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Fact checked by Kirsten Yovino, CPT Brookbush InstituteFACT CHECKED
February 20, 2021
It would be safe to say that nearly every man wants an impressive pair of pecs and every woman wants perky breasts. To achieve that, you must do chest exercises and workouts on a consistent basis. This is obvious. However, the question is, do you need free weights like barbells and dumbbells to build the muscular chest and firm breasts that we all want? The answer is no, and we are here to teach you exactly how to build a stronger, bigger, chiseled chest using bodyweight exercises - no free weight equipment needed.
Your chest workouts at home are about to get a whole lot more effective.
Without further ado, let’s begin.
There are two powerful muscles on both sides of your chest, the pectoralis major and pectoralis minor, which are collectively and colloquially known as your pecs.
Let’s break down the anatomy of the pectoralis major and pectoralis minor, as well as the muscles that support the pectoral muscles during chest exercises.
The pec major makes up most of your chest. You have two of these large, fan-shaped slabs of muscle, one on each side of your chest. The pec majors span your entire chest, attaching at the sternum (breastbone), ribs, clavicle (collarbone), and humerus (upper arm bone).
The pectoralis major itself consists of two heads (head meaning points of origin), which jointly connect to the humerus.
While both heads work together much of the time, they can also have specific functions separately, depending on the angle of the upper arm movement.
The two heads are of the pec major are the sternocostal head and the clavicular head...or in other words, you upper and lower chest.
Sternocostal head: As the name suggest, this head originates at the sternum. It commands most of the pec majors real estate, accounting for 80% of its total size. With that, the sternocostal head powers much of the pecs actions, such as bringing your arms toward you body’s centerline (adduction) and rotating your upper arm internally.
Exercises that target the sternocostal head - dips, push ups (or bench press), flys, decline push ups (or decline bench press).
Clavicular head: The clavicular head is what people are referring to when they say “upper chest”. This head originates at the clavicle, and while it assist in the above actions, it also takes a bigger role when flexing your humerus (bringing your arm up and forward).
Exercises that target the clavicular head - incline press, decline push ups, low cable fly.
Your pec minor, of which you have one on each side of your chest, is a small, triangular muscle positioned under the pec major.
Although the pec minor is located on the front side of your body, it controls many structures on the backside.
The pec minor attaches to your ribs and the coracoid, which is a small hook-like profusion at the top of your shoulder blade. Due to these attachment points, the pectoralis minor helps pull down (depress) and spread apart the shoulder blades (as such, the pec minor plays an important role in scapular stability). It also assists with breathing.
In regards to targeting your pec minor, it should be understood that the pec minor is working whenever you work your pectoralis major. Moreover, targeting the pec minor specifically is difficult as it is not a primary mover.
That said, you can hone in on the pec minor a bit by doing chest exercises that involve leaning forward and drawing your shoulder blades down, such as dips, decline chest press and pull downs.
We will make note of what muscles are being worked for each chest exercise within this post.
Other Muscles Involved in Chest Exercises
While the focus of chest workouts are the pecs, other muscles will always be involved, so you will see gains and improvements elsewhere too. This includes your shoulders (especially your front delts), triceps, latissimus dorsi (lats) and the trapezius (traps).
The lats help you stabilize during exercises like push ups. They also help drive your body away from the floor when your elbows are back behind you (at the lowest part of the push up - or when a barbell is to your chest on bench press). Having strong lats will make your pressing movements stronger. After a good chest workout, you should feel a pump in your lats.
Your traps help to stabilize your shoulder blades during chest exercises (as you should have your shoulder blades retracted when doing chest movements). As such, your traps are a secondary muscle that will be worked, just like the lats, but to a lesser degree.
Your shoulders, aka deltoid muscles, will be working on all pushing exercises, especially the front delts. Depending on the angle (and your form), your delts will be targeted more or less. All in all, if you train chest in its entirety, your front delts will be well developed too.
As for your triceps, they are actually primary movers during pressing exercises and push ups. Depending on the push up or press variation, the triceps might actually be working harder than the pecs (i.e. close grip). So, during chest workouts, your triceps will be doing a lot of work. If your triceps are weak, they are likely to reach failure much before your pecs do.
It would be ideal to also do tricep isolation exercises if your triceps are weak or if you want to see more improvement in tricep hypertrophy and strength because even though they are being targeted effectively during chest exercises, they are not always moving through a full range of motion. With isolation exercises, you can really hone in on your triceps by using a full range of motion, which in turn, will benefit your chest workouts later on. Ideally, if you have time, throw a couple tricep specific exercises in after your chest exercises. Doing them on the same day makes sense because they will already be worked after your chest exercises, so you won’t need to spend a bunch of time to exhaust them afterward.
