Nothing draws attention like a strong set of shoulders. Sure, muscular shoulders and traps give you a lean, powerful look. But shoulders also play a more prominent role in core stabilisation. When you can move by pulling your shoulders back and down, you’re counteracting the effects of sitting all day.

We spend much of our time slouched forward at desks and behind steering wheels. That’s because our shoulders do a lot of work in everyday life. You don’t have to fight over dumbbells at the gym to get bigger, stronger shoulders. And you don’t have to do those absurdly difficult CrossFit-style handstand push-ups, either.

Here are 10 exercises to help you reap the rewards of stronger shoulders and traps. You can use these as part of a regular workout or as a standalone circuit. If you do a circuit, do two sets of 10.

1. Cat/Cow

This familiar compound yoga move improves flexibility to the lumbar and cervical spine, as well as strengthening and stabilising the shoulders.

How to:

  • Start on all fours with hands beneath your shoulders and knees on the ground.
  • Inhale, dropping your chest as you push your hips and shoulder blades back into cow position.
  • Lift your chin and chest and gaze forward.
  • For “cat,” exhale as you draw your belly button to your spine and round your back toward the ceiling like a cat.
  • Do 2 sets of 10 reps of each with 30 sec. rest between sets.

Related article: 7 Easy Comfortable Stretches To Relieve And Loosen Shoulder Tension And Aches

2. Hand Walk

This full-body move lengthens your hamstrings and calves, opens up your ankles and lower back, and stabilises the shoulders.

How to:

  • Stand with legs straight and hands on the floor.
  • Walk your hands out.
  • Keeping legs straight, walk your feet back to your hands using short steps from your ankles.
  • Do 2 sets of 10 reps with 30 seconds rest between sets.

Related article: Here’s A Yoga Workout Just For Men To Re-Energise, Build Strength And Increase Endurance

3. Bent-Over Y / Bent-Over L

These moves not only strengthen the back and shoulders, but also counteract the effects of sitting by pulling your shoulders back and down where they belong.

How to:

  • For the Y, stand bent-over at the waist with your back flat and your chest up.
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades back and down, and lift your arms above your head to form a Y.
  • Keep your thumbs up and initiate the movement with your shoulder blades, not your arms.
  • For the L, start in the same position.
  • Lift your elbows to the ceiling as they bend to 90 degrees, and rotate your hands to the ceiling, palms down.
  • Return to the starting position and continue for the prescribed number of reps.
  • Do 2 sets of 10 reps with 30 seconds rest between sets.

Related article: Are You Able To Do Your Workouts With Your Eyes Closed? Here Are 9 Ways To Shake Things Up!

4. Pull-up

Yes, it’s a great back exercise that also works the biceps, forearms, and chest. But if done properly, by squeezing your shoulder blades back and down, pull-ups really work the hard-to-hit rear deltoids and traps as well.

How to:

  • Grab the bar with an overhand grip.
  • Hanging from the bar, pull your shoulder blades back and down to lift your body up and build momentum.
  • Finish by pulling up with your arms.
  • Do 2 sets of 10 reps (or as many as possible) with 30 seconds rest between sets.

Related article: Rock Solid Abs & Core With These 11 Plank Variations

5. Plank

This promotes overall core stability, but your shoulders are doing much of the work. It’ll cook your abs, too. For an even more shoulder-intensive variation, try the star plank.

How to:

  • Lie in a prone push-up position with forearms resting on the floor, elbows under shoulders and bent 90 degrees.
  • Push up off the elbows, tucking your chin so your head is in line with your body.
  • Keep head in line with your spine and your belly button drawn in.
  • Hold for one minute.
  • Do 2 sets of 60 seconds with 60 seconds rest between sets.

Related article: The Weekend Bodyweight Workout Zero Equipment – Maximum Gains

6. Side Plank

Your shoulder is the underrated engine of this movement—and so many movements in life.

