Old Time Lifting John Grimek on Chest Training Part 1
John Grimek on Building a Massive Chest
By Rob Drucker
Picture of John Grimek doing a Hack squat.
John Grimek performs a Hack squat. He built his voluminous and powerful chest by regularly performing exercises which stimulate deep breathing.
If you want to build a big and powerful chest, there is no better advice than John Grimek provided in his article Developing a Spacious Chest. This two-part article was featured in the January and February issues of Strength and Health in 1957, and it is one of the best and most helpful bodybuilding articles ever written.
In Developing a Spacious Chest, John Grimek stressed that a great chest is built from the inside out, not just from developing the external muscles which envelop it. Large pectorals and sweeping "lats" alone will not give the chest the breadth and depth needed for overall impressiveness, development, and robust health. As Grimek pointed out, the key to acquiring these three desired qualities is the development of a spacious rib box through exercises which induce deep breathing.
Performing exercises which accelerate breathing will not only add "real" inches to your chest, but will also help to improve your health and well being. Grimek explained that a voluminous chest will provide the lungs, heart, and other organs within the chest cavity the space needed for optimal efficiency, development, and health.
According to Grimek, deep breathing induced by muscular activity increases the size of the rib box by stretching and growing the flexible cartridge which joins the ribs to the sternum bone. Such deep breathing also allows the lungs to function at full capacity, revitalizes the blood by facilitating the removal of waste products, and revives worn tissue by substantially increasing oxygen supply.
To build the chest from the inside out, exercises must be done which cause a rapid, deepened, and sustained state of breathing. Additional exercises should also be performed which stretch the ribs up and out when the trainee is breathing rigorously. Grimek advised that leg exercises done with relatively light weights and a high number of repetitions are best for inducing a breathless condition. The two-time Mr. America explained,
"Quite a few years ago, at the time I first began to experiment with leg training to a greater extent than previously, I discovered that my leg muscles were not the only group that responded during this time, and was pleasantly surprised to see my chest grow and bodyweight increase. As I continued to employ various leg exercises, my chest grew from a snug 39 to 45 1/2 inches in less than a year."
The York star wrote that after performing a set of high-rep squats, he would gasp for air and take in short but rapid inhalations for a minute or two, after which his breathing would be slower but more profound. Grimek would then perform a chest expansion movement, such as the dumbbell pullover or the standing lateral raise. According to Grimek, the effectiveness of a chest-expansion exercise is greatly enhanced by first inducing a deep state of breathing by performing a demanding leg exercise.
Grimek emphasized that a chest-expansion exercise works best if the arms are raised overhead while deeply inhaling. Raising your arms overhead with each inspiration allows more air to be forced into the lungs and a greater lung pressure to develop. As lung pressure is increased, a greater pushing force is generated within the chest cavity, and a relatively large force is required to stretch the rib box.
Grimek used many variations of the pullover to stretch his chest, including the bent-arm type. For a maximum stretch, he kept his hips low and off the bench. He also used a weight that was light enough to prevent excessive muscular contraction. If too heavy a weight is used, Grimek indicated that the expansion benefit of a chest-expansion exercise is compromised by excessive muscular strain.
In addition to performing a pullover movement after each set of squats, Grimek would often stretch on a chinning bar with his arms held straight and overhead. He referred to this movement as "a great chest stretcher." While hanging from the bar, the best bodybuilder in the world would inhale rhythmically and force as much air into his lungs as he possibly could.
From time to time, Grimek also utilized overhead presses to encourage stretching of his rib box. Grimek explained that moving the arms overhead stimulate the serratus magnus muscles, the muscles which lie on each side of the ribs. These muscles help to raise and spread the ribs when brought into play, thus permitting a fuller stretch and deeper breathing.
For expanding the rib box, the New Jersey native emphasized that heavy weights should not be used. In Grimek's own words,
"I found that those who failed to achieve success [with his chest expansion program] didn't follow the program as originally outlined, but employed much heavier weights and cut down drastically on the repetitions, which provided the clue to their failure. In this case it was important, yes, very essential that the number of repetitions involved should cause them to gasp for air when finished, not merely breathing slightly heavier than normal. Once this was done, using twenty or more repetitions for the first set, with progressively less reps and increased weight with each succeeding set, the results were amazing."
For achieving maximum enlargement of the chest, John Grimek recommended the following chest-expansion program be followed for several weeks at a time. He did not mention a training frequency, but one could expect excellent results by performing his program two to three times a week.
squat: 1 set 18 to 20 reps minimum; follow with a chest expansion exercise (pullover, bent-arm pullover, etc.)
squat: 1 set 12 to 15 reps; follow with a chest expansion exercise
squat: 1 set 8 to 10 reps; follow with a chest expansion exercise
squat: 1 set 5 to 8 reps
squat: 1 set 3 to 5 reps
With each succeeding set of squats, the weight should be increased, but not to the point where proper breathing or exercise form is sacrificed. The first three sets of squats are performed to build endurance and to stimulate rib-box expansion. The final two sets of squats are done with a heavier weight and a lower number of repetitions to pack the legs with strength and muscle.
During the 1940s and 1950s, many strategies were developed by bodybuilders across the world with the hope of making the breathing squat even more effective. One such strategy involved inhaling for a specific number of repetitions between each repetition. Although this strategy was practiced and recommended by a number of strength authorities during the Golden Age of Bodybuilding, Grimek did not believe this method of training was necessary to enlarge the rib box.
Regarding this style of squatting, Grimek said,
"It's doubtful if special attention given to breathing will bring any better results for those who practice this style than those who breathe as the occasion demands. I have never observed any special breathing details, but breathed as nature dictated under the circumstances."
In conclusion, the secret for building a great chest is to first build a large and deep rib box, and then fully build the surrounding muscles. Building from the INSIDE OUT will give your chest depth and an appearance which otherwise could never be achieved by training the external muscles alone. Rib-box expansion training will also pack your body with health, endurance, and a sense of well being. Take it from John Grimek, do not make the mistake trying to build a massive chest by solely training the external muscles of the chest. Not only will you rob yourself of health benefits, you will likely never develop your body to its full potential.