I'd like to work on pectoral strength, and I'm wondering what different techniques there are for building that using bodyweight. Is it not realistic without a bench press?

I currently do wide-arm pushups, but I'm not sure if I should be doing them quickly, or trying to hold longer. Are there other exercises for this as well?


2 Answers 2


You'll find that you can get extremely far with just bodyweight-- really it depends upon what your goals are. For powerlifting, for example, bodyweight exercises aren't going to cut it. If your goals are just general strength and mass gains, there are plenty of movements (and combos thereof) that you can do to target various locations on the pecs (with angles), or just make the moves more challenging. Your creativity is the limit. Below are some suggestions:

Angle Variations

  • Incline pushups: prop your feet up on a bench (or any other stable, raised object) and perform the pushups at an angle to the ground. This will target your upper chest. The higher your feet, the greater the difficulty-- but note that it also starts moving the emphasis from your chest to your anterior deltoids (shoulders).
  • Switch up hand positions: with a narrower hand placement, there is more tricep emphasis, but also a greater range of motion on the chest (which can add difficulty). Placing your arms at shoulder-width or slightly wider will offer a nice balance of range of motion and chest-emphasis.

Difficulty Variations

  • Pause reps: stop the pushup for a few seconds at the bottom of the movement, without resting your chest on the ground.
  • Slow reps: count out a 5-second negative to increase difficulty. A slow negative will do more for you than a slow positive since eccentric, rather than concentric, motions are where the most muscle damage is done to trigger growth.
  • Deficit pushups: place your hands on two stable, equally-raised objects, and then lower your body all the way to the floor between the two objects. This will increase the stretch on the pecs. If your feet are not equally raised, then this is technically also an angle that would hit more of your lower chest.
  • Clapping pushups: the clapping part is not even all that necessary-- in fact, skip the clap (which might have you on your face), and just try to get as much vertical distance off the ground as possible. The objective is to generate as much force as you can, as quickly as you can. This will always be challenging, since you're always using maximal effort with each rep.
  • One-arm pushups: if you've achieved relative ease on everything with two arms, try it with one arm. I'm not a huge fan of traditional one-arm pushups since it's so easy to cheat them by tilting your torso. Instead, do a pushup with your arms staggered (one closer to the body, and one wider out, OR one more parallel with your shoulders, and one next to your ribs). This will allow you to add more load to one pec, reduce the chances of accidentally cheating the movement, and make it easier to scale strength into an actual, good form one-arm pushup. Just be sure to mirror the movement on both sides to grow each pec equally.
  • What's a slow negative versus a slow positive?
    – Cullub
    Jul 24, 2019 at 22:15
  • 1
    @Cullub negative is when you lower yourself to the ground. Positive is when you come back up to a straight-elbow position. It's best to lower yourself over a 3 to 5 second span and blast back up, than it is to lower quickly and raise yourself over a 3 to 5 second span.
    – Grant Noe
    Jul 24, 2019 at 22:20
  • Cool, good to know! Any reason why? (Don't need to know, just curious). And congrats on the check ;)
    – Cullub
    Jul 25, 2019 at 12:22
  • It's better because it generates more "force" with less energy. There's a complicated explanation for this, but you can check out this link for some info: unm.edu/~lkravitz/Article%20folder/eccentricUNM.html
    – Grant Noe
    Jul 25, 2019 at 16:17
  • Here's a quote from the link above: Even though eccentric contractions create more force than concentric actions, they use less energy. This is because during a concentric muscle action one molecule of ATP is used to detach each actin-myosin cross-bridge. However, during an eccentric action some cross-bridges are forcibly detached due to the stretching of the muscle fiber, thus using less ATP (McHugh et al., 1999).
    – Grant Noe
    Jul 25, 2019 at 16:20

Grant's answer contains a lot of great information/tips about improving your push up workouts, but I would like to add a few more:

  • Dips
    Ensure your body is leaning forward during the exercise, and that you completely lock out at the top (not just your arms but your shoulders) and focus on using your chest for this. This will exercise your pectoralis minor which is under your pectoralis major, this muscle won't add much strength but just a small amount of size increase on it will push out your pectoralis major and make a giant impact on chest size. Mind-muscle connection really does make a huge difference when building muscle.

  • Pec flies
    This one may be unreasonable depending on your equipment but you can get some exercise rings or a trx setup relatively cheap and have the ability to do pec flies with virtually as much (body-weight) resistance as you will ever need. Pec flies are huge for building chest size as they are one of the only exercises you can do to stretch your pec through it's full range of motion, and that is key here, bring your arms back as far as you possibly can (don't be afraid to drop the resistance by increasing your incline). This exercise is all about the range of motion and not so much about the resistance. Again mind-muscle connection is key here. Additionally I know you asked for body weight exercises but you can also get some fairly inexpensive resistance bands to do these with that can also easily be done in your own home.

  • Explosive push up
    This is covered by Grant's clapping pushup but the alternative to that that I use is to put some stacks of plates on the outside of my hands (can be substituted with boxes) and "exploding" off the ground high enough to catch myself on them. This type of training will really transfer to the bench press in a big way if you ever start weight training.

  • Isometric Chest Squeeze
    Stand upright with both arms out in front of you, bent at a 90 degree angle. Lock your hands together and squeeze as hard as you can. Hold the contraction for 15-30 seconds then relax. Isometric exercises aren't great for increasing strength but I like them because you can basically get out of them what you put in, and no matter how strong you get this one will increase in difficulty with you as one side of your body will be able to resist the other with relatively equal strength.

I mentioned it a few times above but I want to re-stress the importance of mind-muscle. It's important to take a few minutes to really learn your anatomy, and how/when the muscles you are targeting are fired. You can do pushups using your shoulders and triceps almost exclusively and not really get a good chest workout. However if you understand how the chest comes into things and focus on using it, it will make a larger difference than almost anything else you could do.

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