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Hit All 3 Delts With Functional Calisthenics Shoulder Training

Table of calisthenics shoulder exercises (with difficulty levels PLUS sets and reps for hypertrophy)

Calisthenics shoulder exercise

Primary Muscles

Secondary muscles

Difficulty

Sets (hypertrophy)

Reps (hypertrophy)

Wall slides

Deltoids (anterior, posterior)

Rhomboids, lower trapezius, core

Beginner

3-4

8-12 reps

Plank to downward dog

Deltoids (anterior), core

Triceps, chest

Beginner

3-4

8-12 reps

Scapular push ups

serratus anterior, rhomboids

Lower trapezius, core

Beginner

3-4

8-12 reps

Prone IYT

Deltoids (posterior), back

Core, triceps

Beginner

3-4

8-12 reps

Shoulder taps

Deltoids (anterior)

Core, triceps

Beginner

3-4

8-12 reps

Inverted rows

Deltoids (posterior), back

Biceps, core

Moderate

3-4

8-12 reps

Elbow to high plank

Deltoids (anterior), core

Triceps, chest

Moderate

3-4

8-12 reps

Push ups

Deltoids (anterior), chest, triceps

Core

Moderate

3-4

8-12 reps

Pike push ups

Deltoids (anterior), triceps, chest

Core

Intermediate

3-4

8-12 reps

Decline push ups

Deltoids (anterior), chest, triceps

Core

Intermediate

3-4

8-12 reps

Dips

Deltoids (anterior), chest, triceps

Core

Intermediate

3-4

8-12 reps

Handstand hold

Deltoids (anterior)

Core, arms

Advanced

3-4

40s-60s

Wall walks

Deltoids (anterior), core

Triceps, chest

Advanced

3-4

8-12 reps

One arm push up

Deltoids (anterior), chest, triceps

Core

Advanced

3-4

8-12 reps

Full planche

Deltoids (anterior), core

Triceps, chest

Advanced

3-4

40s-60s

 

 

Before you do any of the coming workouts—a quick 2-5 minute warm up is very helpful for long-term performance!

Studies emphasise that warming up before a workout is very important for both short and long term performance. It helps you recover faster too.

Basic stuff like a quick jog, dynamic stretching like arm circles, and resistance band mobility moves. Just something to literally warm up the muscles.

Doing this increases blood flow, joint mobility, prepared the nerves for activity, and reduces your risk of injury - crucial for moves that require lots of balance.

Set aside 2-5 minutes to warm up. Spending at least 20-30 seconds per move, 1 minute as a maximum. And you will thank yourself later.

Calisthenics shoulder workouts from beginner to advanced

Let’s dive STRAIGHT into the meat and potatoes of this. Note that more clarity is later on, such as what to do if you can’t manage a workout.

So check that if you’re unsure!

Beginner calisthenics shoulder workout

Duration: 22 minutes

Goal: build foundational strength in shoulder muscles.

Rest between sets: 60 seconds

Rest between rounds: 2 minutes

Total number of rounds: 3

Exercise

Reps

Tempo

Scapula push-ups

6

4-1-2-0

Wall slides

8

2-2-2-0

Shoulder taps

40s

Constant

Plank to downward dog

4

3-3-3-3

 

 

Moderate calisthenics shoulder workout

Duration: 27.1 minutes

Goal: increase strength and endurance in shoulder muscles.

Rest between sets: 50 seconds

Rest between rounds: 2 minutes

Total number of rounds: 5

Exercise

Reps

Tempo

Push-ups

6

4-1-2-0

Inverted rows

6

4-1-2-0

Elbow to high plank

45s

Constant

 

 

Intermediate calisthenics shoulder workout

Duration: 28 minutes

Goal: improve shoulder muscle strength and stability.

Rest between sets: 45 seconds

Rest between rounds: 2 minutes

Total number of rounds: 5

Exercise

Reps

Tempo

Dips

7

4-1-2-0

Pike push-ups

7

4-1-2-0

Decline push-ups

7

4-1-2-0

 

Advanced calisthenics shoulder workout

Duration: 34 minutes

Goal: develop advanced strength and control in shoulder muscles.

Rest between sets: 40 seconds

Rest between rounds: 2 minutes

Total number of rounds: 5

Exercise

Reps

Tempo

Handstand hold

45s

Constant

Full planche

45s

Constant

Wall walks

7

4-1-4-0

One arm push-up

7

4-1-2-0

 

What if I find an exercise too easy or hard? How do you judge difficulty?

Calisthenics is about relative strength—what’s hard for one could be a breeze for another.

For example: a lean 5"6 skinny guy weighing 67kg soaking wet, versus a stocky 6"4 man weighing 94kg on an empty stomach. The lighter guy might find push ups a lot easier than the heavier one because calisthenics uses your own weight as resistance.

