August 30, 2021
Is it possible to build a solid chest without a gym membership? It may be surprising, but the answer is – absolutely! And, great home workouts for chest can be more than just lots of push-ups. In fact, there are a huge number of chest exercises, some of which utilize just bodyweight and others that require weights or minimal equipment that you might already have at home.
But before we get into the specifics of a home chest workout routine, let’s consider why it’s important to have a strong upper body – and strong chest muscles in particular.
Strong pecs are not just about looking good. Your chest muscles are some of the largest and strongest in your upper body, so a good chest exercise plan is a must for looking and staying strong and healthy. Your pectoral muscles are used every day for things like opening a heavy door and washing your hair. They help lower your body to the floor, and they stabilize your shoulders. Strong pecs also help with posture and shoulder stability, and can even support deeper breathing.
The two main muscles that comprise the chest are the pectoralis major and the pectoralis minor. Not surprisingly, the pec major is the larger of the two, shaped like a fan on either side of the chest. It is responsible for flapping, pressing, and lifting actions. The pec minor is smaller and found beneath the pec major. Its primary purpose is to move the scapula.
The options for chest exercises include things most of us are already familiar with, like bench press, standard push-ups (or press-ups), and decline push-ups. But your workout routine can get more creative than that, too. Bodyweight exercises like dips and chest flies can be effective at building a strong chest. Choose from the exercises below to create a complete chest workout at home that works for you. For best results, aim for 1-2 days per week of targeting the chest.
Push-ups are a classic upper body exercise that works not only the chest, but also the triceps and biceps in the arms, and the back. Although they may feel old-fashioned, there are few exercises that are more effective at building strong pecs. The options are really only limited by your imagination, but here are a few popular alternatives to choose from as part of your home chest workout.
These are the old standby that most of us know. Position yourself in a plank position, with hands beneath the shoulders, and toes on the floor. Tighten your core so that your body forms a straight line from the back of your head to your heels. Then, bend your elbows and lower your whole body to the floor, pause, and press your body back to the starting position.
This seemingly simple exercise can be challenging, especially for those with shoulder issues, but there are variations that make the exercise accessible while remaining effective. You can start with one of these and progress to the full push-up as you are able.
Variation: Kneeling push-ups – Begin in a kneeling position, with hands-on the ground slightly wider than shoulder-width. Bend your elbows to bring your chest toward the ground, and then push back to the starting position.
Variation: Wall push-ups – Stand about two feet from a wall, arms extended straight out, with palms on the wall at shoulder level. Bend your elbows and lean forward until your nose almost touches the wall. Keep your back straight. Push back to the starting position. You can change the intensity of this exercise by simply adjusting the distance from the wall or the placement of your hands.
Begin as in standard press-ups, but with the hands-on the ground slightly forward of the shoulders. When lowering down, move your chest forward toward the hands. This movement more closely simulates the motion of a lying bench press, where the barbell is pushed up and back with each rep.
These are similar to the old standby, but close grip push-ups have you placing your hands closer together. The lowering and raising movement is the same, but the hand placement emphasizes different parts of the chest muscles.
Decline push-ups involve the upper chest more. The basic movement is the same, but your feet should be elevated. You can use blocks, books, a bench, or even cushions to raise your feet. As you get stronger, you can increase the elevation to make it more challenging.
Variation: Pike Push Ups – From the starting position of a standard push-up, push your hips back and up (downward dog position in yoga). From there, bend your elbows, bringing your head toward the floor. Pause, and push back up.
Rather than elevating your feet as with decline push-ups, for incline push-ups, you elevate your upper body. Using a chair, table, box, or any stable object, place your hands shoulder-width apart, feet behind you. Lower yourself toward your hands and then press back to the starting position.
This is the same as a standard push-up, but with one hand on the floor and one hand elevated. (You can use blocks or whatever you have handy.) Lower down as in a standard push-up, but when pressing up rotate toward the side that is elevated. This places more emphasis on the inner chest.
Diamond push-ups are another example of an effective bodyweight chest exercise that also works the muscles in the arms and the back. Start in a similar position as a standard push-up, but with the hands close together on the floor, forming a diamond or triangle shape below your chest. Keep your back and legs straight as your lower yourself and then push back.
For a more advanced option in your home chest workouts, try one-arm push-ups. From the starting position of a standard push-up, place one arm behind your back and then lower and press back up.
For a more intense burn, do any of the exercises above as slowly as possible. This adds time under tension, which will help build muscle mass.
If you’re looking for some bodyweight exercises that don’t require a gym but aren’t push-ups, or you just want a more diverse and complete home chest workout, include a few of the options below.
