Perfect pecs have become one of the defining features of our quest for self-improvement. Building chest muscles has become one of the defining features of the perfect body, and not without good reason. Strong chest muscles improve your posture and your swinging technique–perfect for those among us who play golf–and help you both lift and push heavier objects.
Chest muscles are crucial to your overall upper body strength. The chest includes some of the largest muscles in the upper body and you use the chest muscles all day, every day, for tasks such as opening doors, washing your hair, or merely getting up from a sitting position. It's important to keep these muscles strong for all your daily activities.
The Benefits of No Equipment Chest Workouts
Bodyweight exercises–that’s to say, any exercising that uses an individual's own weight to provide resistance against gravity–have enormous benefits in all types of exercising, but particularly in the chest. There are limits to what you can achieve in terms of muscle growth, but bodyweight exercising has been proven time and time again to build muscle.
You need practically no space whatsoever to do it, it costs absolutely nothing, it’s accessible to all, and you don’t even need any equipment, because your body is the equipment; the weight that you're using to overload those muscles. And you can even compensate for a lack of weights by overloading in other ways.
Understanding the Chest Muscles: A Brief Anatomy Lesson
Your chest muscles are made up almost entirely of two muscles; one large muscle on each side; the pectoralis majors or, more commonly, the pecs. These muscles are divided into two areas. The clavicular part is the smaller, upper portion, which originates from the first half of your clavicle, and the sternocostal part is the larger, lower portion, which originates mainly from your sternum. The two parts come together in a knot-shaped tendon on the front of your upper arm.
The main function of the pectoralis major is to bring your arm forward, as you might in a throwing motion, but working the muscle at different angles works different fibres. In other words, you need a mix of different angles from your workout in order to ensure that it is well-rounded.
Incline pressing will target the upper pectoral muscle fibres (the clavicular part).
Decline pressing will target the lower pectoral muscle fibres (the sternocostal part).
Flat pressing will target the whole pectoral muscle pretty evenly (the sternocostal and the clavicular part).
Essential Chest Exercises without Equipment
Get into the standard push-up position with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and your toes on the floor. Your body should be in a straight line from your head to your heels.
Bend your elbows to lower your chest to the floor.
Press through your palms to lift your body back up to the starting position.
Drop down in the push-up until your chest is hovering over the ground, and then try to hold the position for 10-30 seconds or more.
When performing a push-up, press forcefully through your palms once your chest is lowered to propel your upper body off the ground.
Clap quickly and then catch your upper body on the descent by getting your hands back into position and bending your elbows to move seamlessly into the next rep.
Sit on the edge of a chair with your hands cupping the edge of the chair on either side of your hips.
Straighten your legs out in front of you and rest the back of your heels on the ground (toes pointing up).
Lift your bum off the chair and shift your weight fully into your palms and heels.
Bend your elbows to lower your hips to hover just above the floor. Your hands should be behind you on the chair.
Use your triceps–the muscles in the back of your arms–and chest to press through your palms to lift your body up.
Tips for Maximising Chest Workout without Equipment
Building muscle works through progressive overload, gradually increasing the intensity of workouts to avoid a plateau in muscle mass and strength. Bodyweight exercises do not have the extra resistance that comes with weights, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t things that you can do to increase the effectiveness of your bodyweight workouts.
Proper breathing is important. Most people don’t use their full lung capacity when breathing, and you’ll soon feel the advantages if you do. Try to inhale using your belly. It should come outward as you take in air. You’ll feel your lungs opening up. This draws oxygen all the way down into the bottom of your lungs. As you exhale, your stomach will come back in, and your rib cage will contract. This uses the diaphragm muscle to make sure you get the optimal amount of air.
Tempo control, in which you control the speed or cadence (tempo) of your movement during exercise, is also important. Increasing pauses between push-ups is good for stability. Increasing your tempo will increase your rate of hypertrophy. By developing a strategy to progress, you can ensure that every second that you spend working out is optimised.
Example Chest Workout No Equipment (Bodyweight Follow Along)
You can build your chest muscles up with no equipment, all you need to do is get creative and follow the steps in this workout.
Incorporating Variations and Progressions
There are also more advanced chest exercises and variations that can be incorporated as users progress along your fitness journey. Here’s a couple, for if you’d like to increase the difficulty level a little.
Close-grip knuckle push-ups
This push-up variation will really allow you to emphasise the inner chest. Doing it on your knuckles already places your arms in adduction which is ideal for getting an optimal contraction. It also really engages the triceps and plus, it’s just harder to do pushups on your knuckles.
Close both hands to make two fists and hold them together with a neutral hand position.
Get into the push-up position on your knuckles so your hands are directly beneath your lower to mid-chest.
Keep your shoulder blades back and your back straight.
Lower yourself down as far as you can and then push through your knuckles back up to the top.
Archer push-ups may be the most challenging push-ups of all, shifting your body side to side to shift your body weight onto one side.
Get into a push-up position with hands wide and hands pointed out to the sides.
Maintain a straight body and lower yourself to either side so your body weight shifts to one arm. The non-working arm should be extended straight.
Press up using the same arm that your body shifted toward and then repeat on the opposite side.
Don’t forget, building muscle depends on hypertrophy–increasing intensity and difficulty to continuously challenge the chest muscles–and gradually increasing your exercise levels is the best way to do this. If it isn’t hurting, it isn’t working!
Common Mistakes and How to Avoid Them
For all this talk of building up your resistance and increasing your levels, it is also possible to make mistakes which can have a detrimental effect upon your progress. Your exercise regimen needs to be consistent, and you should focus on ensuring correct posture, proper form and good breathing technique.
It also helps to take a holistic view of exercise being part of your broader life. A good diet packed with protein will benefit your exercise schedule significantly, as will getting proper rest. A good sleep schedule is a critical component of a successful exercise schedule.
Safety Precautions and Modifications for No Equipment Chest Workouts
No equipment chest workout exercise doesn’t just have to be about toning your body or burning fat. People with long-lasting diseases, also known as chronic diseases, need to exercise. Exercise can help people with chronic conditions– including heart disease, diabetes, depression, or back or joint pain–cope with existing symptoms and improve their overall health. Care should be taken when exercising–pay extra attention to posture, breathing and rest periods–but the benefits of exercising with pre-existing conditions can be significant. Just take it carefully, and make sure to check in with your doctor first.
While working out at the gym is a big part of exercising culture, there’s nothing to stop you from exercising at home. Bodyweight exercising is one of the bedrocks of any successful home exercise routine. Push-ups and dips don’t require much space, they don’t require any equipment or money, and you can switch up the pace and intensity of any workout according to your needs in order to maximise your benefit. Weights will always be important as part of a thorough exercise routine, but sometimes all you need is the weight of your own body.