Let's Get Chesty
Let's Get Chesty by John Grimek, 1947
Undoubtedly there are many theories relative to chest enlargement, but whether they are based on sound facts remains open for debate. However, anyone knowing something about physiology can easily debunk several of these theories by pointing out the natural functions of the respiratory organs. Basically, chest enlargement or expansion does not result from light calisthenic movements, arm waving or deep breathing, but from such movements which activate the large muscle groups of the body and in turn create an unusual demand for added oxygen. This enforced breathing comes most natural when the legs are vigorously pressed into action, since not only are the legs exercised, but the lower back and hip region are strongly affected. The muscular tissue all over the body needs more oxygen as a result of this vigorous physical effort and the blood must discharge the carbonic acid into the lungs from whence it is exhaled, and at the same time absorb the life-giving oxygen which in turn carries it back to the tissues of the working body for energy and reconstruction. A fair degree of strenuous leg work is needed or should be a part of your training if a deep chest is desired. This does not mean that one should plunge into heavy, high repetition squats, or other leg exercises, but a gradual increase to heavy poundages and a definite scheme of repetitions should follow.
Light exercise will naturally increase blood circulation and respiratory action to some degree, but by means of heavy leg work the entire respiratory system is stimulated to a faster but more natural form of deep breathing. There is no reason to inhale a lot of excessive oxygen where there is no need or demand for it as in the case of practicing deep breathing. By creating an unusual demand, by exercising the largest muscles in the body, the air cells in the lungs inflate more fully and increase their size, and so contain more air. They take up more room in this expanded state, which results in a larger and fuller chest. More blood is supplied to them and their network of capillaries become richer and more abundant. Under ordinary activity the great number of regular working air cells remain inactive, but thorough heavy exercises of the largest muscular masses rapidly increases the lungs and lung action.
The foregoing is sufficient to prove a point so often overlooked in chest enlargement; for it is not only the movements which influence the muscles of the upper body which are responsible for chest increases, but also the natural enforced breathing caused by heavy exercise. Chest exercises which conform closely to natural functions of the body are more desirable in acquiring a larger and fuller chest. Naturally, leg exercise will not develop the muscles of the torso, but it does produce a natural state of expansion from inside and , as mentioned before, this is at least as important as the muscles covering it.
Chests which are well developed, structurally and muscularly, have very slight differences between their normal and expanded state. This is due to the fact that the muscles are strengthened sufficiently to hold up the chest structure, likewise the lungs have greater capacity from natural enforced breathing. Those having weak lungs, as in cases of consumptives, will have a surprising difference, which is due to their weakened condition. Of course there are numerous athletes who have remarkable chest expansion from a contracted position. It's quite common to find six to eight inches in this position and there are claims for such expansion in excess of 12 inches. This, however, is the result of muscular control rather than a normal existing condition.
There are numerous muscles which help to shape the chest, and chest contour is controlled mainly by the pectoral muscles, major and minor. Another group, the serratus magnus, helps to give the chest depth and space by interlacing between the ribs on each side of the chest. The large back muscles, the latissimus dorsi, give width to the body and because of their peculiar lower formation indirectly add space to the lower chest connected with the costal spaces which gives more room for the stomach to function. Included in this back group of important reacting muscles which add chest size are the trapezius and rhomboidus group, all part of the intricate network of muscles influencing chest size and lung action.
Many the exercises given in this article will not only help to develop the muscles covering the entire torso, but aid materially in expanding the rib cage when preceded and followed by leg work which will exert demands on the heart and lungs. These movements do not involve one muscle at a time, but activate them in large groups; the entire shoulder assembly, the top, front and side portions of the chest, and the entire muscular construction of the upper back, all part of the chest scheme.
Muscles activated in this manner have better coordination and prove more enduring when tasks of great physical exertions are tackled. They can stand more exercise. By MORE exercise is not meant one should go on to execute endless repetitions or handle weight in excess of their respective strength so as to affect the actual performance of the exercise or injure the shoulders, but chiefly refers to as being capable of doing more movements; a larger variety of exercises.