How to:

  • Start on the ground on your left side with your left forearm on the ground and your elbow under your shoulder.
  • Push up off your elbow, creating a straight line from ankle to shoulder.
  • Your hips should be off the ground and only the side of your bottom foot and your elbow should be on the ground.
  • Hold for 30 seconds or do 10 reps of 3 seconds each.
  • Do 2 sets of either of the above options.

Related article: Gain Total-Body Strength With These 17 Push-Up Variations

7. Feet-Elevated Push-up

This push-up variation emphasises the shoulders, specifically the anterior and medial heads of the deltoids—thus packing on more muscle.

How to:

  • Assume push-up position with your feet on a stair, bench, or Swiss ball.
  • (This being a bodyweight routine, let’s stick with natural equipment such as a staircase or park bench.)
  • Lower while inhaling until your chest nearly touches the floor.
  • Exhale as you push back up.
  • Do 2 sets of 10 with 30 seconds between sets.

Related article: The 10-Minute Bodyweight Workout That Will Keep You Strong And Lean That Can Be Done At Home

8. Uneven Wall Hold / Acceleration Wall March

These promote core stability through the shoulders, hips, and torso.

For wall hold: 

  • Stand leaning forward with your hands on a wall.
  • Your ears, shoulders, knees, and ankles should be in a straight line.
  • Lift one knee and foot toward the wall.
  • The foot should be directly under the thigh with your toes dorsiflexed (pulled toward your shin).
  • Hold yourself there, making sure you don’t let your body twist.

For acceleration wall march: 

  • Stand leaning forward with your hands on a wall.
  • Your ears, shoulders, knees, and ankles should be in a straight line.
  • Lift one knee and foot toward the wall and pause.
  • Drive the same foot to the starting position as you lift the other knee toward the wall and then pause.
  • Do a set of 10 on each side.

Perform: 2 sets of 30 seconds per side with 30 seconds between sets, or 2 sets of 10 per side with 30 seconds between sets.

Related article: 7 Advantages Of Dumbbells And Why You Should Ditch The Barbell

9. Child’s Pose

The familiar yoga resting pose also is terrific for stretching out the shoulders.

How to:

  • From a kneeling position, touch your big toes together and sit on your heels.
  • Separate your knees about hip-width apart, and lay your torso down between your thighs.
  • Place your hands on the floor along your torso, palms up, and release the fronts of your shoulders toward the floor.
  • You should feel the weight of the front of the shoulders pulling the shoulder blades wide across your back.
  • Hold pose for 30 seconds.

Related article: The Perfect 20-Minute 3 Interval HIIT Workout You Can Squeeze in Anywhere For Maximum Gains

10. Wall Handstand

As far as bodyweight moves go, few exercises will tax the shoulders as directly and as intensely as a handstand. This move requires substantial strength in your shoulders, not to mention the core strength, balance, and stability to keep your body upright as you hold that position.

First, make sure you thoroughly warm up your shoulders and wrists. It’s ideal to do this on a mat or on a soft surface in case you lose your balance and fall awkwardly. Also, don’t do this on a wall where your shoes will scuff the surface (and if they will, make sure it’s cool with the gym owner before trying it).

Option 1: 

  • Start by facing away from the wall.
  • Lower yourself into a push-up position with your feet facing the wall.
  • “Walk” your legs up the wall—make sure your shoes won’t scuff it—and into a handstand position.
  • Hold that position, making sure your fingers are facing away from the wall, not to your sides.
  • Don’t let your elbows hyper-extend—keep your arms flexed and engaged.

Option 2: 

  • Start by facing the wall.
  • Plant your hands, and kick up into a handstand hold with your feet against the wall.
  • You can also try getting a moving start, and step into the hand-plant as you kick up against the wall.
  • Make sure your fingers are pointed toward the wall, not to your sides.
  • Don’t let your elbows hyper-extend.

Perform: Start by attempting 30-second holds. Rest at least 1 minute between attempts.