So how do you judge difficulty?

You’ve probably realised it’s not just about the exercise, but your own bodyweight (plus body composition). That’s why you gotta try them out, and find a variation that is just right for you - challenging, but not too challenging.

I’ve kept this in mind when making these workouts. As you try these calisthenics shoulder exercises, keep in mind that they're supposed to be adaptable.

For example, if you’ve flown past these calisthenics shoulder workouts, and the only challenging one is the advanced routine. But you find it’s a little too advanced, then use a progression for the exercise, e.g. tuck planche. Which is made a lot more convenient with parallettes.

The misconception with “beginner, intermediate, advanced”

What's considered "beginner" or "advanced" isn't set in stone—it's relative to the most basic exercises. Such as a wall push-up being the most basic, and an explosive planche push up being the most advanced.

After looking at endless studies, and talking to hundreds of people, I see one common mistake people making:

Blindly selecting exercises or workout routines without judging their personal ability level.

The workouts above could be too hard or too easy for you, as I don’t know what YOU can do. I’d need to meet you in person to be sure.

So, looking for a solution, and realising that it’s best to personalise things, I started the Gravgear telegram group. A free, friendly, and easily accessible place.

The idea is that people like you can help each other out with whatever scenarios you face.

If you want, you can join here, removing any guessing in your training.

How to perform the calisthenics shoulder exercises

color code of muscles worked diagrams to show primary, secondary, and minimal engagement of muscles in calisthenics exercises
 

1 - Wall slides

Muscles worked

How to perform

diagram of a yellow skin coloured mannequin showing muscles targeted in two shades of red during the wall slide calisthenics exercise
 
woman in gym outfit doing wall slide exercise

Credits to Gymshark

 

You’d think they’re for beginners, but with proper form, they can challenge even advanced guys. I know. Gabo Saturno and Daniel Vadnal did a great video on wall slides showing the benefits and challenges.

Wall slides target the anterior and posterior deltoids. As well as the rhomboids and lower trapezius, all while engaging your core - but not enough to get a six-pack I’m afraid.

Psst, and if you’re brave, you can add resistance bands or dumbbells to make it harder.

With the execution, as you can see, keep the arms pressed on the wall. Control the range of motion, firmly holding form. Otherwise, you won’t get nearly as many benefits.

2 - Scapula push up

Muscles worked

How to perform

diagram of a yellow skin coloured mannequin showing muscles targeted in two shades of red during the scapula push up calisthenics exercise
man wearing grey t shirt doing scapula push up exercise on green astrofoam indoor mat

Credit to Andrew Sacks

 

“Scap” push ups hit the serratus anterior, rhomboids, and lower trapezius.

Try not to move your arms, but squeeze your shoulder blades together at the bottom. Then push them right out in the upward phase. Here’s a quick video of scapula push ups if you’re unsure from the gif above.

They’re excellent for shoulder mobility and stability, helping prevent injury and avoid months of setbacks. Especially when practising moves like the L-sit to handstand, or even manna to handstand.

Every athlete and “calisthenics enthusiast” has used these at some point. As there are just so many strong benefits, such as:

  • Rehabilitation
  • Fix shoulder imbalances
  • Better scapula control
  • Improve posture
  • Relieve shoulder pain
  • Gain shoulder stability
  • —and improve your normal push ups

3 - Pike push up

Muscles worked

How to perform

diagram of a yellow skin coloured mannequin showing muscles targeted in two shades of red during the pike push up calisthenics exercise
shirtless man doing pike push up exercise on the floor

Credit to MensHealth

 

Primarily focusing on the anterior deltoids, you also activate the chest and triceps. Definitely the triceps - whew!

Ryan over at MinusTheGym showed a great way to do pike push ups - even if you find them too hard.

They can be made a lot harder (more effective) using tall parallettes, increasing the range of motion. Make sure not to flare out your elbows too much, this can lead to injury as you compensate with poor form.

4 - Push up

Muscles worked

How to perform

diagram of a yellow skin coloured mannequin showing muscles targeted in two shades of red during the push up calisthenics exercise
shirtless man doing push up exercise on the floor

Credit to MensHealth

 

Push ups are classic. Targeting the chest, triceps, and shoulders. With the shoulders, we’re looking at the anterior deltoids for this move.

Everyone. Does. These.

You probably cranked these out on the playground as a kid. Not much need for explanation here, just face the floor keeping your neck straight.

5 - Decline push up

Muscles worked

How to perform

diagram of a yellow skin coloured mannequin showing muscles targeted in two shades of red during the decline push up calisthenics exercise
shirtless man doing decline push up exercise using a bench

Credit to MensHealth

 

Decline push ups are just push ups + your feet up.