While planks are often considered a core exercise (and they are!), they can also give your chest a good burn, too. Place your hands shoulder-width apart on the floor, with your shoulders directly above your wrists. Place your feet about hip-width apart, and brace your core while keeping your back straight. Turning your triceps toward one another while pushing hard against the floor will engage your pecs.
Often considered a triceps exercise, dips can engage the muscles of the arms, abs, glutes, and back – in addition to the chest – depending on the position of your body when you perform them. While dip stations are common in gyms, you can do dips as part of your home chest workout without any special equipment. The only thing you need is two parallel objects that are stable and will support your weight. Barstools, the back of two sturdy chairs, a bench, or even a corner of your counters can work. Hold your body off the ground between the two objects with arms straight. Bend your knees and lean forward slightly to engage the chest rather than the triceps as you lower down slowly. Then, slowly straighten the arms.
This exercise is the at-home equivalent of the dumbbell chest fly at the gym – but the only “equipment” needed is two small towels. Sliding flies work best on a hard surface since the carpet will make it challenging to do the sliding movements. Start in push-up position (or kneeling press-up position), with your hands on two small towels. Slide your hands outward while bending your elbows only slightly. Then, reverse direction and return to the beginning position. The longer the range of your arms stretch, the more you will engage different muscles in the chest.
Stand straight, feet hip-width apart with hands pressed together in front of your chest and elbows at chest height. Pressing your hands firmly together throughout the exercise, slowly straighten your arms and return to the start position. Focus on keeping proper form, pressing hard with the hands, and moving deliberately. You can make the exercise more challenging by holding a weight or another object between your hands.
Yoga is a great way to develop flexibility, strength, and endurance throughout your body, including your chest – and it definitely doesn’t require a gym! There are several yoga postures and stretches that work the chest. While yoga workouts might not feel as intense as other kinds of home chest workouts, even if you don’t use yoga to build a bigger chest, it’s important to incorporate stretching to balance the growth you gain from other fitness activities. (And it is possible to really work the chest muscles with a yoga routine.)
If you perform chaturanga properly, this foundational yoga pose works your arms, core, and chest. As with most all yoga movements, it utilizes only the weight of your body. Start in a plank position, hands on the floor directly below your shoulders and your body in a straight line from the back of the head to the heels. Your elbows should remain hugged in to the side and your core engaged throughout the movement. Pull your torso forward so that your shoulders are forward of your hands, and lower down as slowly as possible, stopping when your shoulders are in line with your elbows. Pause and hold before pressing back up into plank position. Following proper form in chaturanga can be challenging, but it’s worth the effort!
This is a great stretch for the chest and shoulder muscles, and it’s worth incorporating into any chest workout at home as a way to balance other work you may do. Sit on the floor, knees bent and feet flat in front of you. Place your palms on the floor behind you, with your fingers facing forward. Life your torso upward so that your chest, abdomen, hips, and thighs are all parallel to the ground. Hold, then return to sitting. Repeat for 10 reps.
A great option to build a toned chest from the comfort of your own home, resistance bands are an affordable alternative to a gym membership or expensive equipment. They can add variety to chest workouts, with different exercises targeting different muscles in the chest. There are virtually unlimited options for resistance-band exercises, from complete body workouts to ones targeting specific muscle groups. Here are a few variations that focus on the chest.
If there weren’t enough variations of push-ups above, you can add more challenges by incorporating a resistance band. Simply place a resistance band over your shoulders and adjust the tension of the band by pulling it tight. Then, complete the push-up as described.
Lie on your back with the band under your shoulder blades. Holding the bands, elbows bent at your sides, press your arms over your chest. Pause, and then slowly return to the resting position.
Variation: If you have a bench, you can perform the chest press by placing the resistance band under the bench and then performing the exercise as above.
Chest flies are a great exercise to incorporate into your home chest workout. They work not only your pecs but also your shoulders and muscles in the arm. Anchor the resistance bands behind you at chest height. (If your bands don’t have an anchor, find something to wrap the band around like a pole.) Bring your arms at chest level out to the sides, and step away from the anchor point until you feel a stretch. Keeping your elbows slightly bent, pull your hands together in front of you. Squeeze the pecs before returning to the wide position. That is one rep.
Holding one end of the band in each hand, and with the center of the band under one foot, step the other foot forward. Lean forward, keeping the entire back body in a straight line, and press up with the hands at a 45-degree angle. Pause, and then return to the starting position.
Holding one end in each hand, stand on a band with feet slightly wider than hip-distance apart. Keeping your core engaged, pull one hand up and across your body to about chest height. Hold and return to the starting position before repeating on the other side.
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Written by: Rob Croll
Rob Croll is a writer, marketer, and educator with a passion for holistic wellness (and a whole lot of plants!)