a warm-up, but make sure to do the exercise.


For sure push-ups will strengthen your shoulders, but we need to do them correctly no matter which version we select.
The biggest issue is what you can call “chicken wings” or the elbows turning out from the body, and by that, rotating your shoulder forward. We never want the shoulder to roll forward, we want the shoulders back and down.
In the push-up we achieve this by keeping the shoulders close to your body. Try it right now. Raise your arms like you want to surrender and keep your hands outside your shoulders. Now raise your elbows. Where did the shoulder go? Forward and up, right?
This is a bad position that we want to avoid in all exercises.
Normal push-ups should be done as described above, and with full range of motion, meaning chest in contact with ground and arms fully extended. Don’t be that guy or girl that only do half reps. The core should be engaged and body be a straight line from heels to head.Push-up
To do them on knees is fine. Better to do them on knees than with bad form.
Hindu pushups is a harder but very good variation of normal push-ups. Instead of a single movement up and down we get a wider angel of movement, and thereby more activation in the shoulder.hindu push up
See the video for a demo, and make sure to keep elbows close to your body.
Pike push-ups will give more activation in the shoulders than the other push-ups. As we push above the head, there is more focus on the shoulders. Pike-push-ups are a good first step towards handstand pushups and can be made harder by elevating you knees and feet.pike pushup
Handstand push-ups are the hardest version of push-ups. The shoulder will take a good beating in this exercise, so make sure to do them correctly. Elbows as close as possible to the body for good shoulder position.Handstand push-up
The next two exercises will either work the shoulder’s front side or the back side. What is also common for the two exercises are that they will involve a lot of other muscle groups in the upper body — lets have a look at them.
These will work your front side of the shoulders, as well as many other muscle groups in your upper body. As dips can be hard on your shoulders, it’s important to progress correctly by selecting a version you can handle with good form. Important points in dips are:
  • Don’t shrug your shoulders — make sure that you don’t hang in your shoulders with raised scapular. The scapular should be pushed down.
  • Do full range of motion — try to come below parallel in the bottom, but respect your grade of mobility.
  • Elbows point more backward than outward.
  • Keep upper body in a neutral position — don’t bend spine forward or backward.
  • For more focus on shoulders, the shoulder should be in front of the hands — but make sure to keep a neutral upper body.
  • In the upper position the shoulder blades have a wide space between them, and in the button position they are close together.
Box dips is the easiest version of dips and will work the front side of your shoulders just like the other types of dips. However, with box dips you will be forced to have the shoulders in front of your hands, which will give more focus on your shoulders. Therefore, this is an excellent shoulder exercise. Box dips can easily be scaled by tucking the legs or even made harder with elevated legs.dip
Dips on station is the next step, as you now need to handle your complete bodyweight without any support.dip-station
Ring dips will be even more challenging as you have to stabilize the rings in different directions.ring dip
We all ready looked at scapular pulls, which are excellent, but we can do other forms of pulls which will work the back side of the shoulders. Again, other muscle groups will have to work, but we just take that as a benefit.
Wide grip horizontal pull-up will challenge your shoulders a bit more than the scapular pulls. The wider the grip, the harder the exercise.wide-grip-horizontal-pull-up
Beside the above exercises there are a couple more, which will focus on the back side of the shoulders.
Assisted Victorians doesn’t look like much but are very hard. Lay on your back, and now raise your upper body by pushing your self up on your elbows. Try to squeeze your shoulder blades together.assisted victorian
Reverse ring flyes can be adjusted just like with normal horizontal pull-ups, by changing the angle the body has towards the ground. The more vertical, the harder. Again here the focus point should be to squeeze your shoulder blades together.reverse bodyweight flys
Going back to the front side and looking at more advanced exercises, we have planche.
Planche hold is probably the best exercise to start with. Make sure that shoulder blades are as far apart as possible, as you want the arms to really push in to the ground. Basically, it’s the top position of the scapular push-up. From that position, move as far forward as possible and hold for as long as possible. Place your hands in the best position for your wrists.planche progression
Planche push-ups can be applied when you start to get stronger shoulders. The more forward you are leaning, the harder.
The final exercise is a very good all-round exercise for shoulder strength and should be added to a calisthenics shoulder workout as soon as possible.
Wall Climbers will give you a very good all around strength in the shoulders. However, you need to have some strength before you start with them, in order to avoid issues.wall climbers
We are now done with the exercises. Of course, there are other exercises that will work your shoulders, and one of the great things with calisthenics is that you normally will do compound exercises, meaning it will work several different muscle groups and not just a single one.
The exercises we have looked at, all have different progression levels. Meaning that some should be in a beginner program, where others are only recommended for a more advanced program. The three calisthenics shoulder programs I have created below will illustrate that.
However, there are other ways to progress than just changing exercises. Now lets have a look at some of them.


