These thirteen calisthenics exercises for your chest are going to have your pecs burning in no time.
In fact, bodyweight exercises are one of the best ways to target your core muscles; such as your chest, back, and stomach.
As you move your body through space you need to use these central stabilizing muscles all the time to push, pull, and stabilize yourself.
However, if you really want to pump up your pecs and get an awesome chest workout you’re going to be starting with a lot of variations of the push up.
Now, you might be thinking that the push up is just something you used to do in gym class and you’re way beyond that now but hold on a minute before you leave.
The truth is that you can work all of the different parts of your chest using variations of push ups and some of the push ups I’ve listed below will be difficult for even the most seasoned fitness veterans.
Then, if you’ve mastered even the hardest of these different push ups, I have some great dips exercises to really take things to the next level.
So, without further ado, here is your complete guide on building a powerful and sculpted chest.
As I said earlier, push ups will form the core of your chest development when practicing calisthenics.
But before you get started it’s important that you know how to a proper push up.
For a standard push up make sure that your hands are beneath your shoulders and that you’re keeping your elbows close to your body throughout the movement.
Don’t let your elbows flare out wildly even though it may feel more natural at first.
If you do this you’ll be working your triceps more than your chest, which is the opposite of what we want.
I’ve arranged the following list of push ups in a progressive order; going from beginner to most advanced.
If you feel like you’re ready for something more challenging than just skim down the list a little further until you reach something appropriate for your strength and experience.
But I highly encourage you to make sure you’re able to do every exercise slowly and with good form before moving on to a harder version.
This way you’ll be building a strong foundation and in the long run you’ll progress faster than if you try to rush ahead.
Push Ups From Your Knees
Doing a push up from your knees is the first stage in building the strength to do push ups well.
If you can’t yet do push ups when balanced on your toes then you want to start here.
Basically, you’ll be doing the same thing as a normal push up except you’ll be placing your knees on the floor while you do them.
This means that you have to lift less of your bodyweight each time and the pivot point of the exercise is closer making it a little bit easier than a normal push up.
If you’re just getting into strength training then this is where you want to start.
Regular Push Ups
As I said before, the push up is a foundational exercise in calisthenics and is one of the best ways to build a strong chest.
In order to do it properly you want to form a plank with your body stretched out straight; your toes touching the floor and the palms of your hands touching the floor beneath your shoulders with your arms straight.
Keep your hands under your shoulders to begin and then lower your chest down to the floor using your arms.
Keep your elbows close to your body while you do this; don’t let them flare outwards.
Also, make sure you keep your body straight throughout the movement by flexing your core muscles just as you would if you were doing a plank.
Really take the time to master this movement and get comfortable with it.
Once you can do three sets of at least ten, slowly and with good form, you’re ready to move on to some more difficult variations.
Decline Push Ups
Decline push ups are a great way to target the upper chest muscles.
They’re done by elevating your feet off of the ground and the higher your feet are raised the more difficult the exercise.
You can start off by raising your feet just to the level of your chest so that you’re completely parallel with the ground when you’re arms are out straight.
Then, as you get stronger, you can elevate your feet even farther from the floor to really amp up the difficulty and target your upper chest muscles even more.
Incline Push Ups
Incline push ups are kind of the opposite of decline push ups.
Instead of raising your feet above the floor you’ll instead be raising your hands up higher, using either a bench or other object to grip.
By doing this you’ll be targeting your lower chest muscles more than a regular push up.
The only downside is that this exercise is slightly easier than a normal push up since the pivot point at your feet is moved up closer to where your hands are.
Push Up Holds
This push up is a static hold endurance exercise which can become an important part of your training and a way to check how your strength is progressing in other ways.
Basically you’re going to lower yourself down, just as you would if you were going to do and kind of push up, but then instead of pushing yourself back up you’re just going to stay down with your muscles flexed tight to hold you there without falling.
As the seconds tick by you’ll begin to feel a serious burn in your chest as your muscles hold all of your weight.
Try and see how long you can hold the pose and experiment with other types of push ups as well so that you target different areas of your chest.
Wide Grip Push Ups
This exercise is a really great way to target your chest muscles.
It’s done by getting into position to do a normal push up but instead of placing your hands beneath your shoulders you’re going to place them much farther away from your body out to the side.
This will really help to put the bulk of the work done throughout the exercise on your chest muscles instead of your triceps.
Do this exercise regularly to really pump up your chest.
Clapping Push Ups
Clapping push ups are a kind of plyometric exercise for your chest.
They’re done by going down into a normal push up but then pushing up explosively hard enough that the top half of your body flies up into the air allowing you to clap your hands together before you fall back down again.
Doing this type of exercise will help you to build explosive power along with giving you a serious workout.
Push Ups Using Gymnastic Rings
When most people think of gymnastic rings they think of doing pull ups but the truth is that they work great for just about any bodyweight exercise.
By using gymnastic rings for your push ups you’ll be dramatically increasing the difficulty as you have to constantly engage your chest muscles, along with many others, just to keep the rings in position and below you throughout the workout.
This constant tension really ups the work involved in the exercise.
To do push ups with rings you can purchase any portable variety but I’d recommend sticking with the wooden handled grips as it makes it much easier to hold on to once you start sweating.
Once you have your gymnastic rings you just need to find a good place to tie them onto.