A large number of body builders lament over the fact that they receive no beneficial reaction or size from the exercises they perform, no matter how diligently they set themselves to the task. I wonder. Should this be the case, something is radically wrong and steps should be taken to remedy this. The fault may lie on one or two causes. One, the performance of the movement itself, and two, the number of repetitions involved. If the cause lies due to lack of concentration and the proper application of the movement, then some knowledge of perfection of performance should be taken into account.If, on the other hand, the task becomes a long drawn out event and tires the body without bringing some noticeable gains, a thorough calculation of repetitions suitable to your recuperating ability should be studied. Physical strength and muscular increases are based on natural principles that every new day reconstructs the body tissue with new life. Thus, the movements should not be performed with "rhythmic swings" but with deliberate action to extend and contract the muscles more forcibly. Swinging the weights in rhythm fails to supply the full contraction and extension the muscles are capable of, making the movement easier but less effective. Adding more weight does not solve the problem in any case, rather one runs the risk of suffering injuries or torn muscles. One is better of to perform the exercises with less weight, in leverage movements, and employing fewer repetitions but doing the exercise correctly. Forcing one's self to handle heavier weights without proper performance neglects to concentrate the action of the movement on the muscles involved. This is particularly true for those seeking to add muscular gains and added bodyweight. Such movements can be termed "cheating" through the exercise. There are those who already have fine development whose main intention is to preserve their form, to keep fit and to retain their muscular elasticity, whose movements sometimes denote a cheating attitude. This is permissible in such cases because they are not striving for added muscular bulk, but primarily to retain their present shape and fitness, and such movements can keep the fitness . . . and such movements can keep the muscles shapely and strong. But for those whose main interest lies in acquiring larger and shapelier muscles, the performance of the exercise and the number of repetitions is indeed paramount.
Perhaps at this time it is appropriate to clarify to some extent the matter of repetitions. To be sure those who follow almost identical exercises for the same part of the body (though slightly varied) need less repetitions than those who include but one or two. The repetitions should be slightly less in cases where one incorporates several such movements for the same functional portion of the body. For example, if one has five or more exercises for the chest in his schedule which basically involve the same muscle groups, the repetitions should be less than where only two or three such exercises are employed. Those who insist or prefer to repeat the same exercise in multiple sets should not exceed 10 repetitions, this depending on the number of exercises included in the program for that particular movement function of the body.
Years ago, and I am referring to 20 or more years (before the late 1920's), exercising in sets was practically unknown in the manner as it is known today, but phenomenal results were registered nevertheless. Certainly, parts of the body were exercised and then re-exercised it is true, but not employing the same exercise . . . rather, it included almost the same movement in a varied form, thus stimulating the same muscles from a slightly different position. It would be folly to advise anyone to perform each of these many exercises in three or more sets of 10 repetitions each. While it would consume too much time it would also prove a drain on the system. If you choose to do your exercises in multiple sets then by all means select only the few which suit your condition best, but don't try to include all those mentioned later in this article. Should you attempt to include them all in multiple sets you will soon discover that your muscles will become wiry and stringy in appearance. However, if you are of the overweight variety and can stand a lot of exercises and sets and repetitions, such a schedule will burn up a lot of the excessive adipose tissue which has accumulated. For those it is recommended.
I've mentioned often that heavy leg work is the keynote to increased chest size, and exercises for the muscles surrounding it should conform naturally to normal functional body movements. The main idea then is to create that demand for additional oxygen, more, much more than you experience during your ordinary daily routine by exercising the legs vigorously. Then, to supplement this demand the exercises listed should be done as an aid for lifting and spreading the chest to its fullest capacity by inhaling all the oxygen needed. Such movements will inflate all the little-used air calls in the lungs and result in larger and stronger lungs, and in turn a larger chest. Many of these movements are favorites with the York champions who often practice them. Strong men require large roomy chests to produce unlimited strength, and chest exercises combined with a heavy leg routine bring results.
Perhaps the routine you devise does not have to be as elaborate as the one given here, but should be based on the same principles. It will be noted that several series of leg exercises are repeated, but THESE DO NOT HAVE TO CONSIST OF ONLY THE SQUAT. It can be altered with a straddle lift or some other variety of non-leverage leg movements. The idea is to increase respiratory action, stimulate it more than usual so as to create an added demand for oxygen. This specialization can take place during any part of your program if you want to include it, but preferably near the completion of your schedule as it demands a great deal of energy. Doing it at the start may leave you without enough ambition to complete your program, but much depends on the individual, too.
Here's the set-up:
Start with a squatting weight that you can comfortable handle for 15 to 18 repetitions, allowing the body to sink into the lowest possible position while keeping the back flat or straight. When this has been completed, one of the chest movements listed should be done, breathing deeply while executing the movement. A brief rest may be required by some between each of these exercises . . . if this is your case rest a few minutes before returning to your second set of squats. However, before taking the bar, an additional 15 pounds (depending on your level of development) should be added and this time the squats are repeated from 10 to 12 repetitions. When completed, another variety of chest exercise is done. None of the chest exercises should be repeated beyond 12 repetitions nor less than 10. Once more the squatting bar is increased by 10 pounds (again depending on your ability) before performing the third set of this leg exercise with repetitions ranging from not less than eight and not more than 10. A chest exercise is again performed using the same repetition scheme as mentioned before, 10 to 12. This is continued until the squatting repetitions are lowered from 1 to 3. A summary of this is as follows:
- 15-18 repetitions with the starting poundage.
