Push-ups are the green beans of your chest day. You know the full-body control, stability, and core strength to be gained from what is essentially a moving plank are next to none. Still, they’re not nearly as fun to do as heavy sets of the bench press or pump-inducing reps of dumbbell flyes. Well, you need to stop thinking of push-ups as a side dish and start recognizing them as the entree they are — because you may not always have weights at your disposal.
Say the bench press rack is occupied (which is always a possibility), or you can’t get to the gym because you’re tight on time, or there’s a global pandemic that temporarily shuts it down (imagine?). Well, then you need to start exploring some weight-free options. And, based on the fact that you’re reading this right now, it’s safe to assume that’s what you’re doing. Well, you’ve come to the right place. Below, we’ve compiled six great bodyweight chest exercises to ensure you don’t miss out on your chest day, along with advice on how to train without weights.
Best Chest Exercises Without Weight
The standard push-up is a universal bodyweight exercise for training your chest. It can be regressed and progressed easily with so many variations suitable for nearly every lifter and athlete. Unlike the bench press, the push-up is more of a full-body movement that taxes the core, as it’s essentially a plank in motion.
Benefits of the Push-Up
- Easily modified for the beginner and advanced lifter.
- Great for chest and triceps development.
- More of a full-body exercise as opposed to the bench press.
How to Do the Push-Up
Get on your hand and knees, placing your hands slightly wider than your shoulder width. Straighten your arms and legs so you’re on your toes and hands, and engage your glutes to support a neutral spine. Lower your body until your chest nearly touches the floor (not your face) and pause for a second, and push-up to the starting position
The close-grip push-up is a great exercise for building strength in the triceps and training the inner muscle fibers of the chest. Like with a close-grip bench press, you’ll still be strengthening the chest and anterior deltoids but focusing on the triceps. Plus, the narrower base of support further strengthens the core. Adjust your hand position here to minimize strain on your anterior deltoid
Benefits of the Close-Grip Push-Up
- Great for triceps hypertrophy and strength.
- Helps improve lockout strength for bench and overhead presses.
- The narrow base of support further strengthens the core.
How to Do the Close-Grip Push-Up
Start with your hands underneath the shoulders but play with your hand position to find what works for you. Get into a solid front plank position and do the push-up with slow control while keeping your core and glutes tight to maintain rigidity throughout the body. Keep your elbows tucked alongside your ribcage without flaring them either in or out.
[Related: Is the One-Armed Push-Up Worth It?]
The plyometric push-up is an advanced push-up variation that requires optimal power output and eccentric strength. This exercise targets the fast-twitch muscle fibers of the chest, which have the biggest potential for growth. By including this exercise, you’ll target these muscle fibers that may not be fully utilized due to slower contractile speeds seen with other push-up variations.
Benefits of the Plyometric Push-Up
- Builds upper body power and strength.
- Targets the fast-twitch muscles of the chest that have the biggest potential for growth.
- The increase in force development and muscle fiber recruitment has a direct transfer to other pressing movements like the bench press.
How to Do the Plyometric Push-Up
The most common plyometric push-up variation is the clapping push-up. Don’t add a clap. It’s unnecessary and potentially dangerous. Instead, perform a standard push-up, but with enough force so that your hands leave the ground at the top of the movement. Be sure to land back on the grounds with control.
The scapular push-up has you get in the push-up position but retract and protract your shoulder blades. It’s more of a mobility exercise that strengthens the stabilizers of your shoulders and encourages better posture to combat are near-always hunched-over position. This is a great movement to add at the beginning of your workout as a warm-up.
Benefits of the Push-Up Plus
- The push-up plus has serious amounts of muscle-building benefits for beginners and advanced lifters due to the extra range of motion,
- Helps to improve lockout strength for barbell bench press.
- More time under tension for the anterior core.
How to Do the Scapular Push-Up
Get on your hand and knees, placing your hands slightly wider than your shoulder width. Straighten your arms and legs so you’re on your toes and hands, and engage your glutes to support a neutral spine. Keep your arms straight and squeeze your shoulder blades together so that your chest sinks toward the floor. Once your shoulder blades are together, round your back to reverse the movement.
The dip can either be performed on rings, parallel bars, a bench, and believe it or not, a corner of a counter at home if you’re not at the gym. Please make sure this is a stable surface. The beauty of dip is you can hit the chest and triceps at slightly different angles than the push-up for a more well-rounded chest and triceps development.
Benefits of the Dip
- The dip works the chest and triceps in tandem for more upper body mass and size.
- Better overhead stability as the triceps help to stabilize the elbows in the overhead position.
How to Do the Dip
Stand between the dip bars (or whatever else you’re using) and take a firm grip on the bars. Engage the upper back by keeping the shoulder-blades retracted and depressed (together and down towards the glutes). Squeeze the bar to support your wrists and press yourself upwards. Don’t pull your body backward as you press but stay slightly leaned forward and push through the palms into the hands. Contract your triceps hard as your lock your elbows out and slowly lower down and repeat.
