Lifting weights may be the most popular way to build strength and gain muscle, but it’s not the only road you can travel. You can also achieve this — and so much more — by using something very near and dear to you: your own bodyweight. This applies for all different muscle groups of the body, including the chest.
“A bodyweight chest workout is a workout that challenges the main chest muscles, pectoralis major and minor, as well as the deltoids, triceps and abs,” explains Katelyn Travers, personal trainer and Founder of HelloStrength.com. “These muscles work during movements that require pushing or straightening of the arm.”
Keep reading to see what the fitness pros have to say about building your perfect bodyweight chest workout.
Get ready to add some flair to your chest workouts. Building those chest muscles without weight requires one stellar technique: Time Under Tension (T.U.T training).
“T.U.T training works by slowing the movement down on each repetition and holding the muscle under longer bouts of tension at the most difficult phase,” explains David Donaldson, personal trainer and Founder of Prestige Fitness. “This unique muscle stimulus can cause extensive muscle breakdown and commands a host of benefits from increased strength to faster growth.”
Getting the most out of this technique requires the use of these three pillars: eccentric contractions, tempo and intensity. Starting with eccentric contractions, Donaldson says that the goal is to concentrate on the lowering “negative” portion of the rep. Think of this as the moment when your muscle is slowing and elongating.
It may be a “negative” movement, but the positives to this are that it encourages more stimulus of the muscle and better growth.
Next up is tempo, which can be entirely personalized up to your fitness level. A common speed, Donaldson explains, is 4-1-1-0 (eccentric/lower, pause, concentric lift, pause and repeat). In other words, try to make each rep last for six seconds. “If you maintain this for 10 reps, the entire set will take one minute, which is well within the ideal ‘under tension range’ to build muscle (40 to 60 seconds).”
Finally, you want to keep things intense. Since you’re not using weights, you have to bump up the intensity yourself by challenging yourself and keeping those rest intervals short.
“The exercise needs to be challenging enough to take the muscle to failure or cause a good enough level of fatigue towards the end of the set,” adds Donaldson.
You don’t have to look far to find out what bodyweight exercises work the chest. There are many exercises out there that you’re probably already familiar with, such as:
stability ball push-up: “Start with your feet flexed and a stability ball under your toes while your body is in a plank position with your hands on the floor, and your wrists, elbows and shoulders all in one straight line,” says Kyra Williams, CPT, and Owner of KyraWilliamsFitness.com.“Bend your elbows to lower your chest and head toward the floor then press back up.”
tricep dips: “Start by keeping the hips and body close to the chosen surface, with your shoulders down and your arms tucked back and into your sides,” says Donaldson. “Dip. You can pull two chairs together and create an effective dipping station or as long as you have a sturdy surface you can perform this exercise almost anywhere. If you want to make this exercise more difficult, bring your legs out a little farther until you feel more load on the chest and arms.”
close grip push-ups: “Begin in high plank position with wrists and elbows directly below shoulders and feet flexed on your toes,” says Williams. “Lower down so your chest touches the ground and your hands are directly below your shoulders and your elbows are pointing up and behind you, not out to the sides. Once your chest touches the ground, press right back up.”
Additional bodyweight exercises that work the chest include:
Before you get out the soup cans, know that there is a simpler way to build chest muscles without weights. You can do so by increasing the number of repetitions for each exercise.
“For bodyweight exercises, you'll want to increase the number of reps (even by one each workout) and try new, challenging variations to make sure you're stressing the chest muscle enough to grow,” explains Travers.
You’ll want to work the muscles pretty close to failure, adds Williams. “For example, if you’re doing regular push ups, you’ll need to do 3-4 sets going to failure for each set, though you can rest 2-3 minutes between each set.” She also recommends doing a bodyweight chest workout more frequently to see results.
The answer to this is yes, so long as you add some finesse to your push-ups. The secret, explains Sarah Gillette, certified personal trainer and kuudose founding trainer, is slow concentric and eccentric movements. “It’s a way to trick your body into thinking that you’re lifting heavier. For example, slow down for a 3-second count and slow up for a 3-second count.”
Another way to make the rudimentary exercise less stale (and more challenging) is by trying on new techniques for size. For instance, if the traditional pushup has become too easy, try these tweaks recommended by kuudose founding trainer and CPT, Zarina Briggs: “Adding pauses or creating more time under tension. You can also add different push-up variations to your workout, especially unilateral movements.”
This works the muscles in different, more exciting ways and even reduces your risk plateau, addsHannah Daugherty, NASM and ACE certified personal trainer, who serves on the advisory board forFitter Living.She says that a push-up can be changed up in different ways by focusing on frequency, intensity, duration and the type of push-up.
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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.
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