Note: We forgot to mention core and glutes! Any push up position is like a plank, so your core will be working to stabilize your body. If you have a weak core, the way bodyweight chest exercises target it will be very apparent. But don’t worry, your core will get stronger the longer you train! Your glutes should also be tight, as should your quadriceps, so your glutes and quads (and even hip flexors) will be activated as well.
First and foremost, your pecs make up a significant portion of your upper body, so if you want well-rounded strength and aesthetics, training your chest for strength and hypertrophy is essential. But, the importance building your pec strength goes beyond just having a chest like a god and being able to do hundreds of push ups, there are other benefits that you will reap, and this applies to men and women alike.
While working out with equipment is great if you have it or have access to a gym, bodyweight chest exercises are really all you need if you know what you are doing! With bodyweight chest exercises alone, you can build a strong, powerful, broad chest. Moreover, you will do so in an absolutely safe manner.
Here are a few reasons why we love bodyweight chest exercises:
If you want to build a chest with bodyweight exercises, you need to understand three things: what exercises to do, progressive overload, and diet.
What Bodyweight Chest Exercises: There are tons of bodyweight chest exercises without weights that will allow you to constantly progress and hit your chest from different angles. It doesn’t matter how strong you are, if you know the right exercises, you can build your pec muscles without equipment. We will show you 21 of our favorite chest exercises that don’t require free weights below.
Progressive Overload: Progressive overload is not just about “adding more weight” or doing more difficult variations of push ups. It’s also about increasing the difficulty through reps, sets, tempo, and more. Read this if you want to learn about progressive overload techniques for strength and hypertrophy. They apply to any muscle group. We will touch more on reps, sets and tempo after we go over our 21 best chest exercises at home without weights.
Diet: You can’t build a bigger chest without the right diet. You need to eat enough food to induce hypertrophy. Eat a well-rounded, adequate-to-high protein diet and your chest will grow. If not, it will get tighter, wider, and more tone, but it won’t get beefier.
The push up is the most effective bodyweight chest exercises there is. In fact, it is one of the most effective upper body exercises, along with pull ups. If you were to only do a handful of exercises, it better be push ups, squats, pull ups, and planks. Push ups target multiple muscle groups, such as your shoulders, triceps and core. Even if you have access to weights, you should still be doing push ups. That’s how effective push ups are for building a stronger bigger chest and upper body.
That said, like any exercise, how you perform push ups can determine how effective they are. If you do them properly, they can build strength and lean muscle mass in the chest, triceps and shoulders like no other exercise.
The great thing about push ups is there are tons of variations too! Depending on how you position your hands, your body, and legs, you can hit your chest from different angles and alter the difficulty. On top of that, you have tempo (i.e. slow and controlled or explosive) progressions. With all the push up variations, regressions, and progressions, you can build a well-rounded chest and continue to progress over the long haul.
You shouldn’t be doing push ups everyday, unless you are doing full body workouts, in which case you are not likely exhausting your pectoral muscles. If you do really crush your chest workouts, then push ups every day is not recommenced as you need to give them time to recover.
Overall, you need to listen to your body. If your chest isn’t recovered, then don’t do push ups. Simple as that.
Let’s say you want to do 100 push ups a day. That should be fine if you are doing something like 100 push ups, 100 sit ups, 50 pull ups, and 200-300 squats per day. This is a full body bodyweight routine that is manageable day in and day out.
However, you need to understand a few things. First, if you are new to fitness, you will likely be sore for the first week or so from this kind of routine, so you should let your body recover before doing the workout again. Remember, your body gets stronger after you recover. Second, after a few weeks (or however long for you specifically) of this same routine, your body will get used to it due to our ability to adapt. Once you fully adapt to this routine, you will no longer make improvements, you will simply maintain, so ideally you would want to increase the difficulty with more reps, sets, or different variations. This is where progressive overload comes into play. That said, once you reach this point of "maintenance", doing 100 push ups every day would be fine as your muscles won't need the recovery.
The same goes for 200 push ups a day, 300 push ups a day, and so on. At first, you will be sore and you will need to take more than a day to recover, but eventually it will become too easy, and you will need to increase the difficulty somehow if you want to keep improving.
