Almost every man wants to develop a full, thick, round chest. Don't believe me? Go to any commercial gym on a Monday and try getting a bench. It's harder to find than a parking spot in New York City, and you will behold the spectacle of every chest exercise known to man being performed throughout the gym.
What you might not see is anyone performing chest exercises without weights.
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Unfortunately, many men look down on bodyweight training. They feel that using only your own body is not enough to stimulate hypertrophy and create muscle. Many of these same individuals cannot perform 10 solid Push-Ups, yet they insist on pseudo-benching 225 pounds, having a spotter literally row the bar while yelling "it's all you, bro!"
I am not suggesting athletes should ditch barbells and dumbbells in favor of bodyweight-only training, only that using your body weight is a viable way to build muscle when you lack access to a gym. Also, for many, it can provide a challenging change of pace from regular strength training.
So how does this work?
Chest Anatomy and Biomechanics 101
The chest is comprised of two main muscle groups, the pectoralis minor and the pectoralis major. The pectoralis major can be broken down further into the clavicular head and the sternal head. For our purposes, we will disregard the pectoralis minor, which is primarily a stabilizer muscle. Instead, we will focus on the two heads of the pectoralis major, used for internal rotation and horizontal adduction. In plain English, they allow you to move your arms in front of your body.
You may have heard it is impossible to "isolate" a muscle. This is absolutely true, but that doesn't mean it's impossible to "emphasize" a muscle. Luckily, the clavicular head (under the clavicle bone) and the sternal head use different motor units for movement. This means that based on the angle of a specific movement, the brain recruits the portion of the muscle that is best suited to execute the movement. Thus, since different areas are activated by different movements, it is vital to use a variety of exercises to fully develop the chest.
The 4-Week Bodyweight Chest Building Program
For the next four weeks, incorporate the routines below into your strength training program. Perform them once per week. The routines are aimed at intermediate lifters—i.e., people who can perform at least 10 Push-Ups and 10 bodyweight Dips.
The program emphasizes the standard Push-Up, which is not only a basic bodyweight chest builder, but also a great movement to improve glute and core activation—plus it teaches proper scapulohumeral rhythm (i.e., it allows the scapula to move freely around the ribs).
Anyone can build a bodyweight chest routine using the standard Push-Up, Incline Push-Up, and Close Grip Push-Up. In addition, this program features unique exercises that are fun and will challenge you.
Each week builds upon the previous week, incorporating exercise progressions and increasing the total volume of work.
- Paused Plyometric Push-Up on Bench or Bar - 3 X 5
- Standard Push-Up - 3 X 10
- Yoga Push-Up - 3 X 10
- Bench Dip - 3 X 8
- Plyometric Push-Up on Bench or Bar - 3 X 5
- 1.5 Push-Up - 3 X 10
- 5-second Bottom Isometric Hold Push-Up - 6 X 5
- Standard Dips - 3 X 8
- Plyometric Push-Up with Double Response - 3 X 5
- Off-Set Push-Up - 4 X 8 (alternate sides each set)
- Walk-Around the Clock - 3 X 30 seconds (clockwise and counterclockwise = 1 set)
- Pec Minor Dips - 3 X 8 (This comes from John Meadows): keeping your arms completely straight on parallel bars allows your body to drop toward the ground, but do not bend at the elbows. As soon as you feel a stretch in your chest, immediately come back up.
- Plyometric Push-Up with Triple Response - 3 X 5
- One-Arm Eccentric Incline Bench Push-up - 5 X 5. Start with two arms on the incline bench, then switch to one arm for the lowering or eccentric phase. Push yourself back into position with your two arms at the bottom.
- Wall-Assisted Handstand Push-Up or Off-Set Push-Up with Bottom Pause - 5 X 5
- Pec Minor Dips - 3 X 12
Every session starts with Plyometric Push-Ups to prime the nervous system and includes working the chest at a variety of angles and methods. By the end of the four weeks, you will not only be moving better, you will have have stronger joints and you will see some chest growth! After all, who doesn't want a full, round chest?
So give it a try!
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