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At-Home Chest Workout

You don't need a bench press station, barbells, and dumbbells to build a bigger, stronger chest. You can grow your pecs at home with this high-intensity workout.

At Home Chest Workout

You’re stuck at home due to weather, kids out of school, coronavirus perhaps, or whatever the case, and it’s chest day. No problem – you can just do push-ups, right?

True, the push-up is the perfect bodyweight, do-anywhere pushing exercise for targeting the chest. But if you have any decent upper body strength, push-ups may be too easy for a good muscle-building chest workout. Not if you organize the workout properly, though.

Workout Overview

 The below at-home workout uses nothing but your body weight, and an optional backpack, to allow you to get an amazing chest workout at home, in a hotel room, or in whatever non-gym environment you find yourself.

Warm-Up: Arm Circles + Arm Swings

Before getting started, consider doing a 10-15-minute general warm-up of walking, running, cycling/biking, or calisthenics.

The formal workout starts with a dynamic warm-up. You’ll do 10 small forward arm circles (about 1 foot in diameter), followed by another 10 in the opposite (reverse) direction. Then, you’ll do 10 forward arm swings with bigger circles (about 2 feet in diameter), and 10 big reverse arm circles. You’ll finish off with 10 horizontal arm swings, crossing your arms in front of your body.

You’ll benefit more from a dynamic warm-up than a static hold like stretching your pecs in a doorway. Holding a static stretch can actually decrease strength and power during your workout. Dynamic stretching, on the other hand, has been shown to enhance power output in workouts.

Power-Up Complex: Power Push-Up + Incline Press Throw

After the dynamic warm-up, it’s time to target the fast-twitch muscle fibers of the chest with fast, explosive movements. Here, we’ll use complex training to magnify power development. Complex training involves doing two exercises back-to-back, with little rest between them, to take advantage of the greater force that the first exercise allows the body to apply on the second exercise. The scientific term for this is Postactivation Potentiation (PAP).

The way PAP works, in simple terms, is that it primes the nervous system to fire with more force and power. Think about a baseball or softball player warming up to bat. Often, the athlete will swing with several bats for added weight or use a weighted “donut” on the bat while in the on deck circle. Doing this primes the nervous system to move a heavier bat. Then, when the athlete is batting for real with a lighter bat, the nervous system fires with the force and power to move the heavier bat. The stronger nerve impulses cause the athlete to swing the bat with more force than he or she normally would. This results in a more powerful swing to hit the ball farther.

For your at-home chest complex, you’ll pair three sets of power push-ups (3-5 reps per set) with three sets of “medicine ball” incline press throws (5-10 reps), done with a loaded backpack or other weighted object to stand in for a medicine ball (unless, of course, you have a med ball at home). Assuming you don’t have an incline bench at home, create the incline by sitting on a chair or sofa with your torso at roughly a 30-45-degree angle with the floor.  

Rest no more than 30-60 seconds between push-ups and incline press throws to take advantage of the PAP effect from the push-ups. Rest 1-2 minutes between complex sets (ie, after incline throws).

Training Tip: If you can’t do power push-ups from the floor, try them with your hands on a bench or other sturdy raised surface. Elevating your hands reduces the resistance that your body provides, essentially making the push-up easier. You can also achieve this by leaning in a doorway. Stand 2-3 feet in front of the doorway and lean forward, placing your hands on the sides of the door frame. Lower your chest toward your hands, keeping your shoulder blades pulled back and your chest out, and push off the door frame with as much power as you can to push your body back up to a fully erect position.

4-Week Progression*: For power push-ups, after doing 3 reps per set in Week 1, do 4 reps per set in Week 2, 5 reps in Week 3, and 6 reps in Week 4. For incline press throws, do 6 reps in Week 2, 8 reps in Week 3, and 10 reps in Week 4.

*Refer to my 4-Week At-Home Workout article for the full-body training split and all four weeks of workouts for all muscle groups.

Manual Resistance: Chest Press

Before gyms were commonplace, old school bodybuilders like Eugene Sandow and other strongmen used manual resistance to build their muscles. This simply means that while one muscle is pushing on one side, the opposing muscle is pushing against it to provide resistance.

For example, think of doing a curl with your left arm while your right arm tries to hold the left arm down. The biceps gets a concentric (positive) contraction while its opposing muscle group (the triceps of the left arm) gets an eccentric (negative) contraction as it tries to prevent the biceps from performing a curl. Then, when you return the left arm to the start position, your left biceps gets an eccentric contraction in trying to prevent the right triceps from performing a concentric contraction to push the left forearm down.

The same concept can be applied to almost any major muscle group, including chest. For this workout, you’re going to perform a manual chest press. Here’s how to do it:  

  1. Start on the right side by holding your palm out in front of you, as if you were motioning someone to stop.
  2. Pull your right arm back, while maintaining the hand position, until your palm is by the side of your lower chest.
  3. Extend your left hand like you’re going to shake hands with someone, then bend your left elbow to bring your left palm to meet your right.
  4. Pull your right shoulder blade back and down, and stick out your chest as you use your right pec to push your right hand into your left with as muscle force as you can muster while you resist the right hand with your left.
  5. Take about 5 seconds to complete the positive (concentric) portion of the rep and another 5 seconds on the negative (eccentric). Do 5 reps in this manner, then repeat on the opposite side. Go back and forth until you’ve completed 3 sets of 5 reps for both sides.  

