Most people argue that if you’re not doing rounds on the bench press or dumbbell flyes, you are not going to go far when it comes to building your chest. Funnily enough, that could not be further away from the truth. In reality, there are a lot of great bodyweight chest exercises that will help you sculpt your pecs to perfections, without the use of any weights or equipment. Yup, you read that correctly, you can get an amazing chest workout at home.
It just takes a little know-how.
It is true that in order to achieve peak muscular development weighs are mandatory. This is simply because they allow for a wider range of movement (ROM), more exercise variations and the benefit of progressive overload.
So, can bodyweight exercises help build muscle?
I even have the research to prove it. This study published in Physiology & Behaviour showed that muscle growth “can occur independent of an external load”. It shows that muscle hypertrophy (growth) can be reached through full range of motion and control of the movement.
Also, bodyweight exercises are great for beginners to build, not just muscle, but also strength, power, and endurance.
So, what makes these bodyweight chest exercises good?
Simple. They help target the muscle through its primary functionality, they allow for a full range of motion, and can be diversified to form other exercises. I will go in more depth further in the article.
Today, I am going to help improve your home chest workout with my favorite bodyweight chest exercises.
Ok, let’s dive into it.
The 7 Best Bodyweight Chest Exercsies
A common trend that you’re going to notice in most calisthenic articles is that the number one bodyweight chest exercise that they list is the push-up.
While push-ups are great, and they are definitely on this list, I personally believe that the chest variations dips deserve first place. And similarly to pushpups, with a bit of creativity you can do chest dips at home.
Keep reading to find out how.
In order to understand why is this so we need to ask ourselves what makes a good chest exercise?
As I have already described in my previous article “The Best Exercises for Each Muscle Group” – the reason why I chose dips for chest is because this exercise best targets the chest’s two main functions.
Those two being – adduction of the arm towards the front plane of the body (which means moving your arms in front of your body) and moving your arms towards the sagittal plane of the body (moving your arms down towards your lower body.
The push up only activates one of the two, which literally means that if you’re mainly focusing on pushups as your go to bodyweight chest exercises then that means that you’re losing 50% of the muscle activation and, er go 50% of the muscle growth potential.
An important detail here is that I am referring to the chest variation – as dips have a triceps variations that better targets the triceps and a chest variation that better targets the chest.
The main element that differentiates the two is the rotation of your torso.
When your torso is leaning towards, instead of being in an upright position like during the triceps variation, it is bent over. Something else you can do is try and place your feet behind the body to help with balance.
This allows for the chest’s moving your arms in front of your body functionality is to be activated.
I hope I have properly justified why I believe that dips is one the best bodyweight chest exercises, nay the best chest exercise.
With all of that being said, it’s probably about time to describe the proper execution of the exercise.
This exercise can be done both at the gym and at home.
When at the gym you would want to file two parallel bars commonly referred to as the “dipping station”, or at least that’s what I call it.
Grab the dip bar (if the bars are adjustable make sure that they are at shoulder width) and lift your body up. This is your starting position.
Like I said, you will be emphasising on your chest and because of that you would want to ever so slightly forward. Something that I’ve found to help maintain your balance is tucking your legs towards your chest.
From this point you would want to lower yourself. Don’t go too far, you would want to go down to the point where you feel the highest stretch in your chest. Going any further than that can potentially lead to muscle tear or shoulder damage.
As you are lowering your body you want to slightly flair your elbows outwards – this will allow for a better chest stretch.
Also, when performing dips, you want to make sure that your eccentric contraction (i.e. you lowering yourself down) is slow and controlled and not literally dropping your weight. Remember, that’s where the majority of muscle strain comes from.
Once you start bringing yourself up, don’t go all the way up where you lock your elbows. This takes away the stress from the chest and triceps and adds to your joints. This is something that you want to avoid at all cost as it may lead to injury and you’re taking away the exercise’s effectiveness.
Once you bring yourself up to your starting position you want to focus on activating the chest as much as possible. Something that I’ve found to help is flexing your chest. This makes sure that you’re focusing more on your chest rather than your triceps to bring your weight up.
If you find yourself not being able to bring yourself up all the way then… don’t.
You will gradually build up the strength to complete the full exercise. As a starter it’s enough to focus on eccentric contraction. Negative sets, which is exactly that, are a powerful method to build muscle. Great results come slowly – not a race, but a marathon.
I’m packed with a lot of analogies, I know.
As I did mention, you can do chest dips at home. And don’t worry, you don’t have to purchase expensive parallel bar gym equipment to do so.
All you need is two chairs that are placed parallel and are positioned in a way that would make sure that they don’t budge. Or if you have any weights hanging around you can place the on the chairs, like this guy did:
Also, you will need to make sure that the chairs’ backrests are at about shoulder width.
