The most effective chest workout at home (with or without dumbbells)
While the primary goal of any exercise program should be health and the ability to move through life with ease so that we can maintain our independence as we age, we’d probably be lying if we said that improved physical appearance didn’t matter to us. Few can deny the appeal of a nice chest. In fact, studies examining the so-called universal standards of beauty have established that the chest-to-waist ratio is an important marker of health and fertility.
Women tend to prefer men with a chest-to-waist ratio of 1.4:1, while men tend to prefer women with a chest-to-waist ratio of 1.45:1. However, few people attain these ideals. Even the shapeliest of celebrities often fall short. We all have different body types, and genetics play a significant role in determining our fat deposits and skeletal proportions. A reasonable, attainable goal of your chest workout at home, whether you’re a man or a woman, is for your chest to be larger than your waist.
The muscles of the chest
Each side of the chest is composed of four muscles: the pectoralis major, pectoralis minor, serratus anterior and subclavius. The largest of these is the pectoralis major, the fan-shaped muscle that lies directly beneath the breast. These chest muscles help you perform a variety of everyday activities, from moving heavy objects, pushing a grocery cart or stroller, holding a baby overhead, throwing a ball or something as simple as getting up off the floor or bed.
For your chest workout at home, there are a number of time-honored exercises for strengthening and developing your pecs. Some of them require nothing more than your own body weight, while others require only the most basic of equipment, such as an inexpensive set of dumbbells.
Chest exercises at home without dumbbells
While exercise science and exercise fads have evolved over time, one thing that hasn’t changed is the good old-fashioned push-up. One of the best things about this highly effective chest exercise is that it requires no equipment. It’s also a much more versatile exercise than you may realize. If a classic push-up is too difficult for you at first, you can work up to it by starting with a modified push-up in which you keep your knees on the floor, thus reducing the amount of body weight you have to move. By tucking your elbows into your side and changing your hand position accordingly, you can enlist the triceps, as well. Similarly, you can involve the shoulders with what’s known as a “pike push-up.” Instead of performing the exercise from a plank position in which your body forms a more or less straight line from the shoulders to the hips to the feet, you’ll raise your hips so that your body forms a V (similar to the downward facing dog pose in yoga). You can also fine-tune which part of the chest muscles you target by performing incline push-ups (with the upper body elevated) or decline push-ups (with the lower body elevated).
If you want to make the exercise more challenging, try doing push-ups with one leg lifted off the floor, as this will force your chest to move even more of your body weight. Just make sure that you do the same number of reps with each leg lifted. If you want even more of a challenge, why not give Spiderman push-ups a try? In this variation, as you lower yourself, you’ll drive one knee to the outside of the elbow on the same side of the body, alternating sides with each rep. Finally, for an ultimate challenge, there’s the clap push-up. In this explosive version of the classic push-up, you’ll push yourself up with enough force that your hands come completely off the floor so you can clap them together before you land.
Dumbbell chest workout
There are two basic types of dumbbell chest exercises, both of which should be part of your chest workout at home: presses and flies.
The bench press has long been a staple of bodybuilders and is generally considered the gold standard of chest exercises. In the dumbbell version, you’ll begin by sitting on your weight bench, grasping a dumbbell in each hand. (If you don’t have a workout bench, you can perhaps improvise with an ottoman.) Next, lie back on the bench. Your upper arms should be perpendicular to your torso and your elbows should be bent approximately 90 degrees. You’ll raise the dumbbells straight up and slightly toward the center, moving them slowly, evenly and with control before lowering them back to the starting position.
Depending on your experience and any physical limitations you may have, you can modify this exercise in various ways. For example, if you have shoulder problems, it’s best not to allow your elbows to drop below the level of your torso, as this can put additional strain on your shoulders. If the problem is severe, you can even do dumbbell presses on the floor. However, if you allow your upper arms to lower all the way to the floor, you’ll sacrifice the constant tension on the chest muscles, which is one of the factors that make chest presses such an effective exercise. You can also vary your hand position, holding the dumbbells with your palms facing your feet or facing inward. If you have back problems (or if you want to avoid involving your legs and back), you can place your feet on the bench or even cross your legs at the shins, raising your upper legs at an approximate 90-degree angle from your torso and bending your knees.
One of the best exercises for isolating the muscles of the chest is the fly. As the name of the exercise implies, it imitates the motion of a fly’s wings. You’ll perform the exercise lying face up with a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing up and arms extended perpendicular to the body, forming a T. Keeping your arms straight, but without locking your elbows, you’ll raise the dumbbells until they meet above the center of your chest and then lower them slowly and with control back to the starting position. Like presses, this exercise can be performed on a bench or on the floor.
If you’re using an adjustable bench, you can perform both types of dumbbell chest exercises from an inclined or declined position in order to target your chest muscles in different ways.
Need help with your chest exercises at home?
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