Don’t sag the hips, keep your face straight, as the guy above is doing.

Compared to normal push ups these target the shoulders a lot more, specifically the anterior deltoids.

6 - Dips

Muscles worked

How to perform

diagram of a yellow skin coloured mannequin showing muscles targeted in two shades of red during the dip calisthenics exercise
man in grey t shirt doing bodyweight dip exercise in gym

Credit to Barbend

 

These use your whole bodyweight, so they’re the most challenging on your shoulders, chest, and triceps.

You can make bodyweight dips easier with resistance bands. Or make them harder by using a weight vest.

7 - Shoulder taps

Muscles worked

How to perform

diagram of a yellow skin coloured mannequin showing muscles targeted in two shades of red during the shoulder tap calisthenics exercise
women wearing black outfit doing shoulder tap exercise on the floor

Credit to Healthline

 

These are a dynamic core and shoulder stability exercise. If you looked at your shoulders working during the move, you’ll see all these little strands pulling around. Those are the smaller stabiliser muscles going at it.

They’re highly effective at targeting the anterior deltoid of your shoulder. While building core strength and stability.

8 - Inverted row

Muscles worked

How to perform

diagram of a yellow skin coloured mannequin showing muscles targeted in two shades of red during the inverted row calisthenics exercise
shirless man wearing black shorts and red shoes doing a bodyweight ring row on gymnastic rings

Credit to Matt Haney

 

Inverted rows (horizontal pulls): good for posterior delts, rhomboids, and your back. Most pull up progressions (along with the wall slide) have bodyweight rows in the mix. As you can adjust difficulty depending on the angle you use.

Gymnastic rings are ideal for inverted rows, as you can just move your feet and you’re there. Making it easier or harder. While also allowing for healthier joint activation with the natural grip.

PLUS, you can train almost any move on them. And gymnastic rings are generally better than straight bars, as long-term use of bars can wear out your joints.

9 - Plank to downward dog

Muscles worked

How to perform

diagram of a yellow skin coloured mannequin showing muscles targeted in two shades of red during the plank to downward dog calisthenics exercise
women in black outfit doing plank to downward dog exercise

Credit to Healthline

 

Anterior delts are hit with these, most pushing “hand on floor” moves activate these as you’ve noticed by now.

It’s quite simple: transition from extended plank to downward dog.

Keep the core engaged, don’t sag, or arch, like this:

[visual]

10 - Prone IYT

Muscles worked

How to perform

diagram of a yellow skin coloured mannequin showing muscles targeted in two shades of red during the prone IYT calisthenics exercise
man lying down facing floor doing prone IYT exercise

Credit to Revolution Human Performance

 

Prone IYT’s strengthen the posterior deltoids and upper back. Lie faced down on a mat, bench, or the floor, and lift your arms up in the shape of the letters "I", "Y", and "T".

Good for rehab, reducing risk of shoulder injuries, and getting a good burn in a calisthenics shoulder workout. It doesn’t take much weight in your hands to make this significantly harder, due to physics and that.

11 - Elbow to high plank (alternating plank)

Muscles worked

How to perform

diagram of a yellow skin coloured mannequin showing muscles targeted in two shades of red during the elbow to high plank calisthenics exercise
man wearing red t-shirt doing alternating elbow to high plank exercise on a yoga mat

Credit to 1UpNutrition

 

Highly functional move - the alternating plank. Or as some people call it, the “elbow to high plank”.

Super effective at hitting the anterior and lateral deltoids, not to mention the core.

It’s worth mentioning the smaller stabiliser muscles involved in this exercise. They’re crucial to develop properly. If you want good stability and balance for handstands, planches, and L-sit moves.

Have strict form, not letting your hips or body wobble too much - maximising your stabiliser muscle gains.

12 - Handstand hold

Muscles worked

How to perform

diagram of a yellow skin coloured mannequin showing muscles targeted in two shades of red during the handstand hold calisthenics exercise
man performing a calisthenics standing kick to free standing handstand

Credit to Bodyweight Training Arena

 

You can start this using the wall. Then gradually move away over the long term as you learn to balance upside down. Alternatively, you could try a frog stand progression, as this guy Lucas showed a great example of here.

As the diagram above suggests, you get fantastic lateral and anterior shoulder strengthening. Along with everything else…

Focus on maintaining a straight body position with your arms locked out. And your shoulders actively pushing away from the ground.

13 - Wall walk

Muscles worked

How to perform

diagram of a yellow skin coloured mannequin showing muscles targeted in two shades of red during the wall walk calisthenics exercise
shirtless man doing wall walk exercise in his house

Credit to 100 days of discipline

 

Wall walks provide a unique challenge on the shoulders, improving strength and stability. Also making you more aware of your legs when upside down.

