The Best CrossFit Shoulder Workouts for Explosive Strength and Power (RX, Scaled, Beginner)

Jonah Lomu, Painstorm XII and the Hercules Complex, how many of these WODs have you tried?

CrossFit shoulder workouts are a great way to build upper body strength and improve your movement. They will also help to make your shoulders more resilient against injury.

The shoulder is one of the largest and most complex joints in the body. The shoulder joint is formed where the humerus (upper arm bone) fits into the scapula (shoulder blade), like a ball and socket. Other important bones in the shoulder include:

  • The acromion is a bony projection off the scapula.
  • The clavicle (collarbone) meets the acromion in the acromioclavicular joint.
  • The coracoid process is a hook-like bony projection from the scapula.
Overhead-PressSource: CrossFit Games

The shoulder has several other important structures:

  • The rotator cuff is a collection of muscles and tendons that surround the shoulder, giving it support and allowing a wide range of motion.
  • The bursa is a small sac of fluid that cushions and protects the tendons of the rotator cuff.
  • A cuff of cartilage called the labrum forms a cup for the ball-like head of the humerus to fit into.

The humerus fits relatively loosely into the shoulder joint. This gives the shoulder a wide range of motion, but also makes it vulnerable to injury. Add the following WODs into your training and have fun.

Shoulder Workouts for Explosive Strength


  • AMRAP in 15 minutes
  • Back Squat (1½ bodyweight)
  • Shoulder Press (¾ bodyweight)
  • Deadlift (1½ bodyweight)

Start with 1 rep each. Increase each by 1 rep per round.

Complete an ascending ladder of the 3-movement complex, increasing by 1 rep per round. So, perform 1 back squat, 1 shoulder press, 1 deadlift. Then 2 back squats, 2 shoulder presses, 2 deadlifts. Then 3 of each, etc. until the 15 minute clock stops.

shoulder workouts

For each movement, pick loads that are heavy but allow you to easily complete 3-4 reps when fresh. As fatigue sets in and the reps increase, break each movement into smaller sets so you can maintain solid mechanics.

Intermediate Option
Complete as many reps as possible in 15 minutes of:
1 back squat, 1 shoulder press, 1 deadlift
2 back squats, 2 shoulder presses, 2 deadlifts
3 back squats, 3 shoulder presses, 3 deadlifts

Use body weight for the squats and deadlifts and 1/2 body weight for the presses.

Beginner Option
Complete as many reps as possible in 15 minutes of:
squat, 1 push-up, 1 deadlift
squats, 2 push-ups, 2 deadlifts
squats, 3 push-ups, 3 deadlifts

Use ½ body weight for the deadlifts.

Shoulder Workouts for Explosive Strength – STOPWATCH

Three 5-Minute AMRAPs in 21 minutes

From 0:00-5:00, AMRAP of:

  • 15 Hang Clean and Presses (115/75 lb)
  • 50 Double-Unders

Rest 3 minutes

  • From 8:00-13:00, AMRAP of:
  • 15 Sumo Deadlift High-Pulls (95/65 lb)
  • 15 Hand Release Push-Ups

Rest 3 minutes

Finally, from 16:00-21:00, AMRAP of:

  • 15 Thrusters (75/55 lb)
  • 15 Burpee Box Jump Overs (24/20 in)
shoulder workoutsSource: Photo courtesy of CrossFit Inc

Complete as many reps in each of the 5-minute segments. Score is the number of total reps accumulated in each
5-minute segment.


Three 5-Minute AMRAPs in 21 minutes
From 0:00-5:00, AMRAP of:
10 Hang Clean and Presses (105/65 lb)
30 Double-Unders

Rest 3 minutes

From 8:00-13:00, AMRAP of:
10 Sumo Deadlift High-Pulls (85/55 lb)
10 Hand Release Push-Ups

Rest 3 minutes

Finally, from 16:00-21:00, AMRAP of:
10 Thrusters (65/45 lb)
10 Burpee Box Jump Overs (20 in)

Shoulder Workouts for Explosive Strength – SKI BELLS

  • For Time
  • 40 Kettlebell Snatches (24/20 kg)
  • 20 calorie Ski
  • 40 Kettlebell Goblet Squats (24/20 kg)
  • 20 calorie Ski
  • 40 Kettlebell Clean-and-Presses (24/20 kg)
  • 20 calorie Ski
  • 40 Kettlebell Swings (24/20 kg)
  • 20 calorie Ski

The athlete will alternate between kettlebell movements and the ski ergometer. The workout concludes when the athlete is done with all of the movements.

Shoulder Workouts for Explosive Strength

Score is the time it takes to complete all of the reps.