Keep in mind, you can get as much out of this as you’re willing to put in. Go hard for a very challenging workout, or lighten the resistance with the off arm if you want to dial back the intensity.

4-Week Progression*: Complete 5 reps per side in Week 1, 6 reps in Week 2, 8 reps in Week 3, and 10 reps in Week 4.

Here’s a video demonstration of the Manual Resistance Chest Press:

Pre-Exhaust Extended Giant Set: Leaning Flye + Decline Push-Up + Push-Up + Incline Push-Up

You’ll finish off the at-home chest workout by combining three of my favorite intensity-boosting techniques: pre-exhaust, extended sets, and giants sets

Pre-exhaust involves doing a single-joint/isolation exercise before a multijoint/compound move for a given muscle group, whereas you’d typically do exercises in the opposite order. By doing this, you fatigue the target muscles (in this case, the pecs) with the isolation move so that when you do to the compound exercise, you can be assured you’re reaching failure in the target muscle, not smaller assistance muscles like the triceps.

An extended set involves doing multiple versions of one basic movement, starting with the most difficult version and moving to the next easier one every time you reach muscle failure. This technique allows you to continue doing reps for a given muscle group, even after reaching failure, without having to lighten the load. In other words, it “extends” the set. This can be done with two, three, or even four or more versions of an exercise.

A giant set is four or more exercises for the same muscle group done consecutively with little to no rest between moves.

In this workout, you’ll pre-exhaust the pecs with a leaning flye, using a doorway. Here’s a bulleted description of the exercise, since this may be new to many of you:

  1. Hold onto a doorway with your feet together, your left foot against the bottom of the door jam, and your left arm (fully extended) holding onto the middle of the door jam.
  2. Hold a backpack, water jug, dumbbell, or other weight in your right hand with an underhand grip. Start with your right arm hanging straight down toward the floor.
  3. With a slight bend in the right elbow, chest out, and keeping the right shoulder blade pulled back, contract your pecs (right side) to bring the right hand up and across your body toward the left shoulder.
  4. Hold the top position for a second as you contract the right pec as hard as you can, then slowly lower your arm back to the start position and do as many reps as possible, reaching close to muscle failure. Repeat on the left side.

After one set of leaning flyes (both sides), you’ll go immediately to an extended set of three push-up variations.

You’ll start with the hardest version of push-ups – decline push-ups – with your feet elevated (using a chair, couch, coffee table, or bench) around 1-2 feet and your hands on the floor. After hitting failure, immediately drop your feet to the floor and do standard push-ups. After hitting failure again, move to incline push-ups with your feet on the floor and your hands elevated 1-2 feet, or even as high as 3 feet.

Beginner Training Tips: If you’re not strong enough to do decline push-ups, start with regular push-ups instead. If you’re not able to do even one regular push-up, start with 3-5 negative reps. (Your push-up strength will increase over time.) From there, switch to kneeling push-ups, then finish with incline push-ups. If the workout is too challenging, you can also skip the pre-exhaust leaning flyes and do only the push-up extended sets. 

Advanced Training Tip: To increase the challenge, add resistance via a weighted backpack to any or all push-up variations. 

The pre-exhaust leaning flyes, plus the push-up extended set (three variations), equals one chest giant set. Rest anywhere from 1-3 minutes, and complete the pre-exhaust extended giant set two more times through (three sets total).

4-Week Progression*: In the successive weeks (Weeks 2-4), you have two options to add progressive overload to the extended sets. Option 1 is to use the same weight for the flyes and your same body weight on the push-ups, with a goal of completing more reps each week. Option 2 is to increase the weight each week by adding more weight to the backpack, and possibly wearing the backpack for push-ups as well. Try adding an extra 5 pounds each week.

After the pre-exhaust extended giant set, you’re finished with one hell of a chest workout. And you didn’t even leave your house!


At-Home Chest Workout

Dynamic Warm-Up: 10 Small Arm Circles Forward + 10 Small Arm Circles Backward + 10 Big Arm Circles Forward + 10 Big Arm Circles Backward + 10 Arm Swings

Exercise Sets Reps Notes
Complex Set:      
Power-Push Up + 3 3-5 Rest 30-60 seconds between power push-ups and incline throws.
Medicine Ball Incline Press Throw  3 5-10 Use a loaded backpack; rest 1-2 minutes between complex sets.
Manual Resistance One-Arm Chest Press 3 5 Alternate arms with no rest; see copy above for exercise how-to.
Pre-Exhaust Extended Giant Set:      
Leaning Flye + 3 To failure See copy above for exercise how-to.
Decline Push-Up + 3 To failure Feet elevated, hands on floor. 
Push-Up + 3 To failure  
Incline Push-Up 3 To failure Hands elevated, feet on floor. 

Download Workout Here


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