Bodyweight chest exercises

Bodyweight chest exercises

Bodyweight Chest Exercises: 7 Exercises For A Bigger Chest

Man in the straight bar dip portion of a muscle-up

If you’re looking for a curated list of the best bodyweight chest exercises, then you are in the right place.

In this article we have presented what we consider to be the best bodyweight exercises for your chest muscles, their regressions, and how to perform them.

This way you can add them to your chest workout routine and safely do them, regardless of your level.

Let's get started.

Bodyweight chest exercises

Man performing dips as one of his chest exercises

The chest, triceps and anterior deltoid are all pushing muscles.

In fact, the chest is the largest pushing muscle in our entire body.

Therefore, in this article, we’ll address the main pushing movements in bodyweight fitness: the push-up, dips, and their variations.

Whenever you are doing a chest exercise the triceps and anterior deltoid will also engage to some extent.

Push-ups

Man performing close grip push-ups on a ledge

The push-up is one of the best bodyweight chest exercises thanks to the several variations you can do.

These are, in our opinion, the best variations in order from beginner to intermediate.

  1. Regular push-up
  2. Wide push-up
  3. Diamond push-up
  4. Pseudo planche push-up

Form checklist:

  1. Keep a straight line from your head to your heels.

    Push through your shoulders to prevent the chest from sagging.

    Tilt your pelvis backward and squeeze your butt tight to form a straight line at the hips.
  2. Do not flare the elbows to the sides.

    Keep your elbows close to your body at all times.
  3. Do not cheat the range of motion.

    Go down until your chest is close to touching the floor, then push back up until your elbows are fully locked.

1. Regular push-up

Athlete doing one of the best bodyweight chest exercises, the push-up

The regular push-up is the easiest  variation, in relation to the ones we’ll be presenting in this article.

If you can't do a push-up yet, check this article.

How to do it:

  • Get in a high plank position with the hands shoulder-width apart, elbows fully locked and the shoulders right above the wrists.
  • Tilt the pelvis backward and squeeze your butt to engage the core.
  • Lower your body in a controlled manner until your chest toucher or barely touches the ground. However, do not rest your chest on the ground; as soon as it touches, push back up to the starting position.

Muscle focus:

The regular variation of the push-up will especially target the middle and inner chest.

The triceps and anterior deltoid are also trained. However, the focus is placed on the pectoralis major.

Recommendations:

After you’ve completed a repetition, we recommend squeezing the chest as much as possible in the top position.

When descending think about your chest and focus on how it contracts (mind-muscle connection).

2. Wide push up

Muscular athlete doing a bodyweight chest exercise - the push-up

The wide push-up is used by lots of people in the gym.

However, a common mistake is that they are placing their hands too far away, minimizing the range of motion.

The wider the stance, the easier it will be to flare the elbows to the sides. Fight this urge and keep your elbows pointing backward as much as possible.

How to do it:

  • Start in the push up position but with the hands wider than shoulder width.
  • Lower to the bottom position, focusing not to flare the elbows.

Muscle focus:

The wide push-up will target and stretch the outer chest.

The anterior deltoid is a primary mover in the exercise too, while the triceps is engaged less than in the regular variation.

Recommendations:

You don’t have to go super wide to get the benefits of the wide push-ups.

In fact, the wider you spread your hands, the less range of motion you have.

Additionally, you may develop a problem in your shoulder joint if you perform the exercise too wide.

3. Diamond push up

Aesthetic athlete doing diamond push-ups

The narrow grip (diamond) push-up will mainly target the triceps.

However, it targets big parts of the chest too, making it one of the best bodyweight chest exercises.

How to do it:

  • Get in a high plank position. Have the tips of your thumbs and the tips of your index fingers touch each other to create a diamond shape with your hands.
  • Lower to the bottom of the movement then push back up.

Muscle focus:

As mentioned above, the main focus of the narrow grip push-up is the triceps.

The upper and inner chest are also activated during the movement, with the anterior deltoid working the least.

Recommendations:

A great way to increase the chest engagement is to get into the diamond push-up position, then lean a bit forward.

You will have the lower part of the chest over your hands, instead of the upper part.

Making this change will increase the difficulty of the exercise, and also increase the engagement of the anterior deltoid.

If you find this adjustment too difficult, stick to the basic way of doing the exercise until you build the strength for it.

4. Pseudo planche push ups

Daniel Vadnal from FitnessFAQs at the bottom position of a pseudo planche push-up

Daniel Vadnal from FitnessFAQs in the picture.

Although difficult, the pseudo planche push-up (PPPU) is the variation that targets the most muscles.

If done correctly, you will feel it in your anterior deltoid, chest, triceps, serratus anterior, core, and even biceps (check the recommendations below).

Thanks to its difficulty, your whole upper body will get stronger with this exercise.

How to do it:

  • Get in a high plank position with your fingers pointing sideways or backward.
  • Lean forward as much as possible keeping the straight position of your body.
  • Lower to the bottom of the movement.
  • Push back to the top position focusing on maintaining the lean throughout the whole movement. Fully lock the elbows when you are up.

Muscle focus:

While there are lots of muscles that engage in the PPPU, the most work will be done by the anterior deltoid and upper chest.

Depending on the grip, the biceps may be recruited to a high extent.

Recommendations:

If your fingers are facing forward (just as with a regular push-up), you will need a lot of wrist mobility to perform the exercise.