For Time
20 Kettlebell Snatches (16/12 kg)
10 calorie Ski
20 Kettlebell Goblet Squats (16/12 kg)
10 calorie Ski
20 Kettlebell Clean-and-Presses (16/12 kg)
10 calorie Ski
20 Kettlebell Swings (16/12 kg)
10 calorie Ski

Shoulder Workouts for Explosive Strength – JOHNATHAN HOLMANN

  • For Time
  • 15 Strict Presses (80% of 1 rep max)
  • 15 Push Presses (80% of 1 rep max)
  • 15 Push Jerks (80% of 1 rep max)
  • 1 rep max Strict Press

Each repetitions begins from the ground.

This Firefighter Hero WOD is dedicated to Jonathan Holmann, FDNY, Haz-Mat 1, who was killed on September 11, 2001.

Dedicated to faith, family and expanding the tools of his trade — that was Firefighter Jonathan R. Hohmann.

In his 13 years with the Fire Department, the 48-year-old Tottenville native moved up the ranks until he eventually joined Hazmat Co. 1 in the Maspeth section of Queens. He was a skilled mechanic — taking on a second job as the master mechanic for a trucking company in Queens — left for work each morning at 5 a.m. and was devoted to his church, his wife, and his two young sons.

He was trained for events like the tragedy that unfolded on Sept. 11. So it should serve as no surprise that Mr. Hohmann and his crew were outside the Twin Towers 18 minutes after the planes hit. His squad was assigned to Tower 1 between the second and 12th floors. Now, Mr. Hohmann and 18 of his comrades are among the missing.

Shoulder Workouts for Explosive Strength – TCB FIBONACCI

For Time

1 Round of:

  • 13 Thrusters (135/95 lb)
  • 21 Sumo Deadlift High-Pulls (135/95)
  • 34 Bar Over Burpees

Then, 2 Rounds of:

  • 8 Strict Presses (115/80 lb)
  • 13 Pull-Ups
  • 21 GHD Sit-Ups

Finally, 3 Rounds of:

  • 5 Weighted Ring Dips (20/15 lb)
  • 8 Knees-to-Elbows
  • 13 Hand Release Push-Ups
Source: reebok crossfit velocity

This WOD is done for time, starting from the top with no break between each.


If you need to scale, reduce the weight but keep the movements as is.


“Hercules Complex” was first mentioned in a workout performed by former champion Olympic lifter and celebrity athlete, Dmitry Klokov, on his YouTube channel on August 18, 2014.

The video didn’t specify an Rx height for the handstand push-up deficit, but Klokov performed them on a pair of what appeared to be 20-inch plyo boxes, descending until his shoulders were at the top of the boxes – about 12 inches.

  • 21-15-9 Reps for Time
  • Deficit Strict Handstand Push-Ups (10/7 in)
  • Push-Ups
  • Strict Presses (50/35 kg)


  • 2 Rounds for Time
  • 20 Kettlebell Sumo Deadlift High Pulls (24/16 kg)
  • 20 Double-Unders
  • 20 Single-Arm Overhead Walking Lunges (24/16 kg)
  • 20 Double-Unders
  • 20 Alternating Kettlebell Snatches (24/16)
  • 20 Double-Unders
  • 20 Kettlebell Clean-and-Presses (24/16 kg)
  • 20 Double-Unders
  • 20 Kettlebell Swings (24/16 kg)
  • 20 Double-Unders

Use a single kettlebell throughout the workout. For the snatches, alternate arms each rep. For the lunges and clean-and-presses complete 10 per arm per round.


Your scapulae (scaps for short) are the foundation of your shoulder joint and these flat wing like bones help to anchor your shoulder to your torso. Any exercise where you move your upper arm utilises your scapulae in some way and any weakness in the 17 different muscles that connect to it will translate into weakness in the movement. They are an incredibly mobile bone, tilting and rotating to accommodate the wide range of movement of the shoulder joint.

shoulder workouts

Shoulder Workouts – FIRING SHOULDERS

  • 6-5-4-3-2-1 Reps for Time
  • Strict Presses (165/105 lb)
  • Push Presses (165/105 lb)
  • Push Jerks (165/106 lb)

Perform the given set of exercises starting with a volume of 6 and decreasing at a rate of 1 until done, in the shortest time possible.

female crossfit athlete overhead pressSource: RX'd Photography

Score in this workout is based on the amount of time taken to complete the prescribed amount of work.


Here’s a quick test for you: grab a small straight object like a pen or toothbrush, one in each hand and stand up straight, shoulders relaxed. Are your objects pointing straight ahead or inwards? If they’re pointing in towards your body, I’m sorry to say you probably have far from optimal scapular function.

Our modern lives of sitting in chairs and hunching over keyboards has weakened the muscles in this area causing poor shoulder mobility and stability, which can spell disaster if you’re an active CrossFitter. But not to worry because in this article we are going to show you how you can strengthen the surrounding muscles so you can hit new PRs and stay injury free.


  • For Time
  • 400 meter Run
  • 50 Back Squats
  • 50 Front Squats
  • 50 Overhead Squats
  • 400 meter Run
  • 50 Shoulder Presses
  • 50 Push Presses
  • 50 Push Jerks
  • 400 meter Run
  • 50 Hang Power Cleans
  • 50 Hang Power Snatches
  • 400 meter Run

Perform all barbell movements with an Olympic bar only (45/35 lb). Run without the bar.


