Calisthenics is a great way to build functional strength in all your muscles. For those looking for an effective calisthenics chest workout, we’ve got you covered, as we outline 10 of the most effective calisthenics exercises that specifically target the chest.
As these movements use your bodyweight to create resistance, they carry tremendous practical benefits for real world situations, as well as aiding athletic performance. As with any good calisthenics chest workout, these exercises not only help in building strength and definition in your chest, but they also support improved balance, stability, coordination, and core strength.
Whether you’re an avid calisthenics fan already, or looking at new ways to improve your bench press, incorporating the following exercises into your fitness routine is a great way to build strength in the upper and lower chest.
Calisthenics Chest Workout (Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced Exercises)
- Push Up
- Decline Push Up
- Clap Push Up
- Wide Push Up
- Ring Push Ups
- Wall Press
- Pike Push Up
- Hand Release Push Up
- Ring/Suspension Trainer Flyes
No calisthenics workout would be complete without the humble pushup. This exercise may seem simple, but it is still one of the best ways to build a strong, powerful chest, by only using your bodyweight.
To do the regular pushup, adopt the plank position with your hands placed on the floor. Your hands should be in line with your shoulders and your back should be straight. Bending at the elbows, lower your chest to the floor. Pause for a moment before explosively pushing your chest back up to the starting position.
This should be a very controlled movement whereby you are focusing on hinging at the elbows to maximise the activation of the chest. If you find you are struggling to push yourself back up, it is better to take a moment to rest than to just do half repetitions (as the lower phase of the movement is really where the chest activation occurs).
If you are a beginner, try kneeling push ups, as this will mean you are pushing less weight.
Decline Push Up
Sticking with push ups, the next exercise in this calisthenics chest workout is the decline push up. This simple variation increases the difficulty quite considerably and will help activate the upper chest more than regular push ups. It will also work the front deltoids and triceps more.
Decline push ups are also a great way to prepare the muscles for more advanced exercises like a handstand.
Depending on the degree of the decline, you can change up the level of difficulty and how you target the chest muscles. A higher decline will put more focus on the upper chest and shoulders, and will be more challenging.
To begin with, try finding a raised surface that is a similar height to a chair to place your feet on.
To do the decline push up, adopt a plank position like you would for a normal pushup with your hands placed on the floor. From here, lift your feet onto a race surface behind you. This could be a bench, chair, small wall or even the edge of your sofa. Compared to a regular pushup, you’ll already notice that your shoulders, chest and arms are already activated, just to hold this decline position.
Bending at the elbows, lower your chest to the floor. Keep your elbows tucked in close to your side during the movement. Pause for a moment, before raising your chest back up to the starting position.
To make this exercise even more challenging, you could use parallettes or calisthenics bars so that your chest can actually go even lower. This would put more pressure on the shoulders though, so simply placing your hands on a flat surface is more than enough to effectively work the chest.
Dips are another fantastic way to engage the chest by simply using your bodyweight. You’ll notice there is less stability with an exercise like dips compared to push ups, so your muscles have to work harder to create the stability needed during the movement, as well as the strength required to lift your body out of the lowered phase.
If you don’t have any equipment, you can do dips from the edge of any raised surface, such as a chair, wall, or sofa. Simply hold onto the raised surface behind you and lower your self down and back up.
For those looking for a true calisthenics chest workout, it’s good to get a pair of parallel bars so you can do dips in between those. These kind of bars don’t have to be too expensive and will mean that you can do dips more comfortably without putting pressure on the wrists. It also means you have more control of how you position your chest which means you can use dips to create much more varied workouts.
These bars will also mean you get used to controlling your bodyweight in unstable positions which helps to progress to more advanced calisthenics exercises.
To do dips on a bar, stand in between the bars and hold them with an overhand grip. Lift your feet off the floor so that your arms are supporting your bodyweight. Bending at the elbows, slowly lower yourself down so that your triceps are parallel to the floor. Pause for a moment before activating your chest and triceps to push yourself back up into the starting position.
The distance between the bars will determine how much the chest and triceps are engaged. The further apart the bars are, the more it will emphasize the chest, and the closer together they are, the more it will emphasize the triceps… but any dip will be effective at engaging both these muscle groups so don’t worry too much about finding the optimal distance.