This is an excellent movement for replicating chest flyes on a cable machine. Although it’s not weighted, the instability of the suspension straps combined with the angle of the flye makes this a challenging flye variation. The beauty of this exercise is you can make this more or less difficult by walking towards or away from the anchor point. If you don’t own a suspension trainer, you can place your hands on two socks (in a push-up position) and drag your hands outwards and inwards to replicate a flye that way. Though be warned, this is a challenging variation.
Benefits of the TRX Chest Flye
- Trains the chest from multiple angles to help you build a muscular chest.
- Strengthens the core and shoulder stabilizers due to the instability of the straps.
- This forces you to slow down due to the instability, which puts more tension under tension on the chest.
How to Do the TRX Chest Flye
Place your feet on the floor and your hands in the TRX straps. The closer the feet are to the anchor point, the more difficult the exercise will be, further away easier. Start with your hands at chest level with arms extended and palms facing each other. Maintain a strong plank-like position and lower your body towards the floor while opening your arms in an arc motion with your elbows slightly bent. When you feel a good stretch in your chest, push your arms back together and return to the starting position.
Anatomy of the Chest
Your chest is a large superficial muscle running at different angles with multiple attachment points. Understanding what they are and how they work is important in obtaining a stronger chest. Here’s a breakdown of the major chest muscles.
The pectoralis major is a large superficial muscle located on the anterior surface of the thoracic rib cage. The pectoralis major has three heads: clavicular, sternocostal, and abdominal. All three parts converge laterally and insert onto the humerus.
The main role of the pec major is the adduction and internal rotation of the arm on the shoulder joint. The clavicular part of the chest helps flex the extended arm up to 90 degrees, while the sternocostal part assists in extending the flexed arm by pulling it down.
The Pectoralis minor is a superficial muscle on the anterior of the chest, located deep to the pectoralis major muscle. It assists with various movements of the scapula. It originates from the anterior surface of ribs three to five and inserts on the scapula’s medial border and coracoid process.
3 Chest Workouts Without Weights
When these workouts are used in conjunction with weighted chest exercises, you’ll improve your relative strength, and the extra volume will come in handy for added size and strength.
100-Rep Push-Up Challenge
This one is simple, straightforward, but not easy because muscular fatigue escalates quickly. This takes less than five to 10 minutes and leaves you with an amazing chest and triceps pump.
Perform a total of 100 strict push-ups for time.
Every time you stop to rest, subtract the total amount of repetitions you have completed up to that point from 100 total reps, which will give you the amount of rest (seconds) you can take before starting again. For example, you start with a set of 20 push-ups, and you rest 80 seconds before starting again (100 total reps – 20 reps). On your second set, you squeeze out another 18 repetitions, therefore leaving you with 62 seconds of rest (100 total reps – 20 reps – 18 reps). The rest periods get shorter and shorter as you approach 100 total reps, often leaving you to perform singles, doubles, and/or triples under high amounts of fatigue with less than five to 10 seconds of rest.
4-Way Push-up Workout
This push-up ladder starts with a difficult push-up variation, and the next three push-up variations get progressively easier. Still, the repetitions increase as the push-up variations get easier.
While this seems doable on paper, the sheer amount of volume (150-200 total repetitions) of push-ups will sneak up on you.
The 4-way push-up workout challenges the fast-twitch and explosive muscle fibers (plyometric push-up), the inner chest and triceps (close grip and standard push-up). It challenges the slow-twitch muscle fibers due to the final 20 repetitions every set.
- Five plyometric push-ups
- 10 close-grip push-ups
- 15 scapular push-ups
- 20 push-ups
- Rest 60-90 seconds
- Repeat for three to four total sets
Chest and Triceps Workout
This bodyweight chest workout is meant to build chest and triceps mass. The goal is to train the entire chest region while also working the supporting muscles of the triceps, rhomboids, and scapular stabilizers. The workout includes tempo work and supersets to increase time under tension and maximize muscle fatigue and metabolic build-up.
Exercises marked with the same number — i.e., 1A and 1B — are to be performed as supersets, back to back, with no rest between movements. Complete the prescribed reps for each movement and then rest after the superset.
1A. Push Up Plus: 3 x 20
1B. Handstand Hold: 3 x 30 seconds
2A. Tempo Push-Up: 4 x 10-15 for a tempo of 2-0-2-0
2B. Close-Grip Push-Up: 4 x 10-15
3A. Dip: 4 x 10-15 for a tempo of 2-0-2-0
3B. Plyometric Push-Up: 4 x 8-12
More Chest Training Tips
Now that you have a handle on the best chest exercises without weights to strengthen your chest, you can also check out these other helpful chest training articles for strength, power, and fitness athletes.
- 8 Push-Up Variations For Power, Strength, And Size
- The Surprising Benefits of Doing Push-Ups in the Sand
Featured image: Pressmaster/Shutterstock