Of your overhead reach, the muscles around your scapulae are responsible for roughly the final 60 degrees. Everybody knows that a strong overhead pressing or jerking position involves having your upper arm behind your ear, your glutes switched on, your abs tight and your ribcage pinned down. So if you struggle to get the bar directly overhead without having to break good form and flare out your ribcage – compromising safety as well as strength – your scapulae could be the problem.

shoulder workouts

Scapular strength is also fundamental for the snatch and overhead squat. When you’ve got the bar overhead in that wide grip, scapular and lat activation help to put your shoulders in a strong position and stop them rolling forward. As well as being an incredibly dangerous position for your shoulders to be in, inwardly rolled shoulders will shift your centre of gravity forward, bringing you onto your toes and often resulting in a failed lift.

You may be surprised to learn that even for a mostly lower body movement like the back squat good scapula function can help. If you can’t squeeze them tight to stabilise your back when you’re high bar back squatting, your torso is less likely to remain upright and the weight could pull you forwards onto your toes into a weaker and potentially dangerous position.


  • For Time (with a Partner)
  • 65 Front Squats (135/95 lb)
  • 65 Kettlebell Swings (72/54 lb)
  • 16 Partner Over Burpees
  • 400 meter Run
  • 65 Hang Power Cleans (135/95 lb)
  • 65 Single Arm Kettlebell Presses (54/34 lb)
  • 16 Partner Over Burpees
  • 400 meter Run
  • 65 Chest to Bar Pull-Ups
  • 65 Box Jumps (30/24 in)
  • 16 Partner Over Burpees
  • 400 meter Run
  • 65 Push-Ups
  • 65 Pendlay Barbell Rows (135/95 lb)
  • 16 Partner Over Burpees

Each partner wears a Weight Vest (20/14 lb)

One partner works at a time. Complete the work in the order written. Partition the repetitions between partners as needed.


There is no way around it, CrossFit requires strong shoulders and good scapular health. From overhead squats to toes to bar, weak shoulders will lead to sub-par performances and possibly injury.

Poor shoulder position caused by weak or inactive muscles around the scapulae can stress tendons and ligaments around your shoulder girdle. This stress accumulates slowly, over weeks, months and even years. You may not notice these little micro injuries as they occur, but eventually that one final overhead squat with poor form could be the final straw that broke the camel’s shoulder.

If your scaps can’t move properly to get into strong positions, other parts of your shoulder such as the rotator cuff will have to try and compensate and move in ways that they are not designed to do so. This can result in rotator cuff tears, impingement, bursitis rotator cuff tendonitis/tendinosis and labrum injuries to name a few.

Shoulder Workouts  – JONAH LOMU

  • For Time
  • 1975 meter Run
  • 11 Sandbag Ground-to-Over-Shoulder (55/45 lb)
  • 11 Thrusters (135/95 lb)
  • 11 Handstand Push-Ups
  • 11 Hang Squat Cleans (135/95 lb)
  • 11 Chest-to-Bar Pull-Ups
  • 11 Shoulder-to-Overheads (135/95 lb)
  • 11 Back Squats (135/95 lb)
  • 11 Power Cleans (135/95 lb)
  • 37 Wall Ball Shots (20/14 lb)
  • 40 Kettlebell Swings (1.5/1 Pood)

Jonah Tali Lomu, MNZM (12 May 1975 – 18 November 2015) was a New Zealand rugby union player of Tongan descent. The significance of the numbers from the WOD: born in 1975, played left wing (#11: in Rugby all shirts imply position) scored 37 tries from 63 tests at international level, died at age 40.

He was the youngest ever All Black when he played his first international in 1994 at the age of 19 years and 45 days. Lomu finished with sixty-three caps and scored 37 international tries. He has been described as the first true global superstar of rugby union and as having a huge impact on the game. Lomu was inducted into the International Rugby Hall of Fame on 9 October 2007, and the IRB Hall of Fame on 24 October 2011.

He made a comeback after undergoing a kidney transplant in 2004, finally retiring from professional rugby in 2007. He died suddenly on 18 November 2015.


It’s important to mention that massage can really help to unglue tissues around your scapula. Spending years in bad shoulder positions can cause the muscles to stiffen and knot, so to help them activate properly use a lacrosse ball, tennis ball or ‘peanut’ and place it in the area between your scapulae and spine. Apply some gentle pressure by leaning against a wall or lying on the floor and move the ball up and down this area and wherever you feel a few lumps or knots, keep the ball in there until you feel it start to loosen. Spend five minutes on the left and right side and after you’ll feel like you’ve got a brand-new set of shoulders.

Incorporating these exercises into your training, either as a warm up or post-WOD accessory work will only take about 30 minutes a week but will go a long way to making you a stronger athlete and keep you CrossFitting for years to come.

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