The movement doesn’t need to be that big to really feel it in your chest. If your shoulders are hurting it means you have probably gone too low.
If you want to increase difficulty you could think about holding a dumbbell in between your feet as you do the dips. If you want to make the movement easier, you could consider using resistance bands to help propel you back up, or focus on the eccentric part of the movement, also known as negative dips. This would mean you jump up during the concentric part of the exercise and just focus on lowering yourself down slowly to engage the chest. Our guide of eccentric pull-ups and eccentric bicep curls, shows how this methodology can be applied to all sorts of exercises.
Clap Push Up
Clap push ups certainly aren’t easy but if you’re looking to really progress your calisthenics chest workouts, then this is a great exercise to include. Clap push ups will help to develop explosive strength and this is so useful in both everyday life and athletic performance.
The ability to lift your hands off the ground by pushing down through your chest shows incredible strength, so even if you can just do one or two repetitions, this really reflects fantastic chest strength. It also requires coordination, balance and athleticism and is perhaps a more impressive feet than simply trying to aim for a heavy bench press.
It’s unlikely you’ll go from not being able to do a clap pushup to suddenly being able to do one, and you’ll probably notice there are incremental improvements in being able to lift your hands off the floor.
To do clap push ups, start in a plank position with your hands flat on the floor. As with the regular pushup, bend the elbows to lower your chest to the floor. Pause for a moment before explosively pushing your chest up from the floor by straightening your elbows. Instead of just straightening your arms to finish the movement, we’re looking to push so forcefully that you’re able to lift your hands off the floor and clap them together, before placing them back down on the floor to then repeat the movement.
You want to ensure you land softly so that you don’t cause injuries to your elbow or shoulders. This means you’ll want to keep your elbows slightly bent after the clap and as you place your hands back on the floor. If you land back on the floor with extended arms, you could really hurt your elbows.
You could also do clap decline push ups, although that really would be an advanced movement so make sure you feel comfortable with regular clap push ups before attempting such an exercise.
Wide Push Up
The wide pushup is another variation you can do that will maximise the engagement of the chest muscles during the exercise.
Adopt the plank position, but place your hands wider than shoulder width apart, keeping your hands facing forward. Just like a normal pushup, bend at the elbows to lower your chest to the ground before pushing your chest back up.
Incorporating variations such as narrow or wide push ups is a great way to keep challenging your chest and avoid getting bored with just doing regular push ups, as well as activating the chest in different ways.
As well as your chest, this will also engage your lats more than normal push ups, as they’re needed to support your body during the movement.
Similarly, you could also do this on a decline or incline.
Ring Push Ups
Using gymnastic rings or suspension trainers, you can create incredible instability during a push up to really maximise the activation of the chest muscles. The gymnastic rings will naturally wobble as you apply pressure, so your body has to cope with this imbalance as you perform the push up. You’ll notice that as well as the chest and triceps, your core and shoulders are also heavily activated to support the movement.
Ring push ups also provide the opportunity for lots of variations depending on how far you suspend them off from the ground. To begin with, try suspending them so the bottom of the ring is roughly 20cm off the ground.
To do ring push ups, hold the bottom of each ring and get into a plank position. Bending at the elbows, lower yourself down so your chest is level with the bottom of the ring. Pause for a moment, before pushing yourself back up to the starting position.
Unlike regular push ups, you’ll notice that once you’re in the starting position, your triceps, chest, shoulders and core, are all heavily activated just to keep you stable. This means that there is less opportunity for your muscles to rest during the exercise so even a few repetitions will likely leave your muscles feeling sore the next day.
Ring push ups are a great exercise to include in a calisthenics chest workout because they provide a lot of the benefits so synonymous with calisthenics, such as improving balance and coordination at the same time as building muscle.
Some of these exercises on this list are undoubtedly very challenging, but the wall press is a nice beginner friendly move that anyone can do. The wall press can be used to help you progress to more challenging exercise or alternatively, it can be used as a way to warm up the chest muscles before attempting any of the other exercises.
