Calisthenics Chest & Tricep Workout (Bodyweight ONLY)


MAY, 2020

Want a big chest and triceps but don’t have access to a bench press? Well good news, because you don’t need it! A calisthenics chest and tricep workout, when done correctly, can more than suffice. You just need to step up the intensity!

This is a common misconception with ab workouts and leg workouts too, where somehow the introduction of a fancy machine will make everything better – but in reality it’s our own laziness that is stopping us from progressing, we’re just too stubborn to admit it! 

The chest is composed of the small pectoralis minor and and bigger pectoralis major which does most of the heavy lifting. The chest is worked by the horizontal push motion and is always coupled with some tricep engagement. The prevailing philosophy for some time has been that the wider your grip the more chest engagement, the narrower your grip the more tricep engagement.

However, more recent studies seem to suggest that a narrower grip maximises both chest and tricep engagement. Some researches hypothesise that this is the result of third party muscles such as the rotator cuffs reducing their contribution when completing exercises with a more narrow grip. 

Push Ups & Trciep Dips: Main Categories of Bodyweight Chest Exercises

Table of Contents
1. Introduction to Push Ups
i) Level 1: Wall Push Ups
ii) Level 2: Knee Push Ups
iii) Level 3: Incline Push Ups
iv) Level 4: Resistance Band Assisted Push Up
v) Level 5: Standard Push Ups
vi) Level 6: Decline Push Ups
vii) Level 7: Deep Push Ups
viii) Level 8: Dragon Walks
ix) Level 9: Archer Push Ups
x) Level 10: 1 Arm Push Up
2) Tricep Dips
i) Level 1: Bench Tricep Dips
ii) Level 2: Advanced Bench Tricep Dips
iii) Level 3: Deep Assisted Tricep Dips
iv) Level 4: Resistance Band Assisted Tricep Dips
v) Level 5: Standard Tricep Dips
vi) Level 6: Explosive Tricep Dips
vii) Level 7: Weighted Tricep Dips


Push Ups – Killer Chest Exercise

Push ups are completed in the typical push up or front support position. The eccentric push from the bottom to the fully extended position is where the chest is engaged. Push ups have many different variations, and can be made as easy or as difficult as you like. This guide will focus on 10 different push up variations, from beginner to expert level. So here’s the moment of truth, time to find out what level you’re at!

Level 1: Wall Push ups

This is the most basic type of push up and is usually too easy for most people of average body composition and that are injury-free. This type of push up requires a wall. By standing a short distance away from the wall, it is possible to push away from the wall with minimal resistance. This is great because you will be subject to minimal pressure through the wrists, shoulders, knees and lower back. However, this is mostly recommended only as a rehabilitation exercise, and a higher level variant should be incorporated if you would like to strengthen the chest to any significant degree.

Level 2: Knee Push Ups

Knee push ups are where many unconditioned people start in calisthenics. When done correctly they are still reasonably difficult and can definitely help strengthen your pecs. These are to be completed with the knees and hands in contact with the ground. This decreases the lever length of the body and places more weight on the lower body, reducing the amount of work the pecs need to do in the push up. Make sure to lean forward so that you stretch out your body – this is the most common mistake with this type of push up, and leads to unnecessary pressure on the collar bone. This is also the point where you should watch for an arch in your lower back, especially if you already have a natural anterior pelvic tilt.

Level 3: Incline Push Ups

Incline push ups are done with the hands placed on an elevated surface – the higher this surface the easier this calisthenics exercise will be. By elevating the hands more weight is taken by the lower body and hence the chest needs to do less work. This is the first time you will be in a complete push up position, so it is super important to watch for technical faults, especially the arch in the lower back.

Level 4: Resistance Band Assisted Push Up

This push up allows you to experience the full glory of doing a push up, albeit with some assistance. You will need to do these push ups under a bar or a sturdy ceiling beam where you can hook up resistance bands above you. Once tied above you, thread yourself through the resistance band(s) so that the bands are on your hips. Position yourself in the push up position with your hands and feet in contact with the ground. Make sure your lower back isn’t arching or poking out, as the bands will pull your hips a tad higher than usual.

resistance band set sqr
resistance band set sqr

Level 5: Standard Push Ups

Standard push ups are where most reasonably fit people sit. In calisthenics this is typically regarded as the golden grail of chest workouts, as if elite athletes struggle with rep counts over 50-60. Once you can do these, you’re in good shape to progress to harder variants.

