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June 12, 2020 9 min read

Building up the muscles in your chest is one of the best ways to work out. It not only sets up a great foundation for all kinds of bodybuilding exercises but also trims and tones your chest, arms, and core. 

Some people think that bodyweight exercises aren’t intense enough and don’t support the gains they want to get. While it is true that if you want to get super ripped you will have to incorporate weights to intensify your results, you can still go a long way with bodyweight exercises. Especially if you find it hard to make it to the gym some days of the week, you can easily do these chest workouts at home, in your backyard, at the park, or anywhere. It’s totally free and you’ll be excited to see your progress (and your muscles) growing. 

What Muscles Should I Target for Chest Exercises?

At first, it seems simple: just target the chest! But there are many smaller muscles and muscle groups within the chest area. When you build these muscles, you gain well-rounded strength in multiple muscle groups. It not only looks the best but also keeps you strong and fit for all the necessary tasks the body needs for strength and health. These are the muscle groups of your chest anatomy that you’ll want to target:

  • Upper and lower pectorals (or pecs): These are the major components of chest anatomy. They’re also called the pectoralis major and the pectoralis minor. The upper chest is responsible for flexing your arm, extending your arm, rotating your arm, and adducting your arm. The lower pec’s job is to help with downward rotation, depression, protraction, and the upward tilt of your shoulder blade.  
  • Upper back: The upper back plays a strong supporting role for your chest, so that’s why it’s so important to make sure it’s strong and stable for your chest movements. A strong upper back also means good posture, which keeps a healthy spine and helps you look confident and sure of yourself. It also supports your lower back so it’s connected to the lower body as well. 
  • Biceps: They are responsible for the majority of lifting heavy objects. These tend to be the most worked-out muscle for those wanting ripped arms. They look impressive and they also do the majority of the lifting jobs. However, some people just work their biceps by doing lots of curls. 

The problem with curls is they’re not a compound exercise. You need a compound exercise because the biceps and chest should work together. You’ll get much more out of your time at the gym if you strengthen both the chest and biceps. They don’t necessarily have to be done at the same time, but most upper bodyweight exercises do target both muscle groups. 

  • Triceps: The triceps brachii are also responsible for extending and retracting the arm. When the biceps flex, the triceps relax, and when the triceps flex the biceps relax. Having strong triceps means lifting is going to be much easier, more effective, and, most importantly, will incorporate the chest muscles. 

It’s best to think about getting all these muscles in your weekly workout routine. One good combination is to mix the chest and triceps one day and the back and biceps the next day. This works out all your upper body muscle groups in just two days. The other days can be reserved for the lower body and core. 

The bodyweight exercises we’re providing for you here will work out all these upper body muscle groups, but they’re mainly targeted for the chest. 

  • Chest Dips
  • Standard Pushup
  • Decline Pushup
  • Side-to-Side Pushup

A man doing chest dips in a gym.

1. Chest Dips

Of all the bodyweight exercises, these are the best for targeting your chest directly. They do work your triceps as well, but they’re not to be confused with tricep dips, which are very similar. Even though the exercise looks almost the same, just a small shift in movement makes all the difference toward which muscles build up. To highlight that difference, we’ll first explain how to do a chest dip and then explain how a tricep dip is different. 

If you’re at the gym, you can use what’s called a dip station to perform the move. If you’re not familiar with it, it looks like two bars that go on either side of your body while you’re standing in between them. They’re usually about chest height, but some of them much lower (at waist height), while some are even higher than your chest, making them that much more challenging. Basically, the higher the bars, the more challenging the move so you can pick the bars accordingly. If there’s only one option, go ahead and use that. 

Since these workouts are mainly for the home exercises, you can definitely do chest dips at home, making your own dip station. The best way is to find two chairs that are exactly the same height. You’ll want to make sure you secure them very tightly. You don’t want them coming loose or sliding beneath you while you’ve got all your weight suspended. 

The best way to secure them is by putting them right up against something really solid - a sofa and a wall would both be ideal. You’ll even want to put something heavy on the seat of each chair. If you have extra dumbbells that could work, but if not, any heavy item will do. You could even use a friend or significant other. 

Once you’re sure the DIY (Do It Yourself) dipping station is secure, you’re ready to do the move. 

Place your hands palms down with a firm grip. Start by taking your feet off the ground so that you can’t use them to propel your body upward. Using your arms, slowly dip your body down until your elbows are at a 45-degree angle, then push yourself back up so your arms are fully extended. 

While you’re doing the move, be sure to keep your arms tight against your body, not letting them fly out, and not letting your elbows go out past the bars (or chairs). 

When it comes to form, make sure your posture is straight, with your back straight. Tilt your body forward slightly, but make sure you don’t arch or slump your lower or upper back. 

Hold your head up with your eyes forward, not looking down. 

If you’re not used to chest dips, it might be difficult to complete the move all the way. There are some tricks to help you do the move with some alternatives that make it easier, giving you a chance to build up strength to do it properly. Ultimately, performing the move slowly activates your muscles better, but if you can’t do that at first, do the move quickly. That helps you propel yourself with a bit of force (but not too much) to help your muscles while they get stronger. 

