Bodyweight chest exercises are excellent tools to keep programming fresh for clients when they’re working out at home or on-the-go. Before getting clients started on these or any other bodyweight exercises at home, however, it’s important to remember that they should be treated like any other weighted exercise in terms of programming principles and results. 

For example, a key component to muscle building is time under tension. Your goal as the trainer is to make sure the exercises place enough tension on the muscle for long enough to see results. In addition, to gain strength, an overload approach is recommended, which means loading the back or increasing mechanical tension via bands is necessary.  

Ultimately, principles drive program variables, not methods or exercises and the exercise choices are simple. Want to work the chest via bodyweight exercise? Do a push-up! We’re focusing in this article on the many pushup variations your clients can do to work their entire chest musculature. 

This exercise has been found to be as effective as the bench press exercise to grow muscle (2).  The push-up is also beneficial for other muscle groups. A university study even found a close grip push-up variation to have a greater muscle activation of the triceps musculature than traditional triceps exercises such as the push-down and kickback (1).

If you want to give your clients bodyweight chest exercises to do at home, here are several variations to keep your programming fresh and their progress moving in the right direction.  

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Traditional Push-up

Do not take for granted the benefits of a traditional push-up.  Whereas the standard barbell bench press does not allow for full scapular retraction, the push-up does. It also lights up the core and packs a powerful metabolic punch.  


Wide Grip Push-up

The only thing that changes with this exercise is the width of the hands. The wider the hands, the greater the resistance arm and greater the force needed by the chest musculature to complete the movement.  

Generally, I don’t recommend a wide grip during loaded barbell bench pressing because of the possibility of injury, but this doesn’t apply as much to the push-up exercise. Anyone looking to blow up their chest would do well to widen the hands.


Alternating Push-up Flys

During this exercise, one arm will abduct outward to a widened position while one arm remains fixed. Like the previous exercise, the key to alternating push-up flys is width. Encourage your client to pursue a wide-hand position but be careful that the client controls the eccentric portion of the movement for their protection.


Dive Bomber Push-up

This exercise is similar to the yoga downward dog movement, however, instead of arching downward and losing muscle tension, there is an intentional effort to stay parallel with the floor by contracting the chest musculature. 

It’s easy to lose muscle activation in this exercise, so cue clients to push their heads above the hands and stay parallel with the ground while avoiding lordosis of the spine while descending and ascending. 


Incline Push-up 


This incline push-up is excellent for beginners but also excellent to use in drop sets for those fatigued. This variation can and should be used in mechanical drop sets for those seeking hypertrophy.


Decline Push-up

The decline push-up is a way to add difficulty to the push-up exercise because of the increased range of motion. This variation can and should be used in mechanical drop sets for those seeking hypertrophy.

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Close Grip Push-up

This is an excellent exercise to target both the chest, shoulder, and triceps musculature. A word of caution, however, is that the traditional ‘diamond’ push-up can cause both wrist and shoulder discomfort. For clients who struggle with this, encourage them to use a slightly wider grip, which will provide just as good of a pump. If the client feels pain, widen more and remember the personal training maxim that will never let you down: never train into pain.


Hand Release Push-up and Deficit Push-up

These two variations are my favorite exercises. The hand release push-up removes the movement's stretch-shortening component, making this exercise 100% concentric. In addition, the exercise begins at the lowest possible moment creating an opportunity for maximum chest muscle activation.  

For those looking for the greater stretch and tension, try deficit push-ups. Here, the client will push off dumbbells, plates, or elevated handles, allowing their body to descend beyond parallel.  Note that those with shoulder pain or shoulder injuries should not begin with this variation as the mechanical disadvantage can cause harm.  


Weighted Push-Ups

While this exercise does involve weights, it also maximizes tension in the pushup, add load to the back via weights. Make sure the client maintains a neutral spine—if the spinal position is lost, drop down the load or decrease band tension.   


Banded Push-ups

Similar to the weighted pushups, banded push-ups allow you to maximize tension, but in this case, with bands. It’s critical for the client to maintain a neutral spine in this variation as well.  Bands are easy to store and use, making them a good option for at-home exercises for clients.



Though dips can cause shoulder discomfort, they can be an excellent exercise to target the chest when performed correctly. To maximize pectoral muscle recruitment, arrange the torso as parallel to the ground as possible. To maximize triceps muscle recruitment, keep the torso perpendicular to the ground. Dips can be performed anywhere, including playgrounds and with rings, as seen in this video.


Don’t Ignore Bodyweight Chest Exercises

Clients need to stay active at home to continuously see results, especially if they’re not on a consistent gym schedule. Use these exercises to help them build strength within the chest musculature without the need for any weights or props. Use these strategies and push-up variations to keep clients moving and creating progress, even at home.

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  1. Boehler, B. (2011). Electromyographic analysis of the triceps branchii muscle during a variety of triceps exercises.  University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. 
  2. Naoki, K., & Nakazato, K. (2017). Low-load bench press and push-up induce similar muscle hypertrophy and strength gain.   J. Ex Sci Fit, 15(1), 37-42