To do a wall press, stand about 30cm away from a wall, facing forward, with a straight back and knees slightly bent. Keep your toes facing the wall during the movement. Place your hands with your fingers pointing upwards on the wall at shoulder height. Bending at the elbows bring your chest to the wall before pushing against the wall to lift your torso back to the starting position again. Repeat for repetitions.
Your chest has much less weight to push compared to a pushup because you are stood up so it makes this exercise great for beginners.
Pike Push Up
The Pike push up is another great exercise that will not only target the upper chest, but will also engage a whole host of other muscles.
Once you get into the Pike pushup position, you’ll notice that you actually need quite good hip mobility and hamstring flexibility to maintain the position. This makes it a great exercise to test these other areas of your fitness in case they are limiting your overall mobility.
The Pike push up is a great exercise for those looking to one day master a handstand or even a handstand pushup as it activates a lot of the muscles in a similar way.
It also activates the core during the movement so it really does pack a punch in terms of muscles engaged.
To do a Pike pushup, get into a downward dog position where your hands and feet are placed on the floor and your hips are raised so that your body makes a triangle with the floor. Bending at the elbows, lower your chest to the ground before pushing back up. If you place your hands further away from your feet it’s going to engage your shoulders more, so for a calisthenics chest workout, test different hand placements until you feel comfortable but it’s probably going to be somewhere underneath your chest that really feels like the upper chest is being targeted.
If you want to add progression, you can try lifting one of your legs off the floor. This will further engage the glutes and hamstrings as well as creating more instability during the movement which will require more core strength.
Hand Release Push Up
Hand release push ups are a fantastic exercise to focus on the explosive movement of a pushup. Each repetition will involve your chest starting on the floor so the range of movement is as big as it gets in terms of a push up. This avoids any possibility of doing a half repetition and also naturally encourages you to lower yourself slowly which benefits from eccentric training.
To do a hand release push up, adopt a plank position as you would for a normal pushup. Bend at the elbows to lower your chest to the floor but this time we’re going to let the chest fully touch the floor and actually lift our hands off the floor. Squeeze the shoulder blades together to lift your hands off the floor before pushing down on the floor explosively to lift your chest back up to the starting position.
You’ll soon realise that hand release push ups are much harder than regular push ups so you won’t be able to do as many repetitions as normal. The focus in this movement is developing that explosive initial power so even with fewer repetitions, it’s still a great exercise to include in your chest workout.
Ring/Suspension Trainer Flyes
Most of the best calisthenics chest exercises are focused on exercises that hinge at the elbows… and this makes sense for strengthening the chest muscles. However, it’s great to include an exercise like chest flyes that focuses more on a squeezing movement and hinging from the shoulders, to really target the chest in a different way. Although most people will associate cable pulleys with the chest fly, you can do this exercise using gymnastic rings or a suspension trainer.
Depending on the height of the rings or suspension trainer, you can also target the chest in different ways… for example, put more emphasis on the lower chest.
To do ring flyes, hold a gymnastic ring in each hand, roughly level with your chest. With your chest up, back straight and knees slightly bent, lean forward so that the weight is on the balls of your feet. You’ll now notice that your triceps and chest, as well as core, are also heavily activated just to stay balanced.
Lower your chest towards the rings as you pull them out slightly to open up the chest. Push down on the rings to bring them close to your body and consequently lift your chest back up. Keep your elbows slightly bent for the whole movement.
Can I build a strong chest with calisthenics?
Yes, you can absolutely build strength in your chest by just using calisthenics. As some of the exercises listed in this article show, you can create incredibly challenging chest workouts without requiring any barbells, dumbbells, or other gym equipment.
How do you target your upper chest with calisthenics?
Doing exercises on a decline will put more emphasis on the upper chest. Whether you do decline push ups or decline ring flyes, the decline will engage the upper chest as well as the shoulders more than if you were to do those exercises on a flat degree.
Is it OK to do calisthenics everyday?
You could do calisthenics training everyday but you just want to ensure you are giving your body enough time to rest. This means if you do a calisthenics chest workout, that you allow a few days for the chest to recover before doing it again. It would also be better to have at least one or two days a week whereby you don’t do any strength training and perhaps focus on cardio to really allow the muscles to repair.