You can use anything that is strong enough to support your weight.
Just loop them over your pull up bar at home or head to local a park to use the swings.
Lower the rings until they’re close to the ground but leave enough room that your hand doesn’t touch when you’re gripping the rings.
Once you’re all set up just get into a normal push up position but hold onto the rings with your hands instead of placing your palms on the ground.
Then go ahead and start doing your push ups.
You’ll be amazed at how much more of a workout it is but make sure that you’re comfortable balancing on the rings before you start really using them.
It can take awhile for your stabilizing muscles to get used to the new stresses you’re placing on them.
Also, for an even harder workout, try to do inclined and declined push ups using the rings to really target all of the areas of your chest.
Planche Push Ups
This exercise is not for the feint of heart.
In fact, I doubt there are even that many people in the world who are capable of performing this feat.
Planche push ups are done by assuming a planche position where your hands are placed on the floor towards the middle of your body and you then balance only on those two hands while maintaining your body in a plank posture horizontal to the floor.
This task alone is already extremely difficult but then being able to do a push up from this position requires not only a great degree of strength but also a lot of flexibility in your wrists.
If you can successfully perform even one full rep then you are definitely in an elite group.
Strategies and Tools to Make Push Ups More Difficult
1) Go Slow on the Eccentric Phase of the Movement
The eccentric phase of a movement is the part of resistance training that we most ignore.
For push ups it’s the part of the movement where we are lowering ourselves to the floor.
Most people just do this part as fast as they can and consider the part of the exercise where we push ourselves back up as the only part that matters.
But that just isn’t true.
In reality we do more damage to the individual muscle fibers during this lowering phase of the movement that we do when we’re actually pushing.
By slowing down during this eccentric phase of movement we can take an easy exercise and make it much more difficult.
If you’ve reached a point where you’re pumping out push ups endlessly with ease try taking it a little slower.
The next time you do a set count to five each time you lower yourself down and see how much more tired you are by the end of your workout.
You can also apply this to any other exercise you want.
2) Integrate Different Exercises
If decline push ups are starting to get too easy for you then try to integrate other hand positions into the mix.
For example, you can start doing wide grip push ups but in a declined position to make it harder and target your chest muscles more.
Another example is to integrate gymnastic rings into more of the other push up varieties.
Try doing inclined push ups with gymnastic rings instead of a bench and you’re guaranteed to get a way more intense workout.
3) Use Elastic Bands
Now we’re beginning to enter the territory of not strictly bodyweight exercise but still these bands can really help to add some extra resistance to your training.
You can buy elastic resistance bands in most serious sports shops now and they’re easy to use right out of the box.
One way to use them is to wrap each end around your hands and across your back.
Then get down into push up position and the band will add extra resistance to the movement; especially at the top.
Dips are another awesome bodyweight exercise for working your chest muscles.
They’re also more difficult than push ups because you are suspended completely off the ground while doing them.
This means you have to support your full bodyweight without any point of you touching the floor as in when you do push ups.
To do dips you’re going to need a pair of parallel bars or surfaces that you can suspend yourself from in order to lower yourself down and then push back up.
You can either set up your own DIY station at home or can purchase a dip station to use.
Also, if you want to work out outside you can almost always find parallel bars at your local park or playground.
Once you’ve found somewhere you can place your hands with your arms straight down go ahead and lift up your feet so you’re fully supported by your arms.
Then go ahead and lower yourself down until your upper arms are parallel with the floor but don’t go any lower as you’ll just be putting an unnecessary amount of stress on your shoulders.
Then go ahead and press yourself back up again until your arms are straight.
After a few sets your pecs are going to really feel the burn.
Knees Up Dips
In order to target your chest muscles more it’s important to lean forward while doing dips.
The easiest way to do this is to pull up your knees so that more of your weight is forward causing your upper body to lean forward as well.
This is going to make the dips much more focused on your chest muscles.
Legs Forward Dips
These dips are very similar to the above version except it’ll not only provide an awesome workout for your chest but also for your abdominal muscles.
For this exercise you’re going to get into the normal position for doing dips but instead of letting your legs hang beneath you you’re going to extend them forward until they are parallel with the floor sticking out in front of you.
Depending on your flexibility try and lean forward as well in order to increase the focus on your chest muscles.
Doing dips in this way is an awesome static hold exercise for your stomach muscles and will help you to build abs of steel along with a sculpted chest.
Dips with Gymnastic Rings
The final step in making dips as strenuous on your body as possible is to add gymnastic rings into the mix.
Instead of holding a static bar or placing your hands on a flat surface you’re instead going to be holding onto a pair of gymnastic rings suspended from above.
Just tie the rings securely onto your pull up bar at home and suspend yourself between them in the normal position to do dips.
Here’s a video to help you get started:
Be aware that this is an advanced exercise and is going to require just about every muscle in your body firing in order to maintain your balance and keep the rings stable.
If you can successfully perform this exercise then congratulations!
You’ve reached a level of strength that most people only dream of.
If you’ve been doubting the ability of calisthenics exercises to build a strong and sculpted chest then I hope I’ve set the record straight.
If you can successfully do all of the above exercises, even the hardest variations, then I promise you you’ll be stronger and fitter than 99% of the people on Earth.
Give these push up and dip variations a try in the order I suggested and I promise you won’t be disappointed with the results.