When you think of the training you need to do to build a big, strong chest, you probably envision clanking iron, big weights, and lots and lots of heavy pressing. Nowhere in this picture is a quiet, empty floor for bodyweight work.

Yes, pushing heavy weights is a tried-and-true method for muscle growth—but you’re not always going to have a full fitness center’s complement of gear at your disposal for all of your training sessions. If the past year has proven anything, with pandemic-induced lockdowns and gym closures around the world, it’s that there are going to be times when you will be forced to adapt to achieve your goals (or sometimes to even keep up with your routine for some semblance of normalcy). You need to be able to adjust your training with the materials at hand, even if that means you won’t be able to grab a barbell for presses or dumbbells or a cable machine for flys.

Crucially, also you have to understand that you can’t expect the same type of results from basic bodyweight training as you might have with a well-planned weight lifting program. Sticking with the same standard rep scheme of normal pushups can be effective on some level—but only up to a certain point. Eventually, you’ll have a tough time stimulating muscle growth. What you need is a more challenging program to begin to really tax a muscle using the principle of overload. If you’re unimaginative, the only way to do this would be to add more weight.

Thankfully, you’re smarter than that. There are ways to overload a muscle without just adding weight. Techniques like changing tempo and adding pulses can add to the challenge initially. Eventually, however, you will need more.

You can overload your body with creative pushup variations that attack and load your chest from multiple angles. And that means that even if you can bench a house, you can still build your chest with mere bodyweight.

How To Push Your Chest With Bodyweight Workouts

Two main principles let you attack your chest with mere bodyweight, and both work because they’re essentially challenging your chest to lift more than it does in a standard pushup.

Elevation

Ever notice that, if you touch the bar to your chest on an incline bench press, it’s harder than a standard flat bench press. There’s a reason for that. The incline forces you to open your upper arm angle relative to your torso position, and overall, that means the bar has to travel a greater distance from chest to straightened-arm-position. Decline presses, meanwhile, have the bar traveling a smaller distance.

Opening your upper arm angle forces chest and triceps to continue “pressing” upwards for longer during bench presses. That, of course, also works with pushups, too, so if you can create a more open angle, you’ll make your pushup more challenging. How do you do that with a pushup? Elevate your feet, using a box or chair at home.

Unilateral Loading

Why are one-arm pushups so brutal? Because you’re pressing up the majority of your bodyweight with one arm, essentially nearly doubling the load you’re moving with that arm. You also have to deal with balance challenges from the offset loading setup, perfect for building core strength, too.

That doesn’t mean you need to do one-arm pushups to reap the benefits of unilateral loading. Archer pushups and post pushups, two favorites of fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S., also deliver the same benefits.

The Workout

Now you understand you have weapons for chest training with only bodyweight, so you’re ready to attack. You can do this workout as often as three days a week, resting at least one day between each session. You’ll only use bodyweight here, but you will be pushing yourself. On days you don’t do this workout, aim to train your back, doing pullups, chinups, and dumbbell rows, or work your legs with squats and lunges.

Do the exercises in order. Complete all sets of each exercise before moving onto the next.

Post Pushup Dropset

Do 4 sets of this dropset per side, focusing on keeping your hips and shoulders completely square to the ground (yes, that means your abs will fire up too).

Typewriter Terror Pushup Challenge

Do 3 sets of this typewriter pushup challenge, training your chest to control your body through space and piling up time-under-tension.

Mixed-Style Close-Grip Pushup

Switch gears now, and attack your triceps, while still rocking your chest, using the mixed-style close-grip pushup. Focus on keeping your elbows tight to your body as you do this; you’ll wind up creating external rotation at the shoulder and getting a good chest squeeze. Do 3 sets and aim for 5 to 6 pairs of reps.

Archer Pushup

Do 2 sets per side of archer pushups, finishing the workout by challenging your chest unilaterally one final time. Try to keep the reps high, chasing 12 to 15 reps a set.

Bonus: Triple Position-Switch Pushup Countup

Still have some oomph left? Try 1 set per side of this vicious pushup challenge. Or leave this challenge for another day; it’s intense.

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