It’s convenient and effective to do bodyweight chest exercises for at-home workouts. A chest workout isn’t just for going to the gym with expensive equipment. In fact, you can use your bodyweight alone for your home workout without sacrificing results. By getting creative with the speed, angle, grip of the standard pushup, your chest muscles will get a great workout at home or on the go.

Bodyweight chest exercises are also excellent tools to keep programming fresh for clients even when they’re working out in the gym. 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 developing muscle mass is time under tension. Your goal as the trainer is to make sure the exercises place enough tension on the muscle group, and for long enough, to see results. In addition, to gain upper body strength, an overload approach is necessary. This means loading the back or increasing mechanical tension via bands is necessary. 

Ultimately, exercise science principles drive how you build a workout. This means it’s not a method or specific exercise. So, the exercise choices are easy. This is the case regardless of what part of the body you’re targeting for your strength training. Muscle groups of the lower body and back live by the same rules. You can keep exercise selection easy with bodyweight exercises for at-home workouts no matter your trying to build muscle, develop strength, lose weight, or function better each day.

Want to work the chest via bodyweight exercise? Do a push-up! We’re focusing this article on the many pushup variations your clients can do to work all of their chest muscles. This exercise has been found to be as effective as the traditional bench press exercise to grow muscle mass (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 upper arm triceps musculature than traditional triceps exercises such as the push-down and kickback (1).

If you want to give your clients bodyweight chest exercises for at-home workouts, 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 pushup.  Whereas the standard barbell bench press does not allow for full scapular retraction, the pushup does. It also lights up the core and packs a powerful metabolic punch. To get even more activation of the serratus anterior, do a pushup plus. Simply fully protract the shoulder blades when you’re at the top of the starting position (high plank position) and have completed the push up. By activating this muscle, it can also help prevent injury and build greater strength. 

Wide Grip Push-up


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

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


Alternating Push-up Flys


During this exercise, one arm steps outward to a widened position while the other arm remains fixed. Like the previous exercise, the key to alternating push up flys is width. Encourage your client to pursue a wide hand plank position but be careful that the client controls the eccentric portion of the movement for their protection. A standard chest fly with gym equipment targets the chest only slightly more because there’s no elbow flexion. But, this alternative chest movement still includes the adduction of the shoulder, which activates and isolates the pectorals. Therefore, it’s excellent to include it as part of your bodyweight workout.

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. The starting position is different from the traditional pushup because it starts with a downward dog. Next, the client shifts their weight forward into the upper body, allowing the arm to flex and the chest to open as the shoulder horizontally abducts. As they shift forward, rather than moving into an updog position and arching the back, the client simply shifts forward on their toes before they push up and return to the downward dog. 

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 who don’t have the strength or good biomechanics to do the exercise correctly. It’s 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 or muscle growth. The incline has variety as well. You can place the hands on a small step, platform, chair, or even the wall. The more vertical the client becomes, the easier the pushup is. Therefore, instruct clients to modify based on their ability.

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 (muscle growth). To do this exercise, the clients feet should be higher than the highest of their hands. As the height increases, as will the difficulty. However, at about the halfway point to being completely vertical (in handstand position), there is greater shoulder activation and less work from the chest.


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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 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, adding load to the back via weights or a weighted vest. 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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When you get a degree in exercise science from Lionel University, you learn how to design any type of fitness program. Further, the doors to fitness job opportunities are wide open. Regardless of whether you’re pursuing an associates degree, bachelor’s degree, or master’s degree, specialists in exercise science are in demand.

As you go through your degree program at Lionel, you’ll also earn your personal training certification and Master Trainer certificate in the first few months. This means you can start working as a personal trainer while you finish your program! And, with the help of financial aid, earning your exercise science degree is even more of a possibility. 

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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