The pandemic was a prime example of how you can get great workouts at home. If you are in a similar situation when traveling with below-average hotel gyms, I have the solution for building big shoulders without weights.
You don’t even need to leave your hotel room or apartment! But first, it’s important to understand basic shoulder anatomy to maximize muscle growth of the three shoulder heads.
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To maximize the size of the shoulders, you need to target all three muscles. These are:
- Anterior deltoid (front)
- Medial deltoid (side)
- Posterior deltoid (rear)
Each muscle supports a different movement of the shoulder. The anterior or front deltoid is primarily responsible for shoulder flexion and horizontal adduction. That is raising your arm in front of you (e.g., front raise) and performing a chest fly motion [1,2].
The side delts are responsible for shoulder abduction, which is the arm raised to the body’s side . This muscle creates a broader look of the upper body.
The rear deltoid provides a 3D look and will make your physique pop when looking from the side. Rear delts are responsible for shoulder extension and horizontal abduction .
Isolating the medial deltoids is challenging when you only have your bodyweight at your disposal. However, it gets some love during bodyweight pressing exercises. So, here are the best shoulder exercises without weights you can add to your bodyweight routine!
Best Bodyweight Shoulder Exercises
The simplest way to turn a push-up into a shoulder blaster is to change the angle you push. You’re essentially performing an upside-down overhead press by supporting your bodyweight on your hands with a vertically aligned body. But, instead of moving an implement, you’re moving yourself.
Handstand push-ups are no joke. Not many lifters possess the bodyweight strength to pull these off. But the mass you’ll put on your shoulders is extreme if you can do them. Here’s how to do it:
- It is not worth doing this freestanding. Support yourself with a wall. Place a cushion in front of a wall and your hands on either side. Kick your feet up to the wall with your arms straight.
- Lower your head to the cushion and lightly tap it with your head. Don’t bounce your head off the cushion, as you can hurt your neck. Maintain contact with the wall with your heels as you descend and ascend.
- Push to the starting position with your arms straight.
Handstand push-ups aren’t for everyone. But by piking your hips in the air, you create a vertical torso without needing to support the weight of your lower body on your hands. This makes it a regression to the handstand push-up since it is lighter.
The most basic version is with the hands and feet on the floor. But a true pike push-up is with the feet elevated on a bench. Here’s how to do it:
- Place your feet on a bench and your hands on the floor. Your hands need to be closer to the bench than if you were setting up for a push-up—approximately 50% closer.
- Straighten your legs and push your hips in the air creating a vertical torso from your hands to your hips.
- Lower your head to the floor while maintaining the high hip and straight leg position. Press back to the starting position.
To gain confidence with the handstand push-up, you can perform handstand holds. While this may not directly build muscle, the strength you develop will allow you to perform exercises that certainly will. Here’s how to do it:
- Place your hands close to the wall and kick your feet up. Your heels should be in contact with the wall with your arms locked out.
- Hold this position for the desired time. Actively push against the floor to maintain your handstand position.
Personally, I find this exercise much harder than a handstand push-up. However, it’s easily scalable to your strength level. For example, if you struggle to do this exercise, you don’t walk up the wall as far.
The front delts take an absolute beating by walking backward up a wall. Especially as you move, each arm and shoulder support your bodyweight independently when the hand leaves the floor. Here’s how to wall walk:
- Start in the push-up position with your feet against the wall. To initiate the wall walk, push back with your hands and start to walk your feet up.
- As your feet walk higher, keep walking your hands backward. This will get more difficult as you become vertical.
- Once you reach as high as your strength allows, slowly reverse the movement by walking your hands forward and your feet down the wall.
Push-ups are still an excellent bodyweight exercise to get bigger shoulders. But regular push-ups are typically too easy. But by elevating the feet, you place more weight over the arms asking more from your shoulders during the push-up.
If elevating your feet makes it too difficult, you can perform a regular push-up. If that is still too hard, elevate your hands and do an incline push-up. Here’s how to do the decline push-up:
- Place your feet on a bench and hands on the floor in the push-up position. Lower your chest to the floor while maintaining a straight line from your head to your feet.
- Press to the starting position with straight arms.
Hindu push-ups, also known as dive bomber push-ups, and an excellent push-up variation for your shoulders. By diving the head and shoulders forward, you make the exercise harder on your shoulders and arms. Here’s how to do it:
- Starting in the push-up position, instead of lowering yourself and maintaining a plank position, you’re going to pike your hips to create a triangle shape.
- Lower your nose to the floor and push yourself forward with your hands, so your hips begin to descend.
- Once your chest is close to the floor, push your head and chest into the air arching your back.
Backward Bear Crawl
If you’ve ever done backward bear crawls, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Each time you move back, you’re pushing with one shoulder. It’s brutal on your front delts and will quickly strengthen them. To put this on steroids, backward bear crawl up a hill. I’ve done it, and it sucks! Here’s how to do it:
- Start in the bear position, which is a 4-point stance but with the knees at a 90° angle. Push back with one hand.
- The hand that moves back means the opposite leg will move back. Continue on both sides while maintaining a flat back position.
TRX Reverse Fly
We can’t forget the rear delts. The reverse fly is one of the best rear delt exercises. With basic portable equipment like the TRX or rings, you can perform the reverse fly with your bodyweight.
Depending on your strength, you can make it easier by standing more upright and harder by getting more parallel with the floor. Here’s how to do it:
- Holding rings or a TRX, lean back and support your bodyweight in your arms. Create a slight bend in the elbows and separate the handles pulling them apart.
- Once you reach a position with your arms to your side in a “T” shape, slowly bring the handles together.
While the inverted row isn’t a direct rear delt exercise, it still hits your rear delts without needing any weights. You can flare the elbows as you row to target the shoulders instead of keeping them tucked when targeting the back.
Further, you can make the exercise harder by elevating your feet, so you are parallel to the floor instead of having your feet on the floor. Here’s how to do it:
- You can use the rings and TRX for the inverted row too. Straighten your arms and lean back, supporting your bodyweight. Walk your feet forward until your arms are vertical.
- Pull your chest up in a rowing motion.
Shoulder Workout Without Weights For Huge Delts
A1) Handstand Hold 2 x 20-30 sec
B1) Handstand or Pike Push-Up 4 x 5-10
C1) Decline Push-Up 3 x 15-20
D1) Backward Bear Crawl 3 x 10-20 m
D2) TRX Reverse Fly 3 x 10-15
Just because you don’t have weights doesn’t mean you can’t build boulder shoulders. If you have access to weights, you can add some exercises to finish off your shoulders at the end of a hard session.
1. Campos, Y. A., Vianna, J. M., Guimarães, M. P., Oliveira, J. L., Hernández-Mosqueira, C., da Silva, S. F., & Marchetti, P. H. (2020). Different shoulder exercises affect the activation of deltoid portions in resistance-trained individuals. Journal of Human Kinetics, 75(1), 5-14.
2. Franke, A. R., Botton, C. E., Rodrigues, R., Pinto, R., & Lima, C. (2015). Analysis of anterior, middle, and posterior deltoid activation during single and multijoint exercises. J Sports Med Phys Fitness, 55, 714-721.