In this article, we will be presenting the best calisthenics chest workout.
Getting a bigger chest with calisthenics can be difficult. However, with the right exercises and proper technique, you can get a big chest even with bodyweight exercises. Keep reading to discover the workouts, as well as the proper way to perform the exercises for optimal chest development.
Furthermore, we will provide a warm-up for the workouts, as well as answer your most burning questions in regards to calisthenics training for the chest.
Let's get started.
Calisthenics chest workout
This part of the article will be split in three levels - beginner, intermediate, and advanced.
Before you jump to another level, we recommend you to master the previous one. If you are starting from the very beginning, make sure to start slow and give your body time to adapt.
Beginner calisthenics chest workout
8 - 10
8 - 10
8 - 12
12 - 20
For this level, we assumed that you are able to do dips and push-ups.
If you can't do a push-up yet, be sure to read our article on how to get your first push-up.
Additionally, we recommend you to use a full body split, or at least an upper/lower calisthenics split if you can't do a push-up yet. As a beginner, targeting particular muscle groups can be counter productive.
Intermediate calisthenics chest workout
3 - 4
6 - 8
3 - 4
8 - 12
Ring chest fly
8 - 12
12 - 15
12 - 20
For the intermediate and advanced workouts you will need a pair of gymnastics rings.
If that is not an option, you can do the same beginner workout, only that weighted. To find out more about this, read our article about weighted calisthenics, which will get you started.
Advanced calisthenics chest workout
3 - 4
8 - 12
3 - 4
8 - 12
6 - 10
Ring chest fly
8 - 12
Elevated diamond push-up
12 - 20
This is all you need for a great calisthenics chest workout.
However, to make sure that you keep the structural balance in your shoulder, we recommend you to have a day dedicated to a calisthenics shoulder workout too.
How to warm up for your chest calisthenics workout
Warming up before working out is of utmost importance, because:
A proper warm-up starts with an exercise to break a light sweat, continued with exercises to warm up the joints you will be working. Static stretching should not be used during warm-ups but dynamic stretches can be beneficial depending on the exercises you will be performing.
Here is the warm-up routine we recommend you to do for the chest calisthenics exercises above:
It may look like a lot but the entire sequence is done in 10-12 minutes.
Let's discuss each exercise in part so you know how to do them correctly, as well as the reason for actually doing them.
The first part of the warm-up should raise your heart rate, as well as lightly warm the muscles in your entire body. Jogging is the easiest way of doing this, but here are a few other alternatives:
Whichever activity you choose, do it until you break a light sweat.
That should take you around 5 minutes or so.
Arm, shoulder, elbow, and wrist rotations
These are general exercises that are meant to warm up your joints before putting them through strain. Since exercises like the push-up and dip work all the three joints - shoulders, elbows, and wrists - we recommend you to warm all of them up.
Doing these exercises for 1 set of 10 repetitions back and forth should be enough to warm your joints for the calisthenics chest workout to come.
There's not much in terms of how to do them. Just rotate the respective body parts back and forth 10 times each.
The scapula pull-up teaches you how to keep your shoulder blades down during all the exercises you are doing. Aside from overhead pressing exercises, like the handstand, most if not all exercises in calisthenics are done with a depressed scapula position.
Furthermore, this exercise warms up the muscles surrounding your shoulder blades.
Having warm shoulder blade muscles will minimize the risk of injury in your shoulder girdle.
To do scapula pull-ups correctly:
The dip shrug works the same range of motion as the scapula pull-up. However, with this exercise, slightly different muscles will engage, as well as some of the same ones but in a different manner.
The reason for this is simple: with the dip shrug you are pushing your body away from the hands, while with the scapula pull-up you are pulling your body towards the hands. Therefore, this exercise will be more specific towards your calisthenics chest workout.
The main benefit, again, is warming up the muscles surrounding your shoulder blades.
Additionally, you are getting a specific warm up for the dip. When doing dips, you have to keep your shoulder blades down. When doing dips shrugs you are strengthening that position.
