Get Boulder Shoulders with Calisthenic Workouts

There’s no denying the important role the shoulders play in the general movement of the body, least of all in a calisthenics program. The shoulders are a complex mass of muscle groups that move together through a fairly broad field of motion.

And while the range is an obvious bonus, it is also one of the main reasons why great care needs to be taken with the shoulders when indulging in any kind of exercise—specifically that where resistance is employed for the purpose of building strength and fitness. The body weight alone doesn’t generally allow a range of movement that goes beyond the normal or natural, so the risk of injury is reduced significantly with calisthenics workouts compared to using heavy weights.

This means there is much less chance of damaging the shoulders with calisthenics training then there is with weights as the joints and ligaments are built to withstand the weight of the body in various ways. The kind of exercises and movements employed in a decent calisthenics program generally do more for shoulder health and mobility than they pose any potential risk of injury.

That said, it always pays to make mobility work the first and last aspect of any training session, always looking to induce more mobility and range of movement, while working strength and mobility in conjunction.

Once the shoulders get strong using the bodyweight alone, anyone who does lift weights or partake in other disciplines or sports will find the training done with calisthenics has huge carry-over in terms of performance in other areas. So let’s have a look at a few calisthenics shoulder workout ideas along with a few other tips and pointers.

The Primary Muscles of the Shoulder and their Function

The shoulder is a complex joint comprised of various different muscles. The shoulder joint is the most mobile joint in the body, and is responsible for the forward and backward movement of the shoulder, allowing the arm to move in a circular motion and to move up and away from the body.

There are 5 primary muscles involved in the working of the shoulder, namely the serratus anterior, the trapezius, the pectoralis minor, the levator scapulae, and the rhomboids. The majority of work is done by the trapezius and deltoid, the largest of the shoulder muscle components.

As the muscles involved in the shoulder allow flexibility in all ranges of motion, it’s a common site of muscle injury and pain. The range of motion of the shoulders is allowed by the rotator cuff, which is in turn comprised of four tendons which connect muscles to bone.

Rotator cuff injuries are fairly common in sports and can be real setbacks to your training. Thus any strain or injury should be avoided at all costs through healthy shoulder training practices like mobility work and calisthenics movement.

Is Equipment Necessary or Useful for Shoulder-Focused Calisthenics Training?

No and yes respectively for necessary and useful. Shoulder-focused calisthenics movement and training is quite possible without any need of equipment other than the floor. Think of hand-stand push-ups as the ultimate calisthenics shoulder-strengthening challenge and you’ll get the idea. You simply cannot get any more bodyweight to push than is possible from this position.

However, as far as equipment goes for any exercises related to chest or shoulder elements of calisthenics routines, equipment such as bars—any kind of bar really. We could be talking in terms of the pulling that comes with pull-ups and chin-ups, or the pushing that comes with push-ups and burpee routines etc.—bars can really help with joint health.

A set of push-up bars for instance can do wonders for shoulder, elbow, and wrist health, mostly in unison—meaning very low risk of injury or strain. Although not a strictly necessary requirement for being able to push the bodyweight from a handstand position, pushing from the grip position allowed by the bars can really help build integral strength and joint health in and around the shoulders, elbows, and wrist.

When these three components are working in tandem—specifically with the added grip position—it is much easier to attack the main muscles doing the work as there are more angles.

Sometimes this is not possible with the hands flat on the floor and many weaknesses in the chain such as wrists, elbows, and most of all the shoulders—are going to show up like nobody’s business when you are trying to undertake something like a handstand push without having done the necessary preliminary work.

This could be anything from 3-12 months for someone just starting out with calisthenics-type of training—with which there is no cheating and eventually using only the correct form with ever-stronger and more artful versions of it becomes the natural and logical way forward.

No amount of swinging, kipping, or grunting will help with the real and most valuable body weight work.

Sample Calisthenics Shoulder Exercises

Using a good variety of exercises and movements to train and develop initial shoulder strength—holistically—is a great way to approach something like a hand-stand push-up, assuming that is one of the main goals here.

Ultimately, it should be—at least at some point in your training if you are serious about building and maintaining a strong, mobile, and joint-healthy body with the help of calisthenics training.

  • Establishing some kind of progressive sequence might prove useful if you are just getting started on this. That could mean elevating the feet when doing other types of push-ups until you have progressively worked up to a position close to vertical, or at least around 45 degrees. From this position and angle, you can transition into a wall-supported handstand press.
  • Experiment with different degrees of downward incline pressing from a basic plank position and also add in highly-beneficial preparatory moves like the Hindu push-up and the dive-bomber push-up. These kinds of moves help utilize a wider range of movement in the shoulders during the decline part of the exercise, which can then be further tweaked with different foot positions and widths.
  1. Hindu Pushups
  2. Decline Pushups
  3. One Leg Pushups
  4. Wall-Walking
  5. Back Bridge
  6. Bridge Pushups
  7. Stationary Handstand
  8. Handstand Pushups


You may need to spend some time working on a few preliminary conditioning exercises that will allow you to achieve a handstand push-up more easily over time.

You may then consider working on handstand progressions before trying to jump straight into full-on handstand push-ups.

If your upper back and shoulders are stubbornly refusing to let you even get close to some of these movements you might consider using a foam roller to condition and gradually get more arch in that tight back.


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