Top 10 Best Calisthenics Chest Exercises for a Powerful Upper Body

Training your chest with calisthenics can be a great way to build strength, endurance, and muscle size without needing any equipment or weights. The chest is one of the largest muscle groups in the upper body and plays a crucial role in various functional movements such as pushing, pulling, and lifting. If aesthetics is your goal it is also important not to neglect chest training. The chest is located at the front of the body and positioned just below eye level, making it easily noticeable.

Benefits of Training Your Chest with Calisthenics

Training your chest with calisthenics is an excellent method for developing strength, endurance, and muscle size, all without the need for equipment or weights. As one of the largest muscle groups in the upper body, the chest plays a vital role in various functional movements, including pushing, pulling, and lifting.

Not only is chest training beneficial for functional fitness but it also shouldn’t be overlooked if aesthetics are your goal. The chest muscles are prominently positioned at the front of the body, just below eye level, making them easily noticeable. By incorporating calisthenics exercises that target the chest, you can sculpt and define this important muscle group, enhancing your overall physique.

Anatomy and function of the chest muscles

It is important to have a basic understanding of chest anatomy because it allows you to better target and isolate the chest muscles during your workouts.

The chest muscles, also known as the pectoralis major and minor, are located in the upper body and consist of two separate muscle groups. The larger muscle, the pectoralis major, is responsible for most of the power and size in the chest, while the smaller pectoralis minor is located beneath the major and plays a important role in scapular stabilization.

The pectoralis major muscle has three primary regions, the clavicular head(upper chest), sternal head(middle), and abdominal head(lower chest).

The clavicular head: This is the upper part of the chest and is responsible for lifting the arms up and away from the body.
The sternal head: The largest of the three heads and makes up the bulk of the chest muscles. It is responsible for bringing the arms towards the body in a horizontal motion, such as during pushing or pressing movements.
The abdominal head: Located at the bottom of the chest, it is responsible for extending and adducting the arms by drawing them inward toward the abdomen.

Top 10 Calisthenics Chest Exercises 

Now that you are familiar with the anatomy of the chest, you should choose some exercises that will effectively help you develop each part of your chest. To help you train your chest effectively, I’ve compiled a list of the best chest exercises.

1. Push Ups

The push-up is a classic exercise that is often used in calisthenics and bodyweight training. It is a compound exercise that primarily targets the chest, shoulders, and triceps, while also engaging the core and lower body to an extent. Since it is a bodyweight exercise, it can be performed anywhere without the need for any equipment.

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How to perform the push up:

  1. Start in a high plank position with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and your feet hip-width apart. Your arms should be straight, and your body should be in a straight line from your head to your heels.
  2. Lower your body by bending your elbows and keeping them close to your body. Keep your core engaged, and make sure your hips don’t sag or rise.
  3. When your chest touches the floor, push yourself back up to the starting position by straightening your arms.
  4. Repeat the movement for the desired number of repetitions.

2. Chest Dips

Chest dips are a great exercise for building upper body strength and muscle, and are especially effective for targeting the lower portion of the chest muscles. To focus on the chest during dips, it’s important to lean forward slightly and keep your elbows tucked in close to your body. This will shift the emphasis onto the chest muscles and away from the triceps. 

How to perform the chest dips:

  1. Start on top of the two parallel bars (or rings) with your elbows locked.
  2. Lean your torso forward slightly to put more emphasis on your chest muscles.
  3. Lower your body by bending your elbows and leaning your chest forward.
  4. Continue lowering your body until your shoulders are about the same height as your elbows.
  5. Push yourself back up to the starting position by straightening your arms.

3. Decline Push Ups

Decline push ups are a variation of the traditional push up where the feet are elevated, placing more of the body’s weight onto the upper body. This variation is an effective way to target the clavicular head (upper chest). By elevating the feet, more resistance is placed on the upper body, making the exercise more challenging and increasing the activation of the chest muscles.

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How to decline push up:

  1. Assume a plank position with your hands shoulder-width apart on the ground and your feet on a raised platform.
  2. Keep your core engaged, your body in a straight line, and your hands directly beneath your shoulders.
  3. Lower your body towards the ground by bending your elbows.
  4. Keep your elbows close to your body, and make sure your chest is the first thing to touch the ground.
  5. Push yourself back up to the starting position by straightening your arms.
  6. Repeat for desired reps.

It is very important to focus on keeping the body straight throughout the whole movement, as you can easily arch in the lower back if you don’t keep proper tension. 

To increase or decrease the difficulty of the exercise, you can adjust the height of the elevated surface, you can also increase the difficulty by using different hand positions such as the archer push up and diamond push up.

4. Ring Flies

Ring flies is an advanced calisthenics exercise that involves performing a fly motion with the use of gymnastic rings. It requires a lot of stability and control, making it an effective way to overload the chest muscles and improve overall upper body strength. 

How to do the ring fly:

  1. Start by setting up the rings at a height that is comfortable for you to perform the exercise. You can adjust the height of the rings according to your preference.
  2. Engage your chest muscles and slowly lower yourself by spreading your arms out to the sides until you feel a stretch in your chest. Make sure to keep your elbows slightly bent throughout the movement.
  3. Once you have reached the bottom of the movement, pause briefly and then return to the starting position by bringing your arms back together in front of your body.
  4. Repeat the exercise for your desired number of reps.

