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Does physical distancing have you jonesing for the gym? You can be your own workout buddy with bodyweight exercises that will sculpt your sagging shoulders.
“Bodyweight exercises are great for shoulders because they’re muscles that generally don’t require a lot of weight to achieve muscle fatigue or gains,” says Alex Davis, co-creator of the wellness site Ryan and Alex Duo Life.
Your shoulder muscles (the anterior, medial, and posterior deltoid muscles) are engaged in most popular bodyweight exercises, like planks and push-ups.
Bodyweight shoulder workouts won’t just affect your strength and appearance — they’re also the cure for slumping work-from-home posture.
Try these 15 bodyweight exercises from the pros to help you get your shoulders in shape.
Sets/Reps: 3 sets of 10–12 reps
How-to: Start in a plank position with hands shoulder-width apart and elevated on a box or bench. Lower your chest toward the box, then use chest and triceps to push back up to the starting position.
You should feel more activation in the lower fibers of your chest muscles with an incline push-up than with a traditional push-up on a flat surface.
Muscles targeted: Pectorals, deltoids, triceps
Pro tip: “It is important to begin with your body fully straight in the plank position and not to get too close to the box — this can cause overextension of the spine, which might lead to some pain in the lower back,” says personal trainer Sal Kassam, co-founder of the London-based gym SALECCA.
Need a challenge? “The incline, flat, and decline push-up will all hit the triceps, chest, and shoulders in slightly different amounts. So, for best results when working out from home, rotate and progress all three,” says Kassam. “You can add a challenge by setting the hands closer together for more tricep focus or, alternatively, if these are too challenging to begin with, use a low platform and perform with knees on the ground.”
Sets/Reps: 2–3 sets of 15–20 steps
How-to: Sit on the floor with knees bent, feet shoulder-width apart, and palms on the floor behind you with fingers pointing forward. Engage glutes and raise hips off the floor, making a table shape with your body.
Walk forward with left foot and right hand, then with right foot and left hand. Walk forward for the specified number of steps, then reverse the movement and crab walk backward to the starting position.
Muscles targeted: Glutes, abdominals, triceps, quads, hamstrings, lats
Pro tip: “This is a total-body movement that can be slowed down or sped up depending on the desired intensity of the workout,” says personal trainer and health coach Hannah Daugherty.
Sets/Reps: 3 sets of 12–15 reps
How-to: Start in a push-up position but with feet a bit wider than shoulder width. Brace core and lower your body toward the floor, leading with your chest. Instead of pushing straight up from the floor as you would in a regular push-up, push upper body back toward heels. As upper body goes back, bend legs and let hips rise as upper body comes back to meet them.
Your end position will look like an elevated Child’s Pose. Keep your spine long. Drive through your legs to return to the starting position.
Muscles targeted: Abdominals, pectorals, triceps, deltoids
Pro tip: “This is one of my favorite push-up variations for all skill levels,” says Darren Tomasso, performance coach at The Session NYC. “First, it’s great exercise to build pushing strength. Next, it challenges core control as you transition from the push-back to push-up position. Finally, it is great for overhead shoulder stability and mobility.”
Sets/Reps: 5 sets of 20 reps
How-to: Start in a plank position with arms straight, core braced, and neck, shoulders, hips, and ankles in line. Exhale and you lift hips, transferring your weight back and aiming to create a straight line from wrists to hips, before lowering back into the starting position.
Muscles targeted: Shoulders, hamstrings, biceps, triceps
Pro tip: “Working on your hamstring and calf flexibility will help you improve this exercise,” says personal trainer Hannah Sheerin of W Fitness.
Sets/Reps: 3 sets of 8–10 reps
How-to: Start in Downward Dog, then walk feet toward hands so shoulders are above hands. Keep elbows close to your sides as you lower your forehead toward the floor. Aim to lightly touch the floor with your forehead before pushing back up.
Muscles targeted: Chest, shoulders, core
Pro tip: “Keep your elbows close to your sides as you do these,” says personal trainer Krista Stryker, founder of 12 Minute Athlete. “This will make the exercise much more difficult but will lead to much better form and increased strength in the long run. Also, make sure you’re keeping your core tight throughout the entire movement. You should feel like you’re pulling your ribs up and inward.”
Sets/Reps: 2 sets of 10 reps
How-to: Elevate your feet on a chair, bench, table, or box and start in Downward Dog, with hands wider than shoulder width and fingers facing forward.
Bend elbows and inhale as you slowly lower your head until it nearly touches the floor. Arms should make the shape of a goal post, and elbows shouldn’t track out past wrists. Exhale as you push back up, straightening arms but not locking elbows.
Muscles targeted: Shoulders and triceps
Pro tip: “To target the shoulders, keep your hands wider than shoulder distance,” says Ryan Gleason, co-creator of Ryan and Alex Duo Life. “To target the triceps, place your hands shoulder-distance apart. As with any push-up variation, always maintain a slight bend in your elbows, since locking your elbows puts a significant load on the joint.”
Sets/Reps: 3 sets of 10 per side
How-to: Start in a plank position on your elbows (straight line from heels to shoulders). Keeping core tight, place the palm of one hand on the floor and push up, following with the other arm until you’re in a push-up position. Lower yourself back to the elbow plank position, one arm at a time. Up with both arms and down with both arms is 1 rep.
Muscles targeted: Triceps and abs
Pro tip: “Switch your lead arm for each rep or for each set to keep balanced strength,” says Mackenzie Holznecht, the Get Healthy coach at Running with Bacon.