For an increased range of motion, you can lift the heels of your hands off the ground.

You can decrease the strain on your wrists by pointing the fingers to the sides or by using parallettes.

However...

This grip variation will slightly increase the difficulty of the exercise because you will not be able to press your fingers into the ground for balance.

Lastly...

You can perform the exercise with the fingers pointing backward.

While it takes away all the strain from your wrists, it will be placed on the elbow.

However, the biceps tendon will get engaged too, meaning that you will directly target the biceps.

Dips

Man doing dips in an outdoor gym in the woods

Dips are ideal for developing all the pushing muscles in your body.

Even though you may find it difficult to do your first dip, with time they become quite easy.

There are two dip variations that we'll focus on:

  • Parallel bar dip
  • Straight bar dip

The parallel bar variation is the most common.

Most people haven't even heard of the straight bar dip, most of them only sticking with the parallel variation.

Let’s break them down and see why that may be a mistake, depending on one’s goals.

1. Parallel bar dip

Athlete doing weighted parallel dips for his bodyweight chest exercises routine

This is one of the greatest bodyweight chest exercises if you’re considering adding weight to your training at some point in the future.

The parallel dip can be loaded quite heavily without having to worry about our shoulder health.

Another great advantage to the parallel bar dip, as opposed to the straight bar variation, is the range of motion.

As we’ll see later, the straight bar variation offers a more limited range of motion due to the mechanics of the exercise.

How to do it:

  • Grab the handles of a dip station and raise yourself until the elbows are fully locked.
  • Fully depress the scapula to avoid any potential to injure yourself.
  • Bend your elbows lowering your body until your upper arms are parallel to the ground, or lower if your shoulder mobility allows it.
  • Push back up to the starting position, remembering to depress the scapula.

Muscle focus:

Depending on how you do the exercise, it may focus more on the anterior deltoid or on the triceps.

Even though the focus is placed on either one of those, the pectorals will get a lot of engagement too.

Recommendations:

We highly recommend you to keep your elbows as close to your body as possible.

Flaring the elbows may lead to injury in the long run - especially if you plan on adding additional weight.

If you want to focus on anterior deltoid development along with the chest, perform the exercise while leaning forward a bit.

If you want to focus on the development on the triceps along with the chest, hold your body in an upright position and perform the exercise that way, instead of leaning.

2. Straight bar dip

Bodyweight fitness athlete doing straight bar dips

As mentioned above, this is not a popular dip variation.

In fact, there are LOTS of people who have never heard of a straight bar dip.

If we look at the functions of the chest, one of them is the internal rotation of the shoulder.

As opposed to the parallel dip, the straight bar dip is done with the shoulder in an internally rotated position.

From a mechanical point of view, the chest is in an advantageous position to activate more.

You will preferentially get just a little bit more chest activation.

However...

One of the drawbacks of the straight bar dip is the awkward mechanics.

When you are descending to the bottom position you have to lean forward, your lower body has to come forward, and your range of motion is limited by the bar.

How to do it:

  • Grab a single bar with both hands, raise yourself until your elbows are fully locked and depress the scapula.
  • Start descending and lean forward while, at the same time, bringing your lower body forward too.
  • When your chest touches the bar, push back to the top position. Remember to depress the scapula.

Muscle focus:

As mentioned above, when we’ve broken down the parallel bar variation, the straight bar dip is better for chest development than the parallel one.

That is because the shoulders are internally rotated, which places the chest in a mechanical advantage.

This allows it to exert more power and also engage better in the movement.

Remember that a dip will always work the anterior deltoid and the triceps too.

Recommendations:

If you want to get the best out of this exercise, we strongly recommend you to switch up the grips.

For example, you could do the exercise using a narrow grip. It will be more difficult, but the chest activation will feel much more intense.

How does the chest work

There are lots of exercises that can be used for chest development. The muscle that forms the bulk of the chest is called pectoralis major and it’s a very complex muscle.

It originates from the sternum and inserts into the upper part of the humerus (arm).

The most common chest exercises are:

  • Parallel bar dip
  • Straight bar dip

If you imagine the movement in any of those exercises you’ll notice a pattern. 

There are two movements associated with these exercises:

  • Parallel bar dip
  • Straight bar dip

Shoulder flexion is the movement of the arm from the back to the front (the insertion point is being moved closer to the origin).

Shoulder extension is the movement of the arm from front to back (the insertion point is being moved away from the origin).

In the example of the push-up and bench press, the flexion is when you push yourself or the weight back up, and the extension when you lower yourself to the ground or the weight to your chest.

Therefore, most exercises that respect this pattern will work the chest.

This holds true for the pull-up and other pulling exercises too.

And this is the beauty of compound movements.

Most muscles work in synergy; and even if you don’t feel it, you’ll get a good workout and some form of chest activation in any of the bodyweight exercises.

Conclusion

Even though there are not that many bodyweight chest exercises available for a better pectoral development, there are enough variations to last you a while.

If you eat enough and train frequently, you will get results whether you’re using your weight or free weights as resistance.

Once you are able to do these exercises comfortably, we recommend you to add external weight, change the tempo, or do more repetitions.

Knowing the information in the “how does the chest work” can help you figure out what kind of exercises are suitable for the development of your pectorals.

All you need to do now is to train.

Over to you.