Isometric holds or simply slowing the movements down, will make the exercises harder. Lets take the Pike push-ups as an example. When you lower your head towards the ground, do so in a pace that will take around 3sec — then at the button position hold it for another 3sec without the head getting in touch with the ground. Finally, extend your arms slowly also in a pace of 3sec.stretching
What we simply do is to increase the muscles time under tension (TUT), and this will force them to work harder.
When doing the actual hold, you might experience some shaking, which is very normal. As the muscle fibers will have to be engaged all the time in the holding position, some of them will basically shut down for a split second and then on again. That is what’s causes the shaking.
Plyometric exercises means that we do the movement explosively. For the push-ups, it could mean that on our way up we do it as fast as possible, which might cause our body to elevate a bit.
Rubber-bands are great for progression as we can do the exercise the way it’s supposed to be done with full range of motion, but with the support of the rubber-band. For the planche hold I use the rubber-band to hold my lower body up like you see on the photo.

Shoulder mobility

As mentioned, shoulders are a very delicate part of our body. Strengthening them is important, but sometimes we will be lacking the flexibility to do some of the exercises correctly and with full range of motion. In these cases, we should add some mobility and stretching to our calisthenics shoulder workout.
In this upper body stretch routine you will find some good exercises for your shoulders. If you want to dig duper in and even get some self massage tricks, please go to MobilityWOD.

Calisthenics shoulder workout

Ok, we finally get to the workouts. In my series of calisthenics workouts for different body parts I have been giving three examples for each area. A beginner, intermediate, and advanced — you can check them here. I will do the same here, so lets get on to it.
Beginner calisthenics shoulder workout

beginner calisthenics shoulder workout

This is a real beginner workout. Some might find it too easy but please think twice. I cannot stress how important it is to keep the shoulders healthy, so even if you think it’s too easy, try to do the workout now and then.
The workout consists of basic exercises, but they will be a big help for you when progressing.
Do 6 rounds with 60sec rest between exercises and 90sec rest between rounds.
Round 1&4:
  • 10 Scapular pull-ups
  • 10 Scapular push-ups (Done on knees is ok)
  • 10 Scapular Horizontal pull-ups (Use feet position to adjust difficulty)
Round 2&5:
  • 10 Box dips (Tuck legs if needed)
  • 5-10 Hindu Push-ups
Round 3&6:
  • 1min Bear Crawl (Stiff legged — both forward and backward)
Intermediate calisthenics shoulder workout

intermediate calisthenics shoulder workout

More advanced exercises and more repetitions than in the beginner calisthenics workout. We will still keep some of the basic movements, as they are extremely important for the shoulders.
Remember quality before quantity — a damaged shoulder is not a joke.
Do 6 rounds with 60sec rest between exercises and 90sec rest between rounds.
Round 1&4:
  • 10 Scapular Pull-ups
  • 10 Pike push-ups
  • 5-10 Wide grip horizontal pull-ups
Round 2&5:
  • 5-10 Dips on dip station
  • 5-10 Wall Climbers
Round 3&6:
  • 5 Max hold of Assisted Victorians
  • 5 Scapular Handstand Push-ups
Advanced calisthenics shoulder workout

advanced calisthenics shoulder workout

Advanced exercises only. Make sure to have the required shoulder strength and mobility before doing this workout. Assist with more basic exercises now and then.
Do 6 rounds with 60sec rest between exercises and 90sec rest between rounds.
Round 1&4:
  • 10 Wide grip horizontal pull-ups
  • 5-10 Handstand push-ups
  • 5-10 Reverse ring flyes
Round 2&5:
  • 5-10 Ring dips
  • Max planche hold
Round 3&6:
  • 45sec of max wall climbers

Now it’s your turn. Try out one of the calisthenics shoulder workouts that fits you, and let me know what you think. And please remember the mobility and stretching part as well.

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