I have personally done this a thousand times. At hotel rooms and in my old student dorm when I couldn’t really afford an expensive monthly gym membership.
However, if you feel that you’re placing yourself in too much risk or that there is no space in your home where you can comfortably place the two chairs parallel and secured, then just don’t attempt it.
Here is a video of Scott Herman showcasing the chest variation of dips and even provides more intel what differentiates it from the triceps variation:
Even though I don’t completely agree with the favoritism that most websites are showing towards pushups, calling it the best bodyweight chest exercise. I can’t argue with the fact that it’s a really good exercise that will help you build up your pecs.
You can do pushups virtually anywhere, there are a ton of variations that will help you add variety to your chest workouts, and it does a pretty good job in building up triceps, shoulder and chest strength.
Something that I have noticed in most articles that list bodyweight chest exercises or workouts is that they add in the wide push-up as a really good alternative and that it will really make your chest grow because it adds more stretch to the muscle group.
While that is true, there is something else that nobody seems to be talking about and that is the fact that wide pushups increase your chances of irreversibly damaging your shoulders.
I am not going to go into too much detail, but you can watch this video where the dude explains it pretty well:
While everyone knows what a pushup is. There are some small details about this bodyweight exercise that is worth discussing to make sure that you’re a) targeting your chest properly and b) avoid injury.
Stand in your standard push-up position – in a plank where your arms are holding you off the ground at shoulder width. You want your palms to be at chest level – pretty much where your nipples are located. This is your starting position.
Start lowering yourself downward until your chest is almost about to touch the ground.
Just like the chest dip, you want to make sure that you slightly flare out your elbows to ensure that you’re applying a better stretch on your chest. The closer your elbows are to your body the more you are using your triceps instead of your chest.
This does not mean that you should be completely flaring out your elbows as you will be placing too much tension on your shoulders. Find your sweet spot, but the elbow flare should be at about a 45 degree angle.
Once you start raising yourself up to the starting position you would want to squeeze the chest, just like I had mentioned with the dips – do not lock your elbows at the top as you are now taking away the stress from your muscles and adding it on to your elbow joints. So, not like this dude:
If you find yourself struggling to push yourself all the way up then what you can do is stand on your knees instead of having your legs fully extended.
This will take away some of the weight and make your journey back to the starting position easier.
If ease is not what you’re striving for then what you can do is just do negative sets – lower yourself slowly to the bottom and instead of lifting yourself up, just start over. This will ensure better strength development in your chest, triceps and shoulders.
Lastly, a crucial part to a good pushup is to keep your back straight – that means don’t lift your butt too high in the air and don’t slouch.
After some time passes and you feel confident in your strength you can start by raising one leg in the air to increase the complexity of the exercise and apply more stress on your chest.
If you need a visualisation, here is a really good video showcasing the “perfect pushup”:
Atlas pushups are pretty similar to traditional pushups the only difference is that there is a bit of an incline angle and a better stretch of your chest.
What that means is that instead of targeting the chest muscle as a whole, you are specifically targeting the upper chest. And at the same time you are applying more stress on the muscle – specifically with a better eccentric contraction.
Same directions as the traditional pushup as given above. The difference here is that you would want to have two elevated surfaces where you are going to rest your arms.
If you’re at the gym then you can easily find one of those steppers laying around and place both of them parallel to each other. Make sure that they are placed comfortably so that you can position your palms at chest level and at shoulder width.
If you’re doing this exercise at home you might want to place a pair of chairs that need to be placed parallel with the sitting portion point towards each other.
Just like in this video:
I know, not the best quality but it gives an idea what you’re striving to achieve.
Place your palms on the the chairs and lower yourself to the point where your elbows just barely pass the 90 degree angle. Your goal is to lower your chest to the point where it just passes your hands. This is what really stretches your chest muscle.
Unlike the way the dude from the video above shows you, you don’t want to dip too far as that will apply a lot of unnecessary stress on your shoulders.
Here is a better video showcasing the execution of the exercise itself:
I don’t know what is it about this exercise but it’s just one of my favorite bodyweight chest exercises. Not as much as chest dips, but it’s up there.
The diamond push-up adds a bit more stress to your triceps. However, what it does different for the chest is that it targets the inner portion of the your pecs. Ensuring that you have that full symmetrical chest development.
Not to mention that it looks pretty cool when you have a really well developed inner chest separation.
I mean, come on.
You want to enter a starting position similar to that of traditional pushups.
The only difference is that instead of having your arms at shoulder width, you’re going to place your palms in front of your chest with your fingers forming a triangle shape. Er go the name – diamond pushups.
That means that both your thumbs and index fingers need to be touching.
Everything from this point onward is the same as the traditional push up.
