7 Minimalist Shoulder Exercises to Get Jacked
Sculpt your upper body with these powerful yet simple moves.
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Some of the hardest exercises I do in the gym (read: accessory work) require little to no equipment. Building a solid foundation makes other functional movements we perform every day easier and reduces risk of injury tenfold.
When it comes down to it, any time you train, you’re teaching your body how to move. You’re reinforcing habits, meaning effective training relies on intensity and quality of movement. It doesn’t necessarily require all the bells and whistles of equipment.
For jacked shoulders and a tight midline, give these moves a try.
1. Single-Leg Plank and Single-Leg Plank With Leg Raise
While this is also a core exercise, an isometric hold of your posterior chain and shoulders is required to maintain a good active position. Think about squeezing your shoulder blades together and keeping your body stacked over your shoulder the entire time. Don’t let your hips sag toward the mat.
Do a 30- to 45-second hold three times (both sides).
To make it more challenging, add a leg raise. Do three rounds of 10 to 15 reps each side, or if you have a small plate (think: 2.5 to 5 pounds), hold it in your opposite arm going through a full range of motion (up to your head and down to your side body) while maintaining this plank position.
Get into a plank position, keeping tension throughout your midline while you walk your hands up to a high plank and down to a low plank. None of these positions are passive. Always be thinking about squeezing your shoulder blades together in the bottom position. I love to do this exercise for time rather than reps to increase intensity. Begin with three times 45 seconds and progress from there.
3. Scapula Push-Up
Simple but effective. Use the scapula push-up in either your workout routine or as a shoulder warm-up before lifting to maintain good shoulder health. The more jacked your back is, the less work your shoulder capsule must do. The shoulder joint is the most mobile joint in the body. Working consistently to stabilize it with accessory exercises like this will promote injury prevention and longevity.
Stack your hands under your shoulders and squeeze your should blades together without creating any bend in your arms. Your body should drop down slighting in this retracted position while your arms continue to stay straight.
Begin with sets of 10 in front of the mirror. Do this for quality of movement rather than quantity.
4. Bear Crawl
If you haven’t been crawling, you should start now. This exercise will boost performance in the gym and work your core and shoulders more than you realize. Keep a slight bend in your knees and your shoulder stacked while you do this traveling plank. The burn with this one is so real.
Begin with four times 10 feet progressing to two times 50 feet.
5. Handstand Hold
This is a killer isometric exercise for your shoulders as well as an excellent way to get a feel for a solid stacked vertical position. Keep your abs engaged, feet together, and squeeze your glutes and quads the entire time to create tension. Keep your shoulders active and engaged by pushing into the ground, spreading your fingers and thinking about extending your shoulders into your ears.Begin with three rounds of 30-second holds.If this isn’t a position you feel comfortable in, then do the following:
- Spend time practicing kicking up into a handstand position.
- Get into a vertical position with your feet on a box to become more comfortable upside down.
6. Wall Walk-Up
Beginning in a plank position, use your arms and feet to walk yourself up the wall. Maintain tension in your midline as you use your shoulders to bring yourself into a vertical position. The goal is to get your bellybutton flush against the wall. If this isn’t realistic, work on walking yourself up to a point at which you feel most comfortable. Either way, this gets hard fast! Begin with three sets of five to 10, depending on your comfort level. Bring your legs together at the top, pointing your feet and squeezing your glutes and quads to create a solid position.
7. Shoulder Tap
A more advanced progression of the wall walk-up, this exercise requires you to feel comfortable being vertical against the wall. Try to keep your body stacked and everything tight as you shift the weight between each arm to tap your shoulders.
With a little bit of practice, you will begin to feel the ground underneath your hands and weight-shifting will become effortless.