Level 6: Decline Push ups

This is a more difficult push up variant that requires a lot of strength and technical ability. Much like the incline push up, the decline push up uses gravity to emphasise a particular part of the body, in this case the upper body. By placing your feet onto an elevated platform, the chest is forced to take on more work. In this push up variant, you need to be super careful of your lower back arching, as this is the push up variant where this is most common.

Level 7: Deep Push Ups

Deep push ups are designed to increase your range of motion. They should be done on parallel bars where you can descend deeper than normal. This allows you to work through a greater depth – which makes this variant perfect for developing strength through the entire push up motion.

Level 8: Dragon Walks

Dragon walks are a type of mobile push up variation, that emphasises control and coordination. To begin, start in a push up position. Bring your opposite arm and leg up at the same time and step forward so that one set of opposite limbs are in front of the other. As you step lower down into a push up position before pressing back up. Continue to step forward in this fashion alternating sides as you go.

Level 9: Archer Push Ups

Archer push ups are an extremely difficult calisthenics push up variation that emphasises one side of your chest at a time. This push up variation is often presented in street workout videos a high level variation – and indeed it is. To complete the archer push up, start in the push up position on the floor with a wider hand position than normal. Lower down and shift your body as much as possible to one side while straightening one arm. You may feel the exercise is more comfortable when you simultaneously rotate the hand of your straightened arm so that your fingers are pointed in the same direction as the rest of your arm.

Level 10: 1 Arm Push Up

The one arm push up is a brutal calisthenics exercise that will really test your strength and control. This exercise is not only difficult because of the sheer amount of pressure placed through one side of your body, but is also made more difficult from a coordination standpoint, because you now have only 3 limbs in contact with the ground. To perform this push up variation you will need to turn your body in such a way that the hand still in contact with the ground is higher than it would normally be in a regular push up position and the other side of your body is lower. By turning your body in such a way it makes it possible to balance when lowering down.

1 arm push up for weight loss

Tricep Dips

Dips are another fantastic chest and tricep dominant exercise. Dips are typically harder than push ups and it is recommended they be worked after you gain some proficiency in the push up department. They require a greater need for stabilisation, as in the harder variants, only your hands act as anchor points.

Level 1: Bench Tricep Dips

Bench dips are a safe way to start learning the dip motion. Most people, even if unfit should be able to do this variant with no issues. To complete this exercise, place your hands on the bench and bend your legs. Lower down so that your body remains close to the bench. If you feel pressure through your anterior shoulders it’s suggested that you turn your hands out and have them facing sideways.

Level 2: Advanced Bench Tricep Dips

Much like the standard bench dips, the advanced bench dip allows to improve your dip strength with minimum pressure through your joints. This variant is identical to the standard bench dips, except you want to straighten your legs. This will force your arms and chest to take up more weight.

Level 3: Deep Assisted Tricep Dips

This variant is where dips start to become difficult. Deep assisted dips allow for a greater range of motion and force the working muscles to take up a lot of more weight than in previous variations. To complete deep assisted dips you will need to find parallel bars. Climb on top such that your hands are gripping the bars and your legs are in front of your body, hooking the bars in front by the ankles (one foot on each bar). Come down and test the depth that you are able to press up from, the deeper the better.

Level 4: Resistance Band Assisted Tricep Dips

Resistance bands can help you complete full-fledged tricep dips on the parallel bars. By stretching the band over the parallel bars and anchoring it in place with the hands, you can effectively create a platform for your knees. 

Hop up on the parallel bars and lift your knees onto the outstretched band. From here descend vertically down, ideally to 90 degrees, before rising back up. 

resistance band asisted pull up

Level 5: Standard Tricep Dips

Standard dips are a difficult exercise, but once you can do these for a reasonable rep count, then you will experience a world of difference. To complete this variant remove the resistance band from the previous variant and complete the tricep dips in the support position on the parallel bars.

Level 6: Explosive Tricep Dips

Explosive Tricep Dips are a tricep dip variant that focuses on power. Similar to the standard tricep dips, the explosive tricep dips use the same setup. The only difference is that at the top of the dip the idea is to jump very slightly above the bar before completing the next repetition. This charge should be accompanied with an explosive push beforehand which drives the momentum for the jump. 

Level 7: Weighted Tricep Dips

This tricep dip variant incorporates extra weight to make the standard tricep dip variant more difficult. The extra weight can be added by using a weighted vest or a weighted belt. The weighted vest is generally recommended because it spreads out the extra weight, but if you don’t have access to a weighted vest, then you can try using a backpack with with bottles or bricks inside.

Written by Vic

Melbourne-based Personal Trainer, Calisthenics Athlete and the Founder of Street Workout St Kilda. Super passionate about bodyweight training and the art of movement.
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