Build a Powerful Chest and Punch Without Weights

A guy with a puny chest pretty much looks like crap, not matter how big his other muscles are. There’s something about well-built pecs that screams “Warrior!” Or maybe it’s that a thick chest makes you more likely to reflect a lone spear that’s flying through the air? Beats me, but one thing’s for sure: all guys want a big chest, and all women want a guy with impressively powerful pecs. It’s hard-wired into our DNA.

Research shows that women are more sexually attracted to men who have who a low waist-to-chest ratio. You know, that V-shaped look. And yes, research was actually performed and money was spent to come to this blatantly obvious conclusion.

The cool thing about building a more powerful chest is that it can be done remarkably well without any equipment whatsoever.

I’ll tell you right now that adding meat to your chest doesn’t require much ingenuity. Start doing 100 push-ups every day and you’ll get the job done. However, there are two shortcomings with this approach.

First, you won’t build a powerful chest that way. Developing muscular power to elite levels requires a more explosive approach. High volume push-up training develops muscular endurance without regard for power. Since the pecs respond well to sets of high reps, doing 100 push-ups each day might make your pecs bigger but it won’t make you punch much harder. Second, it’s likely that the length-tension relationship around your shoulder joint will regress when you do nothing but traditional push-ups all the time. At the very least, it will magnify underlying shoulder dysfunction. This leads to pain that eventually makes you stop all chest work, and damn it if you’re not back to where you started.

So I’ve put together a plan that will supercharge your pecs, improve shoulder health, and build knockout power at the same time.

Warm-up the Shoulders: arm circles

Preparing for chest training couldn’t be any simpler. Start with 20 arm circles in each direction. The circles should start small and get progressively larger every few reps. By the time you reach rep 15 you should exaggerate the range of motion as much as possible. Also, do these arm circles faster and faster over time. Don’t rip into 20 high-speed arm circles for the first workout because you can strain your pecs, but train those muscles over time to withstand fast arm circles.

Activate the Core: side plank with rotation

Before my clients do any chest training, I always have them perform the side plank with rotation. This exercise activates the lats and side core muscles which immediately enhances your upper body pushing power.

If you’re ever in a bar with one of those punching bag machines that measures the power of your punch and your buddy bets you $50 he can puncher harder than you, run to the pisser and do this exercise first. When you return, he won’t suspect a thing and you’re sure to beat him. Well, unless he’s Shane Carwin. In that case you’re screwed.

Perform one set of 10 rotations on each side. This exercise should be performed slowly with maximum core tension throughout the movement.

Build Shoulder Stability Strength: hand over hand

Once the core and lats have been activated it’s not time to jump into any explosive training just yet. To protect the shoulder joints it’s important to activate and strengthen the rotator cuff while boosting stability in the glenohumeral joint. The hand over hand exercise gets the job done.

Perform one set of five holds on each side (10 holds total). Hold the position for 1-2 seconds each time before switching sides.

Explosive Power: 3 Position Hand Hop

Now it’s time to turn up the juice with an exercise I use to build explosive power in the chest and core. The 3 position hand hop is an outstanding exercise for fighters because it trains your chest to fire with the core. When you jump your hands out to different positions, your core has to perform a powerful contraction to stabilize your torso. Each set should be performed with maximum speed.

Perform three reps as fast as possible. You’ll jump your hands out to three different positions and back to the center for one rep. Perform five sets of three reps with 30 seconds rest between each set. This exercise is ideal for building explosive punching power.

For fighters who need more shoulder endurance, perform as many reps as possible before your technique breaks down as an alternative to just three reps. This approach is also excellent for building muscle.

Hypertrophy and Endurance: push-up (optional)

At this point you have two choices. You can stop here if your chest is already smoked from the hand hop, and if chest power is your primary goal. Or, if you really need more chest mass this is the perfect time to knockout two sets of as many reps as possible with the good ol’ fashioned push-up.

Use a hand position that’s shoulder width, or slightly wider, and use a variation that allows 25-30 reps for the first set. For most guys this will be a regular push-up. However, if you can do more than 30 at this point in the workout, elevate your feet on a flat bench or Swiss ball.

For the second set, repeat the same exercise and do as many reps as possible, even if it’s not 25 reps.

The Plan

Perform the following routine every other day for four weeks. Put this at the beginning of your workout on the days you perform your regular training.