To do dip shrug correctly:
Band pull aparts
The band pull apart works the scapula retraction movement, which is represented by your shoulder blades coming closer or pinching each other. It is very effective as a supplement to warm the scapula muscles in all their ranges.
To do band pull aparts correctly:
With the pike shrug you will work the elevation movement of the scapula, which is bringing the shoulders to your ears. This is the opposite movement of the scapula depression, where you are moving the shoulders away from your ears.
Just like the other exercises, it has the role of warming up the muscles surrounding your scapula.
To do pike shrugs correctly:
The scapula push will strengthen the protraction movement of your scapula, which is the movement where your shoulder blades are moving away from each other. This exercise is done in a push-up position, so it has direct transferability to your calisthenics chest workout.
Additionally, it is a very important exercise to get good at if you plan on training the planche at some point.
To do the scapula push correctly:
Dynamic wrist stretching
Doing all the stretches in the video for 1 set of 15 reps each should be more than enough.
With the wrist stretches we want to prepare our wrist joint for the strain to come. During push-ups and dips, most of our body weight - sometimes all of it - is held by our wrists only. Wrist stretching is mandatory in order to avoid injury.
To do wrist stretches correctly:
Once you complete this warm-up, which should not take more than 10-12 minutes, you are ready to begin your chest workout with calisthenics.
How to do the calisthenics chest exercises in the workout
To get the most out of your chest exercises, you need to learn how to do them properly.
When moving resistance, the human's body goal is to do it as efficiently. This efficiency is usually achieved through compensation in the form of too much help from other muscles.
For instance, a common problem with the push-up is that people can't feel their chest working.
In this part of the article, we will teach you how to do the exercises so that you can feel the chest muscles engaging and working. If you want to press to a particular exercise, simply press on its name:
T-Nation ran an experiment where they found that the weighted dip is one of the best exercises for the lower pecs. Since this is a calisthenics workout and there is no bench press to compete with, even an unweighted dip will bring you great results in terms of muscle development.
However, few people do it properly. In our article about bodyweight dips, we covered everything there is to know about this exercise. In this article, we will just do a short execution checklist, to set you on the right path.
To correctly do bodyweight dips:
The decline push-up will target your chest, with emphasis on the upper pecs.
The higher your legs are in relation to your torso, the more difficult the exercise will be. However, if you bring your legs too high, your shoulders will take over the exercise. Therefore, we recommend you to keep a 180 degree angle - a straight line - from your shoulders to your ankles.
Just like you can see in the video.
To correctly do decline push-ups:
Push-ups are a very popular exercise, and one that can't be missing from any calisthenics chest workout. If done correctly, they can be progressed indefinitely and will strengthen your chest, shoulders, and triceps.
The issue with push-ups is that few people can actually feel their chest working.
Supposing you are doing the exercise with perfect form, the reason why you don't feel the chest working is a lack of mind-muscle connection. To fix this issue, just pay attention to the movement of your chest during the exercise, and squeeze it at the top position after you push yourself back up.
To correctly do push-ups:
The incline push-up is an easier variation of the push-up, and a great calisthenics chest exercise if you know where in your workout you should include it.
Just like all push-up variations, this one will work the chest, shoulders, and triceps.
However, given the angle at which you are doing the exercise, it will favor the lower chest more.
Being an easier variation, we believe that incline push-ups should be included at the end of your chest calisthenics workout. This will allow you to do more repetitions and really pump up and fatigue the pectoral muscles.
To correctly do incline push-ups:
The ring dip can be a difficult exercise in the beginning. Your body will shake uncontrollably and you will be getting sore in muscles you didn't know you had.
However, the ring dip is an excellent calisthenics chest exercise.
A lot of people struggle with feeling their chest working with bar dips. However, with the ring dip, you will feel your pectorals working from the very beginning. Let's have a rundown over the proper execution. To learn more about it though, read our article on ring dips.
To correctly do ring dips:
Even though the diamond push-up is emphasizing the triceps slightly more than the chest, we are still including it in this calisthenics chest workout, so that you can target the pectorals from different angles.