All in all, to answer the question “is doing push ups every day ok”, yes as push ups aren’t that taxing, but if you are training hard and want consistent improvements, then no, as you will need to exhaust your muscles and that means you will need more recovery between your sessions. If you are just looking to maintain, then you can set a push up number per day, get to a point where it is not exhausting you so that you need more than a day’s worth of recovery, then you can do it every day without any issue. All that said, we are here to look at different chest exercises and workouts that will lead to performance and aesthetic improvements and ways to break plateaus (or at least try to), not just maintenance.
By changing your hand position and how you level your body, you can change how push ups target your muscles. This is the beauty of push ups - you can hit your muscles from all different angles and place emphasis on certain muscles. Let’s go over a few examples…
Standard Push Up: The standard push up starts you in a high plank position with your hands about shoulder with apart. This is going to work your triceps, shoulders and pecs.
Wide Grip Push Up: The wide grip push up is going to place a little more emphasis on your pec minor and pec major (and even your biceps surprisingly).
While it is commonly said that wide grip hits the chest more, a study by The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research shows that a more narrow grip actually activates the chest to a greater degree. However, this is up for debate, as most would say a wide grip push up is best for pecs.
Close Grip Push Up: The close grip push up is said to have slightly more pec major and minor activation than the standard push up because it is harder, and it also places greater emphasis on the triceps. It is also good for hitting your inner chest as you can squeeze your chest more at the top thanks to the closer hand positioning.
High Push Up: Instead of having your hands on the floor in line with your shoulder, the high push up positions them up higher (almost a hand length above your shoulder level). This is harder so it is going to activate your pecs and triceps a little more. Moreover, it is going to place emphasis on your upper chest.
Low Push Up: The low push up brings your hands below shoulder level. This is actually harder than high push ups, so it has even greater activation for the pecs and triceps. It also brings the biceps and rear delts into the mix in a greater way.
Now the above are just a few hand positions (the most common), and it doesn’t go into the other muscles push ups work, like you core, lats and traps. You can really position your hands in anyway (i.e. staggered with one higher than the other, hands pointing out, hands pointing in, one hand, and so on).
Besides hand positioning, you have body positioning too, meaning how you angle your body. For example…
Decline Push Up: This is when you place your feet up on a platform and perform a push up. The decline push up hits your chest in a similar way as the incline bench press, as it places emphasis on your upper chest.
Incline Push Up: This is when you place your hands on a platform and leave your feet on the ground (opposite of the decline push up). Incline push ups activate the the lower chest and back more.
With both options, you can change the height/angle, more or less, which, of course, can affect muscle activation.
What’s more, coupling body positioning with different hand placements gives you even more variations and allows you to get very creative. Just be sure to keep your joints in safe positions.
Now that we covered the basics, let us show you 21 of our favorite bodyweight chest exercises (with a few that use bands and suspension trainers as these are cheap and effective tools to have at home). You could also execute most of these exercises while using a push-up board which can reduce the strain on your wrists and shoulders.
Only a few of the aforementioned variations are shown below, so you will be seeing some push up variations and bodyweight chest exercises that we have yet to discuss.
2. Kneeling Push Ups (0:24)
3. Plank Push Ups (0:42)
4. Resistance Band Push Ups (1:03)
5. Mini Band Push Ups (1:17)
6. Plyo Push Ups (1:36)
7. Elevated Push Ups (1:49)
8. Dynamic Push Ups (2:06)
9. Elevated Diamond Push Ups (2:20)
10. Alternating Elevated Push Ups (2:34)
11. Spiderman Push Ups (2:50)
12. Diving Push Ups (3:06)
13. Incline Push Ups (3:25)
14. Decline Push Ups (3:42)
15. Dips (3:59)
16. High Plank (4:19)
17. High Plank Shoulder Taps (4:34)
18. Suspension Chest Fly (4:52)
19. Suspension Chest Press (5:12)
20. Suspension Push Ups (5:27)
21. Jackknife Push Ups (5:43)
**If the exercise emphasizes a muscle or area of a muscle, we will put it in bold**
Primary Muscles Worked: Pectoralis Major, Pectoralis Minor, Triceps, Deltoids, Abdominals
Primary Muscles Worked: Pectoralis Major, Pectoralis Minor, Triceps, Deltoids
Primary Muscles Worked: Core, Pectoralis Major, Pectoralis Minor, Triceps, Deltoids
Primary Muscles Worked: Pectoralis Major, Pectoralis Minor, Triceps, Deltoids, Abs
Primary Muscles Worked: Pectoralis Major, Pectoralis Minor, Triceps, Deltoids, Abs
Primary Muscles Worked: Pectoralis Major, Pectoralis Minor, Triceps, Deltoids, Abs (this is a plyometric exercise so it is going to build strength and explosive power in your chest and arms).