You can also just go half-way down. It can be very difficult to go all the way down and then pull yourself back up, so there’s no shame in doing half-dips until you’re strong enough to do a full one. The best way to ease into it is by doing 5 half-dips. Once you can do a full one, do that, but keep doing 5 more half-dips. You can do this until you can do a full 5 chest dips and then you can switch to 100% full chest dips. 

How Chest Dips are Different Than Tricep Dips

Now that you know how to do the chest dip, you’ll see that the difference between the two is very simple. All it involves is a shift where you tilt your body’s direction. With a chest dip, you lean forward into the move. With a tricep dip, you’ll keep your body fully upright, without tilting or leaning. Just try doing one of each. You should feel the difference right away. You’ll feel the pull in your chest in one direction, and the pull in the back of your arms the other way. 

The tricep dip is a great exercise too, but if you’re targeting the chest you’ll want to make you lean forward. 

Two men doing push-ups in a gym.

2. Standard Push-ups

While we’re talking about getting more muscle groups with one stone, the pushup is an excellent way to do that. While it certainly works your chest, it also works your biceps, core, and glutes at the same time, giving you a great warmup or full-body workout. 

Since the pushup is one of the most well-known exercises, you probably already know how to do it. However, the form is crucial when it comes to pushups. It’s recommended to match your pushup starting position to that of a plank position. If you don’t use the proper form, you could end up depriving some parts of your body of the activation they need to give you the body you want. Here are some common mistakes people make when it comes to pushup form. 

  • They spread their arms out past their body. It’s tempting to do and many beginners do it, especially when they’re just starting out and don’t have the strength to do as many pushups as they’d like. When you spread your arms, you spread the bodyweight out further, making the key muscles work less. That’s when you deprive your body of the results it deserves. 
  • They spread their legs too far apart. Keep your feet closer together as you can. Spreading them out beyond shoulder-width has the same effect as spreading your arms. 
  • They stick their butt up in the air. When you arch your butt, you end up straining your shoulders and taking pressure off your core and triceps. This not only deprives your muscle groups of the use and stamina they need to build but actually puts your shoulders in a position they shouldn’t be. That’s just asking for injury!
  • They dip their back. Keep your body in a straight line. When your back is sagging, you take all the weight off your lower back and core and put all the strain on your shoulders. Even though it’s the opposite of arching your buttocks, it basically has the same effect on the body as the prior mistake. The point of doing a pushup properly is to evenly distribute the weight across your body. That’s why you get a full-body workout with this move. 

Instead of focusing on just the negative side, we’ll also give you some guidelines for what you should do to replace these bad habits. 

  • Bend your elbows at a 45-degree angle. That’s how you’ll know you’ve gone down far enough, but not too far that your nose or chest touches the ground. 
  • Engage your core and glutes. Pay attention to what muscles are pulling. The core and glutes should be part of that. You can even squeeze them while you’re doing the workout to get the most out of them during your workout. 
  • Keep your elbows close to your body. The same rule here goes for doing the chest dip. You want to keep your muscles tight and contained instead of flailing out in awkward positions. 

3. Decline Push-ups

When some people decide the pushup is too easy for them and they want to add weight, they sometimes ask a child (or even adult) to sit on their back, adding more resistance to the move and giving them the opportunity to build more muscle. But if you don’t want to depend on another person to help you out with this, there’s a pushup variation that can have the same effect. 

This is a more advanced variation of the pushup that uses the help of a bench, a couch, a table, or any other raised, stable surface. It’s more difficult than the traditional pushup because your body is lifted, forcing you to propel it with sheer power and even more weight. 

To do it, set up your starting position so that your feet are up on the raised surface. The rest of the starting position will be the same as the standard pushup. Your arms will still be the same distance apart, you’ll keep your form the same. As soon as you give the decline pushup a try, you’ll feel the distance and thank us for the fast fat burning results.

4. Side-to-Side Push-ups

Sometimes called archer push-ups, this pushup variation helps you get the outer sides of your chest for a more well-rounded result. It also really works each bicep more, putting all the weight on one side instead of splitting the work evenly between the two. This really helps if you’re trying to lose some extra fat in that area. 

To do it, Position one arm in the standard push-up starting position, with your hand directly under your shoulder. Then, take the other arm and stretch it out so it’s lateral to your body, and fully stretched out. You won’t be putting any weight on that arm, so just think about resting it lightly on the ground, doing no more than adding some balance. 

Perform the push-up as you normally would. You’ll notice that your weight shifts to compensate for the “missing” arm. That’s a very good thing! You’re placing a lot of extra weight on your chest with this exercise, which is going to advance your results quickly. 

Once you do a set of reps, switch to the other arm and do the same level of reps. Many people find that their dominant arm gets stronger much more quickly than the opposite arm. Doing side-to-side pushups is a great way to even out your arm strength to make sure you are equally strong on both sides of your body. If one arm is weaker than the other, give it more attention (i.e. more reps) than the other one and you’ll have equal arm strength in no time. 

If you want to achieve the best bodyweight chest workout to build muscle in your upper chest and lower chest, it's best to do all four of these home chest workout moves in your strength training routine. Each one offers muscle building in a different crucial area. When your bodyweight training reaches all of the essential muscle groups, you'll get a bigger chest in a faster amount of time. When you get the results you're looking for, you're much more likely to keep going. You'll soon be doing the best chest exercises with weights and building muscle in an impressive way.