Diamond push-ups are harder than regular push-ups, and for this reason people will usually have a hard time with them. Let's see how you should do them:
To correctly do diamond push-ups:
Ring chest fly
The ring chest fly is a very effective chest calisthenics exercise which mimics the cable chest fly.
As opposed to the cable chest fly, this variation is more difficult, as well as harder to progress with. In the case of the pulley machine, progression is done by increasing the weight. With the ring chest fly, you progress by getting the rings closer to the ground.
Even though you will need to be patient with it, the ring chest fly is an awesome chest builder which, when mastered, may be more effective than its cable counterpart.
To correctly do ring chest flys:
The archer push-up is an advanced variation of the push-up, where most of the work is done by a single arm. You can do this exercise alternatively, or finish all the repetitions with one arm, then continue with the other.
This variation works the muscles a bit differently, given the biomechanics of the exercise. And when it comes to building muscle, variation in exercise can be of help.
To correctly do archer push-ups:
The bulgarian push-up is a great addition to any calisthenics chest workout. This variation of the exercise minimizes the involvement of the shoulder, making your chest work harder to complete the movement.
Furthermore, the rings can move in all directions. For this reason, you can get a full stretch in your chest, then you can squeeze it hard at the top.
To correctly do Bulgarian push-ups:
Elevated diamond push-up
The elevated diamond push-up is performed just like the diamond push-up but this time your legs will be elevated on a surface like a bench, box, or even a bar in a squat rack.
With this variation, you will target more of the upper chest, and especially the inner part. With that being said, you should know that the focus on the inner part is minimal, and the best way to get a bigger inner chest is to get a bigger chest overall.
Regardless of that, the elevated diamond push-up is a great choice for any calisthenics chest workout.
To correctly do elevated diamond push-ups:
In this part of the article, we will answer the most common questions in regards to chest calisthenics exercises and workouts.
Can calisthenics build the chest?
As I mentioned before, most people don't feel their chest working with different calisthenics exercises. Therefore, questions like this one will inevitably pop-up.
Yes, calisthenics can build a big chest. To do this, you need to do different variations of push-ups and dips, progressively increase the intensity of your calisthenics exercises for chest, and train close to failure.
But how do you do that?
You can do it by training more difficult progressions of an exercise, adding weight, or doing the exercises slower. All these methods can work, even though doing weighted calisthenics is the most efficient way.
What calisthenics exercises work the chest?
There are three calisthenics exercises that work the chest:
Whether you choose to do regular push-ups, or diamond push-ups is up to you. The same applies to the dip as well. In an ideal world, you would be using different progressions of these exercises.
Once you master them, you can also add weight to make them more difficult.
As you get more used and stronger with an exercise, adding repetitions will not be enough to keep increasing your muscle mass. At some point, you will need to add weight to your calisthenics chest workout if you want optimal results.
How do you fix an uneven chest with calisthenics?
When doing a sport like calisthenics, the chance of getting unbalanced muscle groups is higher because there are very few isolation exercises available. However, there is a solution to this issue.
To fix an uneven chest with calisthenics, the best way is to do unilateral exercises - meaning that you will be using only one arm. Exercises like one arm push-ups and archer push-ups are ideal. For the best results, start your set with the part you want to focus on, then with the other part do the same amount of repetitions.
You will be training like this until the uneven part catches up with the more developed one.
If you don't have the strength to do unilateral exercises, use an elastic band for assistance.
How do you target the upper chest with calisthenics?
Targeting a specific region of a muscle with calisthenics can be difficult. However, it's not impossible.
To target the upper chest with calisthenics, do push-ups variations where your legs are elevated. When you lower your body during the push-up, you will want your shoulders below your hips. However, don't elevate your legs too much, or your shoulders will do most of the work. Having your body at 180 degrees - a straight line - is a great position for this.
Furthermore, you may have better results by using a narrower grip.
You can build big pectoral muscles with a calisthenics chest workout, as long as the workout is suited for your level of strength, progressive, and taken close enough to failure.
In this article, we have provided three workouts, as well as given you the resources to learn how to do the chest calisthenics exercises of the routines. All that is left for you to do is go to the gym, the park, or grab your parallel bars and you are good to go.
Over to you.