It’s important to note that ring flies are a challenging exercise, and it’s crucial to have adequate strength and stability before attempting them. It’s recommended to start with easier straight-arm exercises and progress gradually to ring flies to avoid the risk of injury.

5. Ring Push Ups

The ring push up is a great progression from the regular push up, the free movement of the rings offers a greater challenge for the chest and a greater range of motion during the exercise, which can lead to better overall muscle development and flexibility.

How to perform the ring push up:

  1. Hold the rings with a firm grip and assume a plank position with protracted shoulder blades. Your feet should be shoulder-width apart.
  2. Keep your elbows tucked in and your shoulders down away from your ears.
  3. Lower your body by bending your elbows until your chest touches the rings, or until your elbows are bent to about a 90-degree angle.
  4. Push yourself back up to the starting position, keeping your body in a straight line the entire time.
  5. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

6. Incline Push Ups

Incline push ups are a push up variation that is performed with the hands placed on an elevated surface, such as a bench or a step. Incline push ups are a great exercise for beginners who may not yet have the strength to perform a push up on the ground. They also allow for easy customization of the exercise difficulty, by adjusting the height of the surface used.

How to perform the incline push up:

  1. Place your hands shoulder-width apart on the raised surface, fingers pointing forward.
  2. Lower your body towards the raised surface, keeping your elbows tucked in and your back flat.
  3. Pause briefly at the bottom of the movement when your chest touches the object, then push back up to the starting position.
  4. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

7. Bulgarian Rings Push Ups 

Bulgarian ring push ups are a challenging variation of the traditional ring push up that requires a high level of upper body strength and stability. This exercise involves performing push ups with a wide grip, which allows for a greater stretch of the chest on the eccentric part of the movement. 

How to perform the Bulgarian Ring Push Up:

  1. Place your hands on the rings with your palms facing down and your knuckles pointing forward.
  2. Lower your body towards the rings by bending your elbows and keeping them flared out to the sides.
  3. Pause at a comfortable depth and then push your body back up to the starting position.
  4. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

8. Archer Push Ups

Archer push ups are a calisthenics exercise that targets the chest, shoulders, triceps, and core muscles. It involves performing a push up while one arm is extended to the side, creating an archer-like movement. It is a great progression from regular push ups and can help to build extra strength and size in the chest and upper body muscles.

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How to perform the archer push up:

  1. Extend one arm out to the side, perpendicular to your body, while keeping the other arm tucked in close to your body.
  2. Slowly lower your body towards the ground by bending your elbows, while keeping your extended arm straight.
  3. Once you reach the bottom of the push-up, push back up to the starting position with the tucked arm, while keeping the other arm extended.
  4. Pause at the top and repeat the movement for the desired number of repetitions before switching arms and performing the exercise on the other side.

If you already are a beast and normal archer push ups are easy for you, you can try making the exercise harder by performing them with gymnastic rings and/or by elevating your feet.   

9. Ring RTO Push Ups

RTO ring push-ups are a challenging variation of the traditional push-ups, using gymnastic rings. RTO stands for “Rings Turned Out” which means the rings are rotated outwards in a 45-90 degree angle. By turning the rings out, you increase the difficulty of the exercise and create a greater challenge for your muscles. The RTO position push up require you to externally rotate your shoulders, which increases the activation of your upper chest muscles.

How to perform the RTO push up:

  1. Set up a pair of gymnastics rings to hang roughly shoulder-width apart at a comfortable height.

  2. Rotate your rings outward so that your palms are facing forward and your elbows are turned out to the sides.
  3. With your body straight and your feet together, lower yourself down towards the rings by bending your elbows.

  4. Pause at the bottom, then press back up to the starting position, straightening your arms

Keep in mind that RTO ring push-ups are an advanced exercise, and you should have a solid foundation in ring push-ups before attempting them. If you find RTO ring push-ups too challenging at first, the you should work regular ring push-ups and gradually work your way up to RTO ring push-ups as you build strength and stability.

10. Diamond Push Ups

Diamond push-ups are a great exercise for building upper body strength and improving tricep and chest definition. The narrow hand placement increases the activation of the triceps, while also placing more emphasis on the chest. Moreover, diamond push-ups are a great variation for those who want to switch up their chest and triceps workout and add some variety to their routine.

How to perform the diamond push up:

  1. Get into a standard push-up position with your hands and feet on the floor. Your hands should be directly under your shoulders and your body should form a straight line from your head to your heels.

  2. Move your hands closer together, so your thumbs and index fingers form a diamond shape on the floor. Your elbows should be pointing out to the sides, rather than straight back like in a traditional push-up.

  3. Lower your body towards the ground, keeping your elbows close to your sides. Aim to lower yourself until your chest almost touches the diamond shape formed by your hands.

  4. Push back up to the starting position, straightening your arms and returning to the top of the push-up.

  5. Repeat for your desired number of reps.

Final thoughts

Training your chest with calisthenics can be an effective way to build strength and muscle size without the need for equipment or weights.  Incorporating these chest exercises into your workout routine can help improve posture, increase upper body strength, and enhance overall aesthetics of the chest muscles.
You should pick 2-3 of these exercises preferably one that focuses on the clavicular head(upper chest) and one that targets the sternal head(middle and lower chest) part of the chest. Do them consistently and prioritize proper form while gradually increasing the intensity and difficulty of your workouts, and you will see the results soon.

What is your favorite chest exercises and why? share your thoughts in the comments.

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