How to build your chest without a gym

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If you think building a colossal chest is only possible with gym-based labor, you’re wrong.

“You only need two things for growth: mechanical tension and volume,” says Ryan Hopkins, certified advanced sports performance coach (USAW) and personal training manager of SoHo Strength Lab.

These exercises and workouts only utilize bodyweight and free weights, but don’t underestimate them; you will grow using these. They’re variations on pushups and the chest press—two incredible pec builders.

“Because of the lack of big resistance, these exercises place mechanical stress on your chest tissue in those range of motions you typically get with machines,” Hopkins explains. “You also do isometric holds, which by nature require a lot of tension to maintain and move in and out of with speed.”

The Workouts

*The exercises indicated in each workout are explained in the following slides. Click through for instructions.

Prescription: Don’t take any rest between reps, but take anywhere from 45 to 75 seconds rest between sets on all exercises.

Focus: Upper Chest 
Day 1 (Monday)

Hindu Pushup 4 x 6
Seated 1½ Dumbbell Overhead Press 4 x 6
Decline Pushup 4 x 8
Seated Dumbbell Overhead Press 3 x 12
Modified Pushup 21’s 1 x using 7sec holds

Focus: Full Chest
Day 2 (Friday)

Tempo Pushup 4 x 6
1½ Dumbbell Floor Press with Tempo 5 x 5
3 Pause Pushup 3 x 6, 5, 4
Alternating Single Arm Dumbbell Floor Press + Bilateral Press 3 x 5
Defranco Pushup 2 x 12

*Hindu Pushup

From a traditional pushup position, bring your butt back and up, walking your hands and feet closer until you’re in downward dog position. Keep a slight bend in your knees if you can’t extend them straight. Maintaining this steep, inverted V descend down so your head is pointed toward the floor; then, in one fluid motion, drop your hips and continue diving toward the floor (as if you would scrap your torso against the ground) until your head is just beyond your shoulders. Curve your back and look up toward the sky, pushing up through your arms as you sink into a cobra pose keeping your hips off the ground. Come back into downward dog to continue the next rep. Here’s a video demonstration.

*Seated Dumbbell Overhead Press [and 1 1/2]

Sitting upright in a chair, press both dumbbells up in a straight line and lower them back down to the starting position—maintaining control throughout the movement. “Yes, this is a traditional exercise, but it hits the clavicular head (upper chest) of your pec really well in a neutral grip where most chest exercises work on the lower, bigger sternal head of the pec,” Hopkins says.

Want to up the challenge? You can use a 1½ rep for maximal upper chest stimulation. Press both dumbbells halfway up, slowly lower them back down. Then, press them all the way back up quickly. That’s one rep.

*Decline Pushup

Place your feet on a small elevated surface 6 inches to 1 foot above the ground. Keep your trunk tight and stiff so your hips don’t sag and negate the decline position as you perform the pushup. “Most people think they’re holding the position, but by the end of the set, their hips are so far down that they might as well be doing a traditional pushup,” Hopkins says. You need to employ your stabilizing muscles to maintain the straight line of the plank.

*Pushup Modified 21’s

Start from the bottom phase of a pushup. Perform 7 reps from the bottom to the middle position. On the 7th rep, don’t descend again. Hold the middle position for 7 seconds. After, slowly descend to the bottom phase and pump out another 7 full reps. “Make sure you hold a tight plank position throughout,” Hopkins says.

*Tempo Pushup

Perform a traditional pushup, only time the movement so it takes 4 seconds to lower on the down phase before slowly pushing up.

*1½ Dumbbell Floor Press with a Tempo

Lie on your back with a dumbbell in each hand, arms extended. Slowly lower them down until both elbows touch the floor. Using the same slow motion, press the weights halfway back up. Slowly lower them down, and then press all the way back up quickly. Thats 1 rep. “Don’t rest or relax at any point,” Hopkins advises.

*Three-Pause Pushup

Descend all the way down into a traditional pushup so your body is roughly an inch from touching the floor. Pause for 2 seconds. Push up halfway and hold for 2 seconds. Then, push up to just short of the locked out top position and hold for 2 more seconds. DO NOT straighten your arms out all the way. Instead, descend to the bottom position. “Make sure there’s no movement during the pauses,” Hopkins stresses.

*Alternating Single Arm Dumbbell Floor Press + Bilateral Press

Lie on your back with a dumbbell in each hand. Press both to the top phase of the move, then lower one down until that elbow hits the floor. Press the dumbbell back to the top, then lower the other elbow to the floor. Press that weight back up, then lower and press both. Thats 1 rep.

*DeFranco Pushup

“This move was made popular by strength and conditioning coach Joe DeFranco,” Hopkins says.

Start at the top phase of a pushup. Use your back muscles to “pull” yourself down to the floor. When you push back up, isometrically (so nothing actually moves) squeeze your hands towards one another creating tension in your chest. “DO NOT forget the squeeze at the top,” Hopkins stresses. “It makes all the difference.”

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