Weight-Free Workouts: The Chest-Building Exercises You Need

When it comes to chest-building exercises, the bench press pretty much steals the show. Though it’s hard to argue with the gains this lift delivers, finding a spotter can be a pain, and there’s usually a significant wait for the equipment. Frankly, standing in line is sort of the norm for any pec-building move at the gym because every guy wants a strong chest to look better both with and without a shirt.

While weights are the easiest way to pump your pecs, bodyweight exercises can also help you out, especially if you modify traditional moves a bit. Get started with these five exercises to build a stronger chest without enduring frustrations at the gym.

1. Feet elevated push-ups

Push-ups are good chest-building exercises

Push-ups are good chest-building exercises. | iStock.com

Standard push-ups already do a great job of targeting your chest muscles, but you can add even more intensity if you bring your feet off the ground. This small change takes advantage of gravity to intensify the load on your upper body with each push, challenging both your shoulders and chest. The higher you raise your feet, the more work you’ll do. Start with your feet somewhere around one to two feet off the ground, then adjust to meet your fitness level.

Get into a standard push-up position with your hands directly under your shoulders. Use a stair, sturdy box, or other solid surface to raise your feet off the ground. Perform a push-up by lowering your body toward the ground, keeping your elbows tucked close to your body. When your chest is just above the floor, push straight back up to the starting position. Aim for at least three sets of as many repetitions as you can do.

2. Guerilla pull-ups

Man performing pull-ups

Guerilla pull-ups will challenge you. | iStock.com

Sometimes called cliffhangers or cliffhanger pull-ups, this exercise is one of the most challenging pull-up variations you’ll encounter. Unlike traditional pull-ups, which are designed to evenly split the work between both sides of your upper body, this variation targets one side at a time. This can be particularly helpful for those looking to even out an imbalance because you guarantee both arms and both sides of your chest and back get the same amount of work.

Stand under a pull-up bar facing sideways. Grasp the bar with one hand directly in front of the other and both palms facing in. Using the muscles on the left side of your body, pull yourself up and to the left, bringing your head up and to the left of the bar. Lower yourself in a controlled motion, then repeat the pull-up on the right side. Do as many repetitions as you can, making sure to do an equal number on each side. Check out We Are The Mighty for a demonstration.

3. Chest dips

bodyweight dips

Chest dips will strengthen and build your pecs. | iStock.com

We typically think of dips as an exercise to strengthen the triceps, and while this is usually true, they can also be great for your chest with a minor change in form. Bringing your arms slightly out to the sides transfers some of the load to your pectoral muscles. As with regular dips, this move can be rough on your shoulders if you aren’t careful. Avoid bending your elbows past a 90-degree angle; you’ll get enough of a challenge without risking an injury.

If you don’t have access to dip bars, you can usually find something nearly identical in a park. Grip one bar with each hand, palms facing in. Raise yourself all the way up, with your arms fully extended. To target your chest, you’ll want to lean forward slightly and allow your arms to flare out to the sides a bit. You can see a visual of the correct form on Howcast. Next, lower yourself until your elbows are bent at 90-degree angles, then use your chest to push back to the starting position.

4. Three-position hand hops

man performing a push-up

Hand hops are push-ups taken to the next level. | iStock.com

Anyone who likes to play occasional sports can benefit from building power. You can think of power as strength and speed working together. Enhancing this type of fitness in your chest can help you throw farther and faster for any ball sport and boost your performance in activities like golf, boxing, and tennis. This exercise is one of the best for building chest power while strengthening your core at the same time.

Start in the top phase of a push-up, then jump both hands about a foot out to the sides, perform a push-up, then jump them back to the normal position. Immediately jump your hands to the sides again, this time with one hand moved slightly forward and the other slightly backward. Perform a push-up in this position, jump your hands back to normal once again, then repeat with your hands in opposite positions. Head to Chad Waterbury to see a video demonstration. Do as many as you can, trying to move as fast as possible without letting your form suffer.

5. Isometric chest squeeze

man doing yoga

Try chest squeezes for building muscle in a new way. | iStock.com

Most of the strength moves you see in the gym are isotonic exercises, meaning they involve muscles contracting and elongating to cause joint movement. Isometric exercises, ones that involve holding a static position, also boost your strength and often don’t involve any equipment. The one downside is the ability to slack off, so maintaining both concentration and effort are key for getting the most out of these holds. We particularly like this chest squeeze because you can perform it anywhere.

Bend each elbow to a 90-degree angle, then press your palms together in front of your chest, fingers facing forward. Press your hands together as you contract your chest muscles, gradually building the tension as you hold the move. Bodybuilding.com said it’s important to keep your breath steady while you hold the position. Start with about 10 seconds, and build from there.