It can serve as an underrated step to learning the handstand. As well as getting the strength to maintain it.

Highly recommend using these throughout your calisthenics training. As you can scale wall walks in difficulty with weight vests. Even at advanced stages.

14 - One arm push up

Muscles worked

How to perform

diagram of a yellow skin coloured mannequin showing muscles targeted in two shades of red during the one arm push up calisthenics exercise
shirtless man doing one arm push up exercise on floor in gym under spotlight

Credit to jaybryanmagic on tenor

 

Hits the chest, triceps, and shoulders, with a main focus on unilateral strength and stability.

By doing a push up on one arm, you engage the shoulder muscles intensely. Forcing you to stabilize the body throughout the movement.

You can make it easier by kneeling or doing negative reps.

15 - Full planche

Muscles worked

How to perform

diagram of a yellow skin coloured mannequin showing muscles targeted in two shades of red during the full planche calisthenics exercise
shirtless man doing full planche exercise on floor in gym

Credit to The Movement Athlete

 

This needs a ton of upper body strength, balance, and core stability. The chest, triceps, biceps, shoulders, and nearly every muscle in your body is involved. It’s the most obvious marker of an advanced calisthenics athlete.

Start by mastering planche leans, tuck planches, pseudo planche push ups, and advanced frog stands. Allowing you to build the strength and stability required.

Progress gradually. Do not rush this. Too many people want to look badass without the proper work behind it.

I included this reminder as this is also something I see many people making mistakes with.

There is nothing wrong with wanting that sense of achievement. Just make sure you’re training with intelligence, we’re here for the long game.

Don’t forget to use mind-to-muscle connection, keeping in mind this nuance nobody talks about…

Mind-to-muscle connection is an ancient concept - long before the fitness industry was around, at least as we know it today.

It describes visualising your muscles, both before, during, and after a workout. Really imagining them stressed. Thinking the resistance is greater than it is physically.

Literally imagine yourself weighing a lot more than you actually do. E.g. a 100kg resistance band pinning you down during a push up.

If you do this kind of thing, you can actually get better results. Immersing yourself in a workout has evidence that it’s better for your gains.

As a bonus you can eat a teaspoon of honey with a pinch of salt before training

Blending honey and salt together in this way is an awesome pre-workout. It’s even more effective if you drink well alongside it.

It also helps get this pumped veiny effect around your muscles as a bonus.

Honey is a natural source of carbs, and your body digests it very quickly, giving a super energy boost. Coupled with the salt replacing electrolytes lost in the workout, stopping dehydration.

Overall, it’s probably the healthiest pre-workout you can take. Try it and see what happens!

About these calisthenics shoulder exercises

All you need to build functional shoulder strength in calisthenics is consistency.

Enjoy the process of being a badass training hard, and you’ll get results.

Of course, you need enough intensity and time under tension in every set to trigger proper development. But I’m assuming you know that.

Whether you're aiming to master skills like the planche, or just looking for a well-balanced and robust body. Strong shoulders are needed.

In calisthenics, it's nearly impossible to isolate a single muscle group. Especially with major muscle groups like the shoulders.

All the calisthenics shoulder exercises covered here also engage other muscles like the chest, triceps, back, and core. Multiplying the benefits of your workout.

We still want to train our shoulders equally. To ensure balanced development across all three deltoids. So that’s why we have such the variety.

But isolating the muscles isn’t the goal with calisthenics, as this Reddit user highlighted:

Comment
by from discussion
inovercominggravity

 

To wrap up the point about training shoulders with compound moves, here's a breakdown of each deltoid’s function:

Deltoid head

Position on shoulder

Function

Anterior deltoids

Front head

Responsible for shoulder flexion, such as raising your arms in front of you or overhead.

Lateral deltoids

Outer head

Engaged in shoulder abduction, allowing you to raise your arms out to the side.

Posterior deltoids

Back head

Primarily involved in shoulder extension, facilitating movements like pulling your arms backward.

 

 

What if I can’t do an exercise?

You might be wondering if you can manage certain exercises, I did too when I started training. And yes, you might not be able to do some of the move, even if it’s labelled as “beginner”.

Blindly picking workouts can be a bad idea. Standardized routines, labelled as beginner, intermediate, or advanced, can sometimes hinder progress rather than facilitate it. As your body may compensate with poor form, leading to movement dysfunction and even injury.

If some of these exercises were too easy, they wouldn’t challenge your muscles to grow – you’d simply be wasting your time.

This is one of the main reasons I made the calisthenics playbook. Giving you progressions toward the one-arm push up, helping you develop the boulder shoulders that you came here for.

Take a look over its contents below, and learn how to do the perfect plank and scapula push up.

Have fun earning a ton of functional strength guys!

Citations