Arm circles for 20 reps in each direction
Side plank with rotation for 10 reps on each side
Hand over hand for 5 holds on each side
3 position hand hop for 5 sets of 3 reps, rest 30 seconds between each set
(optional) Push-up for 2 sets of AMRAP, rest 60-90 seconds between each set

Stay Focused,
CW

26 thoughts on “Build a Powerful Chest and Punch Without Weights

  1. Thanks for this post Chad. You’re always on the leading edge of innovative techniques! As well, you keep things as simple as can be without diluting the core message/content. Much appreciated are the warmup/mobility techniques and exercises to prime the body too. Thanks again.

  2. Chad –

    As I’m emphasizing one-armed pushup progressions now, would this series serve as a useful activation drill or would it need to be scaled down a bit?

    CW: Use the arm circles, side plank w/rotation, and hand over hand to prepare your body for the one-arm push-up. You don’t need the other exercises if you’ve already progressed to the one-arm push-up.

  3. Hi Chad,

    Thanks for the post, this is great! I’ve really been looking for a simple workout because I NEED to work my chest out, but don’t often have time to go to the gym.

    Here’s my issue – I’m fairly sure that one side of my chest is stronger than the other, or at least that one is a bit ‘fattier’ than the other. Is there anything I should be doing to compensate for that? Or will it work itself out once I start actually doing the workouts?

    Thanks again,

    -Rob

    CW: Do this for a month for starters and see if the imbalance works itself out. It should.

  4. Thanks, Chad.

    BTW, have you done, or do you intend to do a tutorial on one-armed pushups?

    CW: It’s not on my ever-growing list, but I could add that to it. Believe it or not, one of the best exercises to prepare your body for the one-arm push-up is the Pallof Press. You can see it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GvcYQPvFt6w

  5. Chad-

    Thanks for the post. I’ve just started HiH, Get Big. Was thinking of adding this on my non-gym days 3x a week. Would this be too much at this phase? Or risk over training?

    Thanks
    S.

    CW: It’s ok to do this 2x/week at the beginning of your workouts.

  6. If I’m currently hitting pressing movements 3xwk and I do this workout 1xwk and then use different methods for the other 2 workouts? So example 1. Handstand pushups 2. workout above 3. Close grip feet on swissball pushups. My main focus is hypertrophy.

    CW: Sounds good.

  7. Hey Chad,

    What if one can still do 30 push-ups even with legs elevated/on a swiss ball? Or if he can do 30 push-ups of ?

    (the 3P Hop is cool, and I also began doing inverted rows ~every day in order to get more pulling volume)

    CW: Do the clap push-up. Go as deep as needed to hit the right rep range.

  8. Hi Chad,

    For mass gains, can i do 1000 push ups at once?
    or will this only work endurance?

    Regards

    CW: I’m going to assume you meant 100 push-ups, not 1000. If that’s the case, working up to a set of 100 reps is a great way to build mass in the pecs.

  9. Thank you for this! I love your recent emphasis on bodyweight exercises. About the hand over hand exercise, how long are you supposed to be able to hold the position before the exercise becomes too unchallenging? As for the 3 position hand hop, are you supposed to try and leave the ground much in the same way as during the execution of a clap pushup?

    CW: Yes, get as much air as possible for hand hop. It should be explosive.

  10. Hi Chad,

    Any frequency modifications for the over 45 yr old crowd, or stick with every other day?

    Thanks.

    CW: Start with every third day for two weeks, then do every other day.

  11. Thank you Chad for the answer! I think I’ve been doing it right. Tremendous core exercise, too: like you said, abs have to fire hard as well (got unusually sore abs from this).

  12. Awesome stuff as usual!
    I’m a huge fan of push up based protocols for chest development. I really like your 3 position hand hop push ups.

  13. Chad, I know you also recommend the cable chest press for pec training. The pictures and description in HIAH have the model flaring the elbow, pretty much achieving a 90° arm position relative to the torso. Is it acceptable / better (for shoulder health) to have the elbow at a 45° – 70° angle instead?
    Also, the cable crossover station at my gym have the pulley station very far appart. Therefore I’m wondering if the single-arm version (which I’ve been doing) would be a better choice in such a case?

