If you’re looking to build muscle, you probably imagine doing reps at the gym with heavy weights. But can calisthenics — exercises that target large muscle groups using body weight — actually build muscle? Well, if you’ve ever seen a yogi with ripped triceps or a gymnast or dancer with defined calves and quads, then you already know the answer is yes, it’s definitely possible to build muscle with calisthenics. But when it comes to your chest muscles, the answer is a little murkier. Spoiler alert: A calisthenic chest workout can build chest muscles, but you have to be realistic about your goals.
Can a calisthenics chest workout build chest muscles?
Calisthenics are “rhythmic exercises done with bodyweight or very minimal equipment that target large muscle groups,”Jamie Hickey, nutritionist and Founder of Truism Fitness, tells Lively. Technically speaking, you can build chest muscles using solely calisthenics. “You can effectively target your chest via bodyweight exercises but they will all be comprised of compound moves that work multiple muscles at one time,” Hickey says. He adds that a potential problem with this mode of working the chest is that “chest muscles are larger and need more work to be fatigued but a smaller muscle will become tired before you can work your chest muscles enough.” As an example, if you’re doing push-ups, your triceps will fail before your chest muscles do, he says. But as long as you’re pushing your muscles to one rep short of complete failure then you will build muscle regardless of whether you’re working out with calisthenics or resistance training.
How do you build the upper chest with calisthenics?
While it can be challenging, it's not impossible to build your chest using calisthenics; you just have to be strategic and make sure your form is working for you. “The important thing is to really focus on the quality of reps and to really spend as much time as you can under tension to build muscle,Ahmed Ali, personal trainer, tells Lively. “You need to load your muscle with enough resistance to create tension. You can do that by slowing the tempo of the movement, using resistance bands.” You could also consider wearing a weighted vest or changing your positioning.
"To build your upper chest, you can use different hand placements or change the elevation of your feet. If you place your feet in a slightly elevated position (on a chair), and do push-ups, you will work your muscle fibers in the upper chest,” Ali says. He adds if you know your upper chest is lagging (for example: If it’s weaker than your core or lower chest), start with upper chest push-ups first and do three to five sets of push-ups with your feet elevated before you do any other movements.
Can I build chest muscle with push-ups?
If you’re wondering if you can build chest muscles with push-ups, the short answer is yes. Again, it comes down to how hard you work your actual chest (and not the surrounding muscles). If you vary your hand placement, you’ll be able to work all areas of the chest. “Different variations like wide hand, close hand, diamond, inverted, and one-handed [will] hit different parts of your chest muscles to allow you to create a defined upper and lower chest. For the best results go on your knees once you aren’t able to do anymore. This will make sure to fatigue your muscles as much as possible,” Hickey says. Another way to build chest muscles using push-ups is by keeping to a “strict form,” as Ahmed says, where you control the tempo. He suggests three seconds on the way up and three on the way down.
Vital note: This article has been made available for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Your licensed healthcare professional can best provide you with the diagnosis and treatment of any medical condition and assist you as well in deciding whether a dietary supplement will be a helpful addition to your regimen.