- add 15 pounds (depending on ability) for 10-12 reps
- add 10 pounds for 8-10 reps
- add 10 pounds for 5-6 reps
- add 5-10 pounds for 1-3 reps
Sample List of Chest Exercises:
An exercise designed to help lift the chest and develop the muscles supporting it. Its primary use in this instance is to practice complete full breathing while still exercising the muscles. Its use can be varied with dumbbells or else a barbell. In either case the hands may be held in a wide or narrow grip, or both. Two forms, stiff arm and bent arm, can be utilized, the latter which relieves the leverage imposed ou the arms and shoulders. This variety is valuable not only as a means for chest expansion but for the muscular development of the entire upper body as well. The bench should be narrow enough to allow unrestricted shoulder and back action.
Supine Press -
Notably known as the "prone press" which has fine developmental values. Two varieties of this exercise can be employed: using fairly heavy dumbbells, depending on your strength, gives the chest, arms and shoulders added work, although a barbell is easier for the novice to handle, employing either the narrow or wide grips, preferably both at different times. The actual press can be performed two way also: keeping the arms close to the sides, and by holding the elbows away from the body while using a wide grip.
A variety of floor dips. The feet can be raised to throw more weight towards the parts being exercised. A set of floor dipping bars can be utilized to allow the chest do dip beyond the point of the hands. Additional weight applied to the top of the back naturally taxes the muscles more. The body should remain quite rigid, avoiding the tendency to sag in the lower back.
Lying Lateral Raise -
This exercise and the pullover are two of the best known movements employed for chest expansion using weights. and are result-producing if perfection of performance is observed. An important detail is maintaining the arms straight during the exercise when used for this purpose. A slight incline can be utilized for variety. The bench should be narrow enough to allow freedom of movement in the shoulders. The arms can travel in a straight line sideways, or another variation has them moving down and overhead, stretching the pectorals and upper back muscles more vigorously.
Stretching with Dumbbells -
The movement helps to impart flexibility to the rib cage. In the supine position on a narrow bench, the bells begin on the thighs and are then swept overhead in a straight line with the shoulders and to a full stretch behind the head. Arms should remain as straight as possible during this exercise. Excellent for the entire shoulder and chest structure. Needless to add, however, light weights should be employed at first and allow your progress to be slow but gradual.
Seated Lateral Raise -
While this exercise appears to be mainly a deltoid exercise, it has effects on the muscles which lift the chest and should be included at times in a training program. Most body builders bend forward at the start and raise the arms well in front of the body. Actually, to exert its best influence on the chest and its muscles, the arms should be brought overhead in a position in back of the head and then returned in a cross-armed position in front of the body, keeping them straight throughout. One will feel a different effect on the muscles than when it's done the ordinary way: swing overhead with arms not directly to sides but slightly in front.
Front Raise -
A standing pullover. Its reactions are entirely different from the lying form. Here, the anterior part of the shoulders are vigorously pressed into action and by their movement are capable of aiding in lifting the chest. In fact, all overhead movements, lifting and exercises, are beneficial in building the chest.
It will be noted that a maximum of 49 repetitions can be completed and not less than 39 being the minimum. This should provide excellent leg work which should bring about a rapid action of the respiratory system proving most valuable in increasing the chest.
Since many fellows prefer to specialize only in pullovers and lateral raises for the chest, these may be repeated between the squat sets which, if you will count the sets of squats recommended, a number of five chest exercises are needed to complete this leg and chest program. There are other exercises listed here which do not affect the chest as directly as the pullover and lying lateral raises but which are nonetheless helpful in building the muscles that hold the chest up, and therefore can be employed anytime during your training period.
There are, of course, considerably more advanced types of chest exercises which can produce results even in veteran exercising enthusiasts, but these will not be listed at this time. Anyone who will take the time and trouble to follow this leg and chest schedule or one similar to it can't help but notice some degree of improvement after following these exercises for a three month period. In fact, after the first one or two workouts some stiffness is likely to develop. To avoid too much of this make your progress gradual. Use weights which will not tax your physical powers to their limit at the start, but as the muscles become toughened and accustomed increase the poundage to match your increased strength and watch the results.
A short word about breathing during your exercises. Much has been stressed in connection with this important detail, but a lot of it has been overdone, too, I think. The natural thing to do is to breathe as freely and fully as possible when there is a demand for it. Naturally, the more vigorously you exercise the body the more rapidly will acceleration of the respiratory system take place. This is simply complying with nature's law. Holding the breath is not advisable under any conditions, let alone when there is intense physical motion. Breathe naturally but fully.
As a concluding remark I might add that the leg and chest program given here is one I have followed many years ago and found it to be beneficial in my case. In 1942 I outlined this program in an article titled "My System of Heavy Training" appearing in the October and November issues of Strength & Health for that year. Others derived much benefit from this system and I feel quite certain that it can produce results in the toughest and most obstinate cases. All that is needed is patience, persistence and the ability to win over any obstacles which might turn up to hinder your progress. With this frame of mind how can you fail to gain your objective? As they say, mind over matter. By putting your mind to the task and backing it up with some physical effort you can't lose.
Great article. I have to confess, I thought there would be posts of the blond lady who ran on to ball fields throughout the 80's. thank goodness, no.
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