Bench presses and push-ups are the most popular chest exercises seen in most strength and fitness programs. Building a bigger, stronger, more defined chest is often at the top of most lifters goals, which often means lifting weights is in the program. There are times however, when a lifter may not have access to a barbell, dumbbells, and chest training machines, yet still is looking to continue to progress their chest development without weights.
Therefore, in this article we set out to offer coaches and athletes some exercise suggestions and workout ideas on how to train the chest without weights, specifically:
- The Best Chest Exercises to Do Without Weights
- 3 Sample Chest Workouts to Do Without Weights
Note, that to build strength and muscle mass, bodyweight training may fall deficit for most advanced and serious goals. That said, a combination of resistance training and bodyweight exercise is suggested for optimal chest development.
Best Chest Exercises to Do Without Weights
Below are five (5) of the best chest exercises you can do without weights. While most of the exercise below are push-up variations, it is important to understand the unique benefits and distinct differences between each push-up variation and how they can be used within the same workouts to maximize muscle growth.
The standard push-up is the most universal bodyweight exercise for chest training. It can be regressed and progressed easily, and has numerous variations that can be suitable for nearly every lifter/athlete. Read our full guide to form here.
Close Grip Push-ups
The close grip push-up, like the close grip bench press, places higher amounts of demands on the triceps and inner chest muscles, and often can be done to minimize shoulder strain as well.
[Related: Is the One-Armed Push-Up Worth It?]
The plyometric push-up is an advanced push-up variation that requires muscle explosiveness and eccentric strength. By including this exercise within a push-up program, you can target stubborn muscle fibers that may not be fully utilized due to slower contractile speeds often seen in non-ballistic repetitions.
The kneeling push-up is a regressed version of the standard push-up, making it suitable for beginners, individuals who lack upper body strength and muscle mass, and/or individuals who are exhibiting high amounts of muscle fatigue. By kneeling, you decrease the amount of loading placed upon the chest and triceps, making it easier for more repetitions to be completed (which can be helpful for maximizing muscle damage and metabolic fatigue).
The dip, which can be done on rings, parallel bars, a bench, and believe it or not, a corner of a counter at home (assuming you can fit in the space). As long as you have a stable surface, you can perform dips to hit the chest and triceps at slightly different angles than the push-up.
3 Sample Chest Workouts Without Weights
Below are three (3) chest workouts that can be done without weights and equipment. The key with most of these exercises is (1) increased overall training volumes/repetitions, (2) minimizing rest periods to maximize metabolic build-up and muscular fatigue, and (3) increase exercise variations to fully exhaust muscle groups.
100-Rep Chest Pump
This one is pretty straight-forward, and escalates very quickly. I really enjoy this one because it takes less than 5-10 minutes and leaves you with an amazing chest and triceps pump. Not to mention it is something that can be repeated and measured over and over again.
- 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, let’s say you open up with a set of 20 push-ups, therefore you should 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). As you can see, rest periods get cut 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 5-10 seconds of rest, or less.
[Related: Our 6 favorite bodyweight workouts you can do at home]
4-Way Push-up Workout
This push-up ladder starts with the most complex and demanding push-up variations and moves backwards along the regression spectrum.
As you can see, the repetitions increase as the push-up variation becomes (less complex/less demanding/”easier”). While this may seem pretty easy at first, the sheer amount of volume (150-200 total repetitions) of push-ups will sneak up on you.
Additionally, the 4-way push-up workout challenges the fast-twitch and explosive muscle fibers (plyometric push-up), the inner pectorals and triceps (close grip and standard push-up), and the more fatigue resistant fibers (due to the final 20 repetitions per every set).
- 5 Plyometric Push-ups
- 10 Close Grip Push-ups
- 15 Push-ups
- 20 Kneeling Push-ups
- Rest 60-90 seconds
- Repeat for 3-4 total sets
Chest + Triceps Workout
This non-weighted chest workout can be done to increase chest hypertrophy and muscular endurance, with the added benefit of hitting the triceps as well. The goal here is to hit various regions of the pectorals (upper chest, lower chest, etc) while also working the supporting muscles (triceps, rhomboids and scapular stabilizers, and the shoulders) to offer a well-rounded chest pressing workout. The workout includes tempo work and supersets to increase time under tension and maximize muscle fatigue and metabolic build-up.
- Scapular Push-up – 3 sets of 20 repetitions
- Handstand Hold – 3 sets of 30 seconds
- Tempo (2020) Push-ups – 4 sets of 10-15 repetitions
- Close Grip Push-ups – 4 sets of 10-15 repetitions (or to failure)
- Tempo (2020) Dips – 4 sets of 10-15 repetitions
- Plyometric Push-ups 4 sets of 10-15 repetitions (or to failure)
Armed with these workouts, you’ll no longer suffer from what-will-happen-to-my-pecs anxiety when you’re without a gym. Go forth, and enjoy the pump!
Featured image via Pressmaster/Shutterstock