Primary Muscles Worked: Pectoralis Major, Pectoralis Minor, Front Deltoids, Triceps, Deltoids, Abs (as this is an offset exercise, your core will be activated more than a standard push up as to stabilize your body.
This is similar to a clapping push up but instead of clapping your hands together, you will be exploding up so that your hands can move to an object placed at the center (directly below your chest). The object can be a box or a sturdy ball. So you are doing an explosive push up, popping up so your hands land on the ball, then you are pushing off the ball so that you hands come back down to the floor to perform another explosive push up back onto the object.
Primary Muscles Worked: Pectoralis Major, Pectoralis Minor, Triceps, Deltoids, Abs (this is a plyometric exercise so it is going to build strength and explosive power in your chest and arms - your core will also be challenged a little more as it needs to stabilize your body when you land your hands on the object).
Primary Muscles Worked: Pectoralis Major, Pectoralis Minor, Triceps, Deltoids, Abs (this exercise emphasizes the triceps and inner chest - it is also said to activate the pecs as whole more than the standard push up.
Primary Muscles Worked: Pectoralis Major, Pectoralis Minor, Triceps, Deltoids, Core (this exercise is going to activate your shoulders a lot more and it brings your back muscles into play to a greater degree too - it also demands more core strength and stability).
Primary Muscles Worked: Pectoralis Major, Pectoralis Minor, Triceps, Deltoids, Abs, Obliques.
Primary Muscles Worked: This is pretty much a total upper body exercise. All of your upper body muscles will be firing off with this one, with, of course, your pecs and arms doing a lot of the work. Because of how the exercise moves you through different angles, both your upper and lower chest will be emphasized here.
Primary Muscles Worked: This exercise is easier than a standard push up. However, it does a good job of hitting the lower head of the pecs and the deltoids and triceps as you will be able to move through a greater range of motion.
Primary Muscles Worked: Pectoralis Major, Pectoralis Minor, Triceps, Deltoids, Abs (this one is going to place emphasis on the upper chest).
Primary Muscles Worked: Triceps, deltoids, pecs, rhomboids, lats.
Primary Muscles Worked: Pectoralis Major, Pectoralis Minor, Triceps, Deltoids, Abs (this isometric core exercise is not just for your abs, it will train your pecs for strength too!).
Primary Muscles Worked: Pectoralis Major, Pectoralis Minor, Triceps, Deltoids, Abs (by lifting your arms up, you will be activating your chest and triceps to a greater degree as only one arm will be holding your body weight rather than two arms).
Primary Muscles Worked: Pectoralis Major, Pectoralis Minor, Triceps, Deltoids, Core (this is great for building the inner chest line).
Primary Muscles Worked: Pectoralis Major, Pectoralis Minor, Triceps, Deltoids, Core (your core will be working harder on this than standard push ups on the floor because the suspension trainer requires more core stability).
Primary Muscles Worked: Muscles Worked: Pectoralis Major, Pectoralis Minor, Triceps, Deltoids, Core
Primary Muscles worked: Pectoralis Major, Pectoralis Minor, Triceps, Deltoids, Core (this is a very difficult exercise so you are going to feel it everywhere, including your abs and chest as you are adding the knee to chest movement).
Now, we will organize the above exercises by fitness levels…
It’s important to understand how tempo affects a bodyweight exercise. If you use a fast tempo, you will build speed, strength and explosive power. If you use a slow tempo, you will increase tension, which will result in greater muscle growth. The key to achieving hypertrophy (building muscle) with bodyweight exercises is maximizing tensions and time under tension.
Ideally, you want to mix it up. Of course, if your goal is to get bigger, and improve aesthetics, then focus more on creating maximum tension and time under tension by using a slow tempo. Then, throw in some explosive sets (fast tempo) or exercises (i.e. clapping push ups) here and there. It’s always good to switch things up and keep your muscles guessing.
Good tempos for building muscle:
3-2-1 Tempo: 3 seconds down, 2 second pause, 1 second up. strength.
1-2-3 Tempo: 1 second down, 2 second pause, 3 second up.
Feel free to play around with your tempo
Besides tempo, you also need consider your rep range and total volume (i.e. number of exercises and sets). If you want to build muscle, then each should be taking you close to failure. If you are using a slow tempo, then that may be 10-20 reps (or more) depending on your fitness level. You will have to use trial and error to see what works in terms of sets and volume of your workout. You could start with 5-7 exercises for 2-4 sets. See how that works for you. As you get stronger, increase the time under tension for each set and then the volume of your workout (number of sets and exercises). Also, mix things up by changing the types of exercises you do. Using the 21 bodyweight chest exercises above, you can rotate the exercises each week.