    CW: For more chest stimulation, keep the elbows wide. For shoulder problems or triceps emphasis, keep elbows closer. One arm cable presses are great, too, especially for the core.

  14. Great article Chad,
    But will this exercise build the 3 parts of the major pectoralis all at the same time? Because I have small lower and upper chest, but a big middle chest.

    CW: Yes, when you add the push-ups at the end (especially with your feet elevated on a bench) you’ll build all the fibers.

  15. Hello Chad.

    if i’m doing this program at the days im doing regular training, can i still do chest exercise from my regular training?

    CW: Yes, 5×5 with a heavy chest exercise (dip) is ideal.

  16. Thanks for the great addition Chad. Always love your stuff.

    My question is this: Would it be effective to simply do this workout three times a week all by itself? My “normal” workout is much more extensive but I’m kind of in the mood to really go after a lower waist-to-chest ratio. I guess what I’m asking is: Is this enough? Maybe with some HIIT’s (cycling, tabatas, plyo, etc) for cardio on the “in-between” days?

    CW: Add some plyos or tabatas for legs and you’re good to go.

  17. Hi Chad,
    first of all I want to thank you for sharing your outstanding knowledge with us.
    Is it possible that could give me feedback on my workout plan, that is the following:
    Im training 6 days a week, three times I do the routine above + 1 Set/10 Reps of 6 different exercises for the shoulders, taxing different areas. On the other two days I do a 3 set/10 count Push-Up Routine, where go walk on the hands to push-up pos and do 10, walk back to standing, continue with 9 Reps, and so on. After that I´m doing 5 Sets of Kettlebel-1-Snatch1-MilitaryPress-1CleanPress Supersets with a 70 Ketlebell. Is this a good aproach for Builidng Trengh+Muscle+Power ? (Lower body only heavy-biking and pistols 2 times a week) Thanks in advance.

    CW: Is it giving you the results you want? If so, it’s good. If not, go for the routines in Huge in a Hurry.

  18. Thank you very much, Chad! No shoulder problems, but I would like to keep it that way :-) From what you have written on the subject of bench pressing and cable chest preses, I gather that it’s mostly the fact that the shoulder blades are free to move through a full range of motion that make the latter more healthy…So never mind the elbow flare, got it, cheers.

  19. hi chad great article as always .
    i v tried this routine and its really hard than it looks my question how many times per week should i perform it ??
    thanks

    CW: 3x/week is a good place to start.

  20. For someone with strongman/raw powerlifting interests, would you advise doing this circuit after or before the pressing excersices with weights (overhead, bench etc)?

    CW: If maximal strength is your goal, do these exercises after.

  21. Just signed up after I found your site from the 13,064 Pull Ups article on T-nation. Love the article and articles Chad.

    I am trying to ease back into working out after some bad wrist injuries and I still can’t get back to lower body workouts due to over training. I just started working out and my current workout is only HFT Push Ups and Pull Ups and was wondering what shoulder exercise you would recommend to do. I want to stick with push/pull and some sort of shoulder exercise these couple of months until my lower body is in check so I can do heavy 5×5.

    CW: I recommend adding some daily reverse lunges or forward lunges to train your lower body, too. They aren’t taxing so recovery shouldn’t be a problem. For the shoulders, I like handstand push-ups.

  22. Hey, Chad..

    I seen an MMA Swiss Ball Core Workout by you in an article once. Here we are….. :)

    I noticed you said do this push up workout BEFORE one’s regular training.. I like to do a lot of shadow boxing and heavy bag work involving intense kicks, punches, knees, elbows (just addressing it, not boasting..). Then I’ll do body weight exercises: core, jump squats, push ups, pull ups.. Should I do the body weight exercises BEFORE the martial arts training? Or maybe just your push up workout – martial arts – body weight training?…. We’re you just referring to do your push ups exercise before people’s regular weight training workouts?

    Does it really matter which one comes first?? Hope that wasn’t to confusing, thanks, Chad!!

    CW: Do the martial arts first, then the push-up workout after.

  23. Hey Chad, How many times a week should I do this routine if I wanna get maximum gains?

    CW: 3 times per week is good.

  24. Hello again. I’ve been doing this routine (3 position hand hop plus 2 sets of endurance pushups) for a while now. Is it possible to start doing this on a daily basis (in place of the pushups in the 100 pushups / 50 pullups protocol)?

    CW: Yes.

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