Chest flys are in general a very important chest exercise as they really focus on the stretching, eccentric contraction, of the chest.
In other words, it really pushes your chest to grow.
There is a reason why it was Arnold’s favourite chest exercise.
This exercise also targets the inner chest really well ensuring a symmetrical outer and inner chest development.
Plus, I guess it’s a good way to clean your floor if you wanted to? I mean, why not?
When doing this exercise at home, you’re going to need to be a bit creative. Firstly, you will need to find a slippery or slide-y surface with low friction.
Next, you will need to find something that you’re going to place under your hands allowing your hands to slide on the floor. Something like towels or pieces of cloth. Hell, even old t-shirts will do the job.
Start off in a push-up position – with your arms at shoulder width, at chest level, but this time they are placed on top of the cloths.
Instead of dropping your bodyweight downward, like you would with the pushup, you are going to slide your hands away from your body to the point where your chest is almost touching the floor.
When sliding back you want to slide your hands back to the starting position focusing on using your chest as much as possible – squeezing the chest throughout the motion.
As shown in the video below.
Like I said your goal with this bodyweight exercise is to use your chest as much as possible. This means both during your eccentric contraction (when going down) and concentric contraction (when going up). Controlling the sliding so that you don’t just drop down is what will really make your chest burn.
Considering that this exercise is pretty hard to do if you don’t have any previous training beforehand. There are some variations that you can apply to the exercise that will help you out.
The first one is the same one that you would use for the traditional pushup – i.e. where instead of having your legs extended, like in the video, you are going to rest them on your knees.
Something else that you can do is a one arm sliding pushup, again just like in the video above, where you hold your weight with one arm and you slide with the other. Obviously, this is not going to be nearly as effective as doing the actual sliding fly. However, it’s a good place to start so that you build up the strength to the point where you can confidently complete the full sliding chest flys with ease.
If the sliding chest flys are too hard for you to do, or if you don’t really have a surface area where you can do them, then side-to-side pushups are a must.
This bodyweight exercise basically combines the stretch you get from chest flys with the pushing mechanism of the chest through traditional pushups.
Start off in your traditional pushup position. However, this time you want your arms to be a bit wider than shoulder-width.
When you lower yourself down, instead of going straight down, you want to lean towards either your left or right arm first. Stretching out the opposing arm but still using it to control your weight.
You want to lean to your arm to about the point where your elbow is almost touching your body.
There a lot of videos of a poor execution of the exercise. Thankfully I managed to find out of Steve Cook at Bodybuilding.com
A common trend that I’ve noticed in most instructional videos is that they go too wide. Again, remember this can potentially damage your shoulder and increases your risk of injury.
Last but not least is one of my favorite variations of the pushup is the decline one.
The main difference between the two is that the decline pushup targets the lower portion of your chest. This is what makes decline pushups one of the best bodyweight chest exercises. The lower portion is often forgotten by most and is probably why people who do not target it seem to lack definition and mass in their pecs.
Back when hodge twins used to make workouts videos and commentary, they always said that the decline variation of the bench or pushup is what really made their chest grow.
Here is their video explaining the power of decline exercises for the chest:
They’re also quite entertaining to watch. So, that’s a bonus.
Instead of starting from the ground in a flat plank position you are going to want to find a place where you can elevate your feet.
Your goal is to achieve an angle where once you have your arms extended, shoulders are at the same angle as your feet.
Something like this:
Don’t go too far up because then you’ll be taking away the stress from the chest and putting it on your shoulders and triceps.
So, not like this:
Then you are going to follow the same rules as with the traditional pushups.
Here are my top 7 favorite bodyweight chest exercises with no equipment necessary.
You can indeed build an impressive chest without stepping foot in the gym. Something worth noting is that these bodyweight chest exercises are not the only ones out there. There are tons to choose from, as a matter of fact here is an article written by Steve from ManvsWeight with 113 variations of the pushup.
The reason why I decided to write this article and include these 7 specific chest exercises is because of their effectiveness in promoting pectoral muscle growth by targeting your chest’s full range of motion and its functionality.
While there are tons of other bodyweight chest exercises out there, I personally believe that these 7 exercises need to be your foundation on which you add other exercises from other sources.
Remember, don’t over do it!
Ideally, you want to train your chest twice a week with a minimum of 48 hours of rest between each chest workout. This ensures that you are not overtraining and that you are benefiting from protein synthesis.
And another thing worth remembering is that exercise is just 50% of the work. You can do as much dips and pushups as you want but unless your diet is up to par, you are not really going to say any results.
Tell me what you think
In the comments bellow let me know what you think about my top bodyweight chest exercises in the list. Do you like them, do you hate them?
Or even better, are there any other exercises that you believe would do a much better job?
Let me know!
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