Sets/Reps: 3 sets of 4–6 reps
How-to: Start in a push-up position with your feet toward a wall. Slowly back up, placing feet higher and higher on the wall and moving arms backward toward your body until you’re in a handstand position with stomach toward the wall. Slowly crawl back down into a push-up position to complete 1 rep.
Muscles targeted: Shoulders, chest, abs, back muscles
Pro tip: “Perform this movement slowly to avoid injury and work the muscles harder,” says Matthew Scillitani, CEO of the North Carolina-based diet and fitness service Health Triad.
Sets/ Reps: 3 sets of 5 reps
How-to: Lie faceup on the floor with knees bent and feet as close to butt as possible. Place hands next to ears, with fingers pointing toward heels. Push hips up, then arch your back and press hands into the floor to lift into Bridge Pose (also known as Wheel Pose).
Once you’re comfortable holding Bridge Pose, add push-ups. As you inhale, bend your elbows and lower your head toward the floor as far as you can. As you exhale, engage shoulders to push back up. That’s 1 rep.
Muscles targeted: Shoulders, back, glutes, quads
Pro tip: “If this is too challenging, start by using an exercise ball to support Bridge Pose,” says Ryan and Alex Duo Life co-creator Ryan Gleason. “This requires a lot of chest, shoulder, and back flexibility, so you may need to work on flexibility in those areas before doing this exercise.”
Sets/Reps: 1 set of 10 reps
How-to: Lie facedown on the floor with your face and neck comfortable and supported. Extend arms out to the sides in a T shape, then raise arms and chest and hold for a couple of seconds before lowering. Alternatively, extend arms to a Y shape for additional benefits.
Muscles targeted: Shoulders, back extensors
Pro tip: “You might find it helpful to rest your head on a towel or pillow to avoid any strain,” says Kassam.
Sets/Reps: 3 sets of 10 reps
How-to: Start in a plank position. Shift your weight into right hand while lifting hips to the ceiling and reaching for right toe with left hand. Inhale while dropping hips and returning to plank position. Repeat on the other side. That’s 1 rep.
Muscles targeted: Shoulders and core (abs and obliques)
Pro tip: “When returning to plank position from pike, make sure you don’t arch your back or thrust your hips down toward the floor. This aggravates your lower back,” says Gleason.
Sets/Reps: 3 sets of 10 reps
How-to: Start with your body weight on one hand or elbow in side plank position. Your body should be in a straight line from head to feet. Both knees can be bent, or you can bend one knee or keep both legs straight, depending on your fitness level.
Lift hips off the floor and remain elevated (your hips will want to sink toward the floor). Lift your free arm toward the sky and slowly drop it back to your hip.
Pro tip: “The most important thing is for your elbow/hand to be directly under your shoulder,” says personal trainer Pam Sherman of The Perfect Balance. “Having your elbow or hand outside of the shoulder can put a lot of stress on the shoulder. Doing this exercise in front of a mirror to see your form can help.”
Sets/Reps: 3 sets, 30 seconds each
How-to: Start in Downward Dog, with hands and feet on the floor and hips high. Lower your chest toward the floor, bending at elbows, then pull chest up and extend arms as you bring hips to the floor (similar to Upward Dog). Raise hips back up while bringing chest back to the floor, extending arms to return to Down Dog.
Muscles targeted: Chest, shoulders, hamstrings, lower back, quads, triceps, glutes
Pro tip: “Think of this move as a dog trying to go underneath a fence then backing out,” says personal trainer Jason Salter, co-owner of Forged Soul Fitness in New Jersey. “Throughout this exercise your chest and hips should not be touching the ground, just getting very close and hovering above.”
Sets/Reps: 2 sets of 7–10 reps
How-to: Kneel in front of a table, place your hands on the side of the table, and slide backward until you’re in a forward lean. Arms should be slightly bent and extended above your head, and core should be tight, with spine locked.
Press against the table to start the pullover, moving upper body up until hands are at about eye level. Slowly return to the starting position in a slow, deliberate motion.
Muscles targeted: Lats, chest, triceps, shoulders
Pro tip: “Normally done lying down and with weights, most people don’t realize that this can be done as a bodyweight exercise by changing your approach and using a table,” says Nick Rizzo, fitness research director at RunRepeat.com. “Pullovers are incredibly underrated. They are perfect for improving the strength, stability, and mobility of your shoulders while also recruiting almost every muscle group in the upper body.”
Sets/Reps: 3 sets of 10–12 reps
How-to: Lie under a table or another firm surface. Grip the table with hands placed slightly more narrow than shoulder width and in line with your eyes. Pull up, bringing your face to the table and contracting deltoid muscles at the top before slowly returning to the starting position.
Muscles targeted: Rear deltoids, traps, rhomboids, rotator cuffs
Pro tip: “A normal inverted row involves having a wide grip and is designed to primarily target your back and lats,” says Rizzo. “With some slight alterations, inverted rows can be changed into face pulls that are great for targeting your rear delts and external rotators.”
Your shoulders get involved in a wide variety of exercises even when you’re not targeting them directly, so moderation is key when designing a shoulder-specific workout plan, even one involving only your body weight.
Don’t overdo it: There’s no reason you can’t do simple push-ups three or four times a week as part of a fitness routine, but less can be more when targeting specific exercises for your shoulders.
Mix up your routine: Choose a variety of exercises that work out your front, middle, and rear deltoid muscles.
Max out the benefits: You can still get a great shoulder workout at home and without any equipment. For the greatest benefits to your overall functional health, focus on exercises that get a lot of muscles involved rather than those that target a single muscle group.