Here is an example of how your chest workouts could look.
Bodyweight Chest Workout #1:
Bodyweight Chest Workout #2:
Bodyweight Chest Workout #3:
Bodyweight Chest Workout #4:
Choose one or two exercises or even just a couple sets here and there each workout for fast tempo. The rest, use a slower tempo.
If you are more advanced or less advanced, simply adjust the reps and sets according to your capability.
Here are some good chest and shoulder stretches for before and after your workouts.
To answer the question simply, you can do a chest workout (or chest exercises), whenever your pecs and the associated pushing muscles are not sore or in need of recovery. If your muscles feel good and you feel energized, then you can do chest exercises.
Now, let’s look at this from a more thorough perspective.
If you are doing chest specific workouts, then you can should do them once or twice a week. We recommend these at home chest workouts, which include a bodyweight-only plan and one with dumbbells. We've also got a great Calisthenics Chest Workout to check out. This is because your entire workout is focused on your chest and the associated pushing muscles, so they should be exhausted by the end of the workout and in need of recovery, which can take a day or two.
Other workouts during the week will be back (and the associated pulling muscles) and lower body. So that means you can do chest every three to four days. Remember, you want to train your body equally, so you can’t just do chest workouts.
If you do full body workouts, then you could train your chest every workout, with one to three exercises, depending on the volume of your workout. This is because your chest muscles will likely not need a long recovery as you are not completely taxing them like you would with a chest only workout.
Another good split is an upper lower body split, especially if much of your workouts involve bodyweight exercises. If you do an upper lower split, you could train your chest as much as two to three times a week. For example, day 1 is upper body (chest, back, arms, core) and day 2 is lower body, then you could take a rest day or cardio on day 3 or do another upper body workout.
All of the above splits are good, it just depends on your goal. If you are doing a muscle group specific split (chest day, back day, arm/shoulder day, legs/glutes day), then you have the best chance to build muscle and strength with bodyweight workouts. If you do a full body routine, then you can get nice and toned and maintain muscle. If you do an upper lower split, you have a mix of both hypertrophy and maintenance. It’s up to you. We like to switch things up throughout the year. For example, you could do full body for 3-4 months, then 4 day split for 3-4 months, then an upper lower split for 3-4 months, then repeat. Or you could just choose two different splits and switch them up throughout the year every 2-3 months.
Other Bodyweight Exercises:
Dumbbells are one of the best fitness equipment for the chest. There are so many dumbbell chest exercises that you can do and they are great for building muscle and definition. The only issue is they can be costly. A set of spinlock adjustable dumbbells would be the cheapest option.
If your workouts are mainly calisthenic/bodyweight weight, it would still be ideal to get some “calisthenic enhancers”. Enhancers being some lightweight, portable equipment.
Our favorite equipment, not only for chest but any muscle group, are resistance bands, fabric hip bands (aka booty bands) and suspension trainers.
With 41” loop resistance bands, you can add resistance to pretty much any exercises. You can also use them as assistance for bodyweight exercises. For example, let’s say you have trouble doing clapping push ups (or even standard push ups), you connect it to a pull up bar then loop it around your torso and the resistance band will help with the upward motion as it will be pulling in an upward direction. Besides assistance and resistance, you can use them for stretching, mobility, mobilization and speed training. They are extremely versatile, so you should be able to find good use for them every workout.
With fabric hip bands, you can make lower body exercises more effective. These small fabric loop bands have a good amount of resistance that is going to better activate your glutes and leg muscles when doing bodyweight squats and other bodyweight leg exercises. They are also great for core workout and if you get creative, like we did with our fabric band push ups, you can use them to activate the pecs just like you would for the glutes when wearing them for squats.
Suspension trainers are a mainstay at gyms all over the world for good reason, they are super effective for training your entire body and building strength and muscle. They bring a completely different dynamic to bodyweight exercises that involves balance, coordination, and core strength as they engage the stabilizer muscles really well. Moreover, with suspension trainers, you can get a deeper range of motion which is good for maximizing hypertrophy. Like resistance bands, there are countless ways to use suspension trainers, with exercises ranging from easy to very hard.***The above is an affiliate ad where we will make a small commission on any purchase you make. We only recommend brands and products that we trust and have experience using.***
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