Are you a bodyweight exercise fanatic?
Have you ever stopped to ask why?
Many people that are die-hard bodyweight fanatics have had a moment in their lives that transformed the direction of their exercise routines forever.
Maybe it happened while they were on vacation and didn’t have a gym. They learned a few bodyweight exercises and were hooked.
Others may hate fighting traffic and one day found themselves grumbling while stuck on the highway on their way to ride a stationary bike in the gym.
The Greek Gods didn’t have nothin on Arnie.
Like most every other young man out there… I wanted to be like him.
After studying the routines that he did (and scaling them way back for a guy that didn’t have 5 hours to spend in the gym) I embarked on a weight lifting journey that ended almost as fast as it began.
The first few months went great. I started to see some nice muscle gain throughout all my major muscle groups.
I was excited.
Then IT happened…
A slow but steady pain started growing in my left shoulder. At first it was more of a discomfort. Then it grew to the point where I couldn’t ignore it. Guess what? I did anyway.
It hurt mostly while doing bench press. I would often dread chest day because I knew my left shoulder would be giving me hell.
I pushed on anyway.
Then one day while doing bench press my left shoulder gave out. I had to roll the barbell off me. After standing up I realized that I could barely lift my left arm. My shoulder throbbed with pain.
Now, I will be the first to say that it might have been my own fault.
My form probably wasn’t the greatest since I was just focusing solely on increasing weight.
Maybe I should have also listened to my body when my shoulder started to ache.
Regardless, I ended up with an arm that I could barely move for several weeks.
In those weeks I started to experiment with body weight exercises. I learned that push ups and pull ups were really just the tip of the ice berg.
I found out that there are literally hundreds of body weight exercises that can target any area of the body and can keep your workouts exciting and effective.
Its interesting to note that months after my injury I experimented with weights again and my shoulder immediately started to hurt. But when I did similar exercises (like the push up compared to bench press) my shoulder didn’t hurt and in fact felt stronger.
Could bodyweight exercises be more effective than weight lifting?
Most people would answer, “Depends on your goals. Weight lifting will help you build muscle and body weight exercises help you tone up.”
I would tell them, “Wrong.”
The principles of muscle growth are the same whether you are lifting weights or doing body weight exercises. Your body DOES NOT KNOW if the stress you are placing on it comes from a weight you are lifting or its own body weight.
Follow the principles of muscle growth (which I will interweave in the information below) and you will gain muscle.
Flippin’ the Bird At The Bench Press…
I stiffen my upper lip at you bench press. Screw me once shame on you, screw me twice shame on me. I will no longer allow you to hurt me or any of my other fitness enthusiasts. Below you will find 3 of my favorite bodyweight exercises used to build a bigger chest.
3 Hardcore Bodyweight Exercises To Help You Add Size To Your Chest
1. Modified Angled Push Up
The modified angled push up is my “go-to” exercise for building chest size. Most people know the normal push up but few have thought of the fact that if you modify it by adjusting your body weight distribution you can make this classic exercise much more difficult.
Here’s how do it:
1. Start off in the normal push up position. Make sure your back is straight and your arms are about shoulder width apart.
2. Shift your body weight over to one side so that you are about at a weight distribution of 70%/30%.
3. Lower your body down until your chest lightly grazes the floor. Make sure to keep this 70/30 weight distribution the whole time.
4. Push back up.
This exercise will blast you really quickly. In order to build muscle you MUST stay at a low rep range: 6-8 for strength gains and 8-12 for hypertrophy.
If you are cranking out 20, 30 or even 40 reps of push ups you will NOT be building muscle. You will be increasing your muscular endurance but not muscle size.
Here’s what happens in your body when you hammer out a ton of reps of a particular exercise. Your muscles start to deplete oxygen levels because it uses this oxygen to perform the work. Over time your body then adapts and you obtain a greater ability to transport oxygen faster to your muscle.
That’s why you can do even more reps now than you did a month ago.
However, when you fatigue within a low rep range your muscles are fatiguing (think = tearing) before they run out of oxygen. This is a GOOD thing when trying to build muscle.
That’s why you need to stay in a low rep range when trying to build muscle.
2. Modified Chest Dips
Chest dips are a great exercise for tearing the lower part of the chest muscle. You might be thinking, “Wait a minute Todd! Chest dips aren’t ‘little known’. Everyone knows these!”
Yes, my friend but I am here to teach you how to build muscle with a version of chest dips that are NOT widely known.
I am assuming that you are a home fitness enthusiast and don’t have access to a Dip Station at a gym. I often will do chest dips off the back of two chairs. Make sure to wrap a couple wash cloths or towels around the tops of the chairs to make it more comfortable for your hands.
Here’s how to do it:
1. Grab two chairs of equal height with backs that you can grip on to.
2. Lift yourself up until your arms are locked.
3. Lower yourself down until your upper arms are parallel with the floor.
4. Press back up.
Modification: If you can do more than 12 reps of the chest dip than you need to modify it to make it more difficult. How do you do that? Shift your body weight over to one side.
When you are up in the air shift your body weight over to one side to adjust your weight distribution. This will make it much more difficult to lower yourself down and will place the majority of the stress on one chest muscle.
It’s a killer and you need to work up to it but is a FANTASTIC exercise for building muscle strength and size, especially in the lower part of the chest.
3. Crucifix Push Up
The Crucifix Push Up is one of the best bodyweight chest exercises to build a wider looking chest. There is really no need to apply our bodyweight distribution principle to this one since it is already difficult.
Here’s how do to it:
1. Start off in the normal push up position.
2. Walk your hands out so they are further than shoulder width apart (the further out they are the harder it will be).
3. Turn your fingers so they are pointed outward.
4. Lower yourself down until your chest lightly touches the ground.
5. Press back up.
Modification: If you find this exercise too easy try walking your hands out really far. You don’t need a large movement for this exercise. It can be just a couple of inches up and down. The key is to fatigue within a 6-8 or 8-12 rep range.
Sometimes I like to start by laying flat on the ground and have my arms fully extended. I’ll then walk my fingers in just a little bit and then try to push up. Its a great way to measure your progress and each time you perform the movement try to keep your hands out wider.
2 Important Considerations To Remember When Trying To Build Muscle With Bodyweight Exercises:
1. Stay Within A Low Rep Range
You MUST, MUST, MUST, stay within a low rep range in order to build muscle using bodyweight exercises. Don’t think that because you are spending an hour doing push ups that you’ll gain a large chest. You need to be strategic with how you exercise. Use the principle of bodyweight distribution to adjust your body and fatigue within a low rep range.
2. Always Go To Fatigue
One of the most common questions I get asked on my blog is, “How many reps should I do?” I think the “10 rep mindset” has hypnotized the mass public and sold them on the idea that they just have to reach a certain rep number and they will be good.
Always go to fatigue. If you are not pushing yourself and straining to get the last rep than you are not causing change in your body. This is especially true when trying to build a big chest. The last few reps should be extremely difficult and you should not physically be able to do any more reps after you are done.
Happy Muscle Building! And remember you don’t need the ol’ bench press. Your own body weight can be just as effective!
Todd Kuslikis is the creator of Bodyweight Overload, a bodyweight system designed to help people build muscle without using weights. He is also a prolific author on the topics of bodyweight exercise, extreme fitness and feats of strength.