Everybody wants a strong, powerful chest they can be proud of when it’s time to pop that shirt off for the beach or pool (or mowing the lawn?). Anyway, if you are working out at your home gym, you may be lacking all the heavy plates and barbells we typically see the guys at the local gym using to blast their pecs. Luckily, you don’t need them to get a great chest workout!
You can crush your pecs with a few feet of floor space, your body weight, and a few dumbbells. Check out these 10 chest exercises from home that will leave your pecs begging for mercy!
Before we start with the exercises though, let’s discuss a little background info about our chest and the muscles we will be working, primarily our “pecs”.
Our Chest is Made Up of Two Muscles
I always think it’s a good idea to be educated on the muscles we are working when working out. Maybe it’s the PT in me, but if you have a general understanding of the anatomy you are focusing on, I believe it will help you get a better workout. If you know where the muscle starts and ends, and you know what the muscle is supposed to do, you can use this to your advantage when choosing exercises to work it.
Our chest is made up of two muscles, the “pecs”: pectoralis major and pectoralis minor.
Pectoralis major is the muscle we are working when we think of doing chest exercises: push ups, bench press, flys, etc. He is the big, bulky muscle that starts from the sternum, collar bone, and several ribs and attaches to the upper humerus near your biceps.
Pectoralis minor is a much smaller muscle that is underneath pec. major, he starts from the first several ribs and attaches to the front of the shoulder blade.
So, knowing that the pec. major muscle is connected from our sternum and ribs to the top of our arm, we can understand why we do the exercises we do to work him. When he contracts, he moves our arm toward our chest…the “pushing/pressing” movements or “fly” movements (P.S., I’m a guy so I refer to my muscles as ‘he’ and ‘him’, no offense ladies). That’s why chest workouts include all the movements where you are pushing a weight away from you, or pushing yourself away from the floor.
Don’t Forget About the Delts!
These pushing movements that we use to work our chest are usually working our shoulders or deltoids very effectively as well. We are concentrating on chest exercises right now, but it’s a nice bonus that with these exercises will also be working your shoulders effectively at the same time! Not to mention our triceps! That’s why many consider the push up the best upper body exercise you can do (along with the pull up). Push ups and pull ups…really all you need…but back to the chest for now…
10 Chest Exercises
#1 Standard Push Up
An oldie, but a goodie. Can almost literally be done anywhere. Start in plank position with arms straight and a little wider than shoulder-width apart. Keep core tight, squeeze butt. Slowly lower body to floor, pause, explode back up. Can modify and do on knees if too challenging from plank position. Go for max reps, build yourself up and be amazed at how many reps you will push out if you work on it. I like to use the standard push up as a finisher on chest day, great pump!
#2 Decline Push Up
Takes the standard push up and bumps it up a notch! Same starting position as standard push up but feet will be elevated on chair or bench. Increased weight bearing through your arms = increased resistance! Great for building strength in chest (and shoulders). Note: the higher your feet are elevated, the more difficult the exercise will become…also the more you will start hitting deltoids. I like to do 3-4 sets to failure.
#3 Plyometric Push Up
Get airborne! This takes the push up to a whole new level! Great for building strength and power, very explosive technique. Start in same position as standard push up, slowly lower body to floor, explosively press up and get your hands off the floor. Try to clap hands together or slap chest with hands (gorilla push up) before hands come back to floor. Repeat. Much more difficult exercise, shoot for sets of 10-15. I would do this exercise early in your chest workout so you aren’t too wasted to complete safely.
#4 Dumbbell Press
Grab those dumbbells! Lying flat on a bench (or the floor) start with dumbbells straight in front with elbows extended. Arms about shoulder-width apart. Lower weights toward your body in controlled manner until dumbbells are more or less touching your body, press weights back up to starting position. Great exercise if you get tired of push ups (which I do). Gives you a little more range of motion than your typical bench press with a barbell. Plus it’s easier to store dumbbells in your home gym, take up less real estate.
#5 Incline Dumbbell Press
Helps to have an inclining bench for this one. Same exercise as #4, but with the bench on an incline you are going to concentrate more on the upper pec fibers. Lighten your load a little, tougher exercise. I like the bench inclined between 30-45 deg. Know that the more you incline your bench, the more you are going to be hitting the delts and not the pecs. I like to use a weight where I can do 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps.
#6 Flat Pec Fly
Lying flat on your bench, starting with dumbbells toward ceiling and elbows straight. Bend elbows slightly as you open arms wide (think like you are giving someone a bear hug) and open chest. Pause, and slowly bring arms back together as you squeeze pecs. Be careful with your shoulders, control your movement! Great exercise for building strength and mass in your pecs. I like to do slightly higher reps with flys, 3-4 sets of 12-15. I typically do flys after dumbbell press, great 1,2 punch to the chest!
#7 Incline Pec Fly
Perform pec fly from #6 in inclined position on your bench. Again, I like to stay in the 30-45 deg incline position. I started adding this exercise to my routine recently, the angle gives you a great stretch and a great pump… becoming one of my favorite chest exercises.
#8 Spider-Man Push Up
This push up variation really wakes your core up! Start in standard push up position. As you lower your body toward floor, bring right knee up toward right elbow, and then as you push up return right foot to floor. Repeat with left leg on next rep. Alternate between right and left legs with each rep. Tough exercise. Note, if you have issues with your hip flexibility you may have a hard time with this one.
#9 One-Legged Push Up
Back to the standard push up position, this time elevate one leg and keep it elevated as you do 5 push ups. Put that leg down and elevate the opposite leg while you do another 5 push ups. Alternate between legs every 5 reps until you are toast. Talk about core activation…
#10 One Arm Dumbbell Press
Same exercise as the standard dumbbell press from #4, but this time do one arm at a time. Do not hold a weight in the arm that is not working! Working one arm at a time is going to really kick in your core and make the exercise more difficult. You could also do this with incline press.
So Many Exercises…
The options for chest exercises are endless. We listed 10 here, I bet we could easily list another 10 just by changing hand placement or foot placement. Not to mention using different equipment! None of the exercises above use a swiss ball, push up handles, or suspension straps…
The point is, you should never get bored with your chest workout! If you are tired of your workout, or aren’t seeing the results you are looking for, try something new! Change up the exercises. Change up your reps. Change up the order you are doing your exercises in. Change is good! Our bodies are smart and are good at adapting to the stress we put it under.
A Few Last Notes
Push ups are great, but can be tough on your wrists. If you own a pair of push up handles, that will keep your wrist in a more neutral position and make it more comfortable. If you don’t own a pair, grab a pair of dumbbells that works just as well. If you are really tough, you could try push ups on your knuckles (I’m not quite that impressive).
If you have shoulder pain, be careful with push ups and incline presses. Find a position that is comfortable for you.
I hope this post inspired you to change up your chest routine with some new exercises. I’d love to hear from you! What chest exercises work for you? Any awesome exercises I left out? Leave a comment and I’ll get back to you soon.