How To Develop The Chest
In my capacity as editor-in-chief of Strength and Health magazine a great many articles concerning the chest are brought to my attention. Many of these advocates of lung culture profess to believe that the development of the lungs is the only way in which a man can hope to become strong, and that practicing inhaling a much air as possible is the only way to enlarge the size of the lungs and ultimately the rib box. With these methods a great many men and boys have attained the ability to inhale from 350 to 400 cubic inches of air and to expand their chests from two to five inches by this internal pressure.
Upon being put to a series of tests the abnormal lung capacity they had developed did not help them in any physical tests. In running a brisk quarter mile it did not prevent them from becoming completely winded and it did not aid them to life more weight than the average untrained man, who had not spent so much time at expanding his chest. Undoubtedly the practice of constant deep breathing had made them feel better, had given them clearer heads and purer blood, but it had not built power in the muscles, of wind and endurance, as could be proven by running or swimming for distance.
Many well-known athletes who are stars at their chosen sport were unable to come within a hundred pounds in cubic inch lung capacity of these specialists in deep breathing, but they could lift, run, row or swim for considerable distances. They possessed an effectiveness in performing their normal duty of purifying the blood under enforced pressure which was not possessed by the men who had built increased lung capacity simply through enforced breathing.
This is in line with the fact I offered in a previous chapter that the strongest men have very little actual chest expansion. They do have large-sized, efficient lungs and powerful heart action – ready, able and willing to perform any task asked of them. Their chests are so near perfection that they are normally held at near their limit of expansion. The chest expansion some tell us about is the result of the ability to greatly expand the muscles which are placed upon the outside of the chest. Muscle control results in much of the phenomenal chest expansion about which we hear. As you can determine by trying it for a moment, it is possible to lift the chest, distend the ribs and pull the diaphragm upwards without inhaling, and a man can also take a really tremendous breath by depressing the diaphragm and without distending the ribs appreciably.
With these thoughts in mind, it would be natural for the uninitiated young man to wonder just what he can do to build his chest. I have mentioned several times that breathing alone, such as by standing in front of an open window in the morning, so favored by physical trainers of another and older day which is unaccompanied by exercise, has not proven itself to be of much value as a chest developer. When the lungs are not forced to work at an increased tempo as the result of vigorous physical exercise at a rate well above normal, they cannot be expected to increase in power or endurance.
There are two ways to develop the chest: the first, the size of the rib box, the direct result of exercises heavy enough to cause enforced breathing; and the second, the development of the muscles of the chest. Of these the muscles of the upper back will provide the greatest gain in chest measurement. It’s surprising how few bodybuilders even consider the muscles of the upper back or the sides when they are striving for increased chest girth. It they think of the muscles at all in relation to greater chest size they think only of the chest, or breast muscles which are scientifically termed pectorals. They spend a large part of their time developing these muscles, but very little of their time or effort in developing the much larger muscles of the upper back.
Here we have the same condition that is experienced in arm development, as explained in another of my books, “Big Arms.” Most men and boys think of just one muscle of the body – that is, the biceps of the arm. The biceps is only about 1/100 of the muscular bulk or the body, yet this muscle receives more attention than any other. The triceps or muscles of the back of the arm are more than twice as large as the biceps, and there are other deep-lying muscles of the arm upon which the ultimate size depends. These seldom seen muscles – the brachialis anticus and the coracobrachialis – account for a large part of the bulk of the well-developed arm. To attain the maximum of arm size and strength it is necessary to develop all of these muscles to the fullest extent, yet so many stand in front of the mirror constantly trying to improve their biceps. And with the chest, the easiest-to-see muscles – the pectorals – receive a lion’s share of the training time. In the chapter which follows this one I’ll offer specific instructions for developing the muscles of the upper back, which will result in the greatest possible increase in chest girth.
It’s really surprising that most body culturists think of the chest as only the front part of the body between the armpits. They thus confuse the breast with the chest, while the chest is so much more than just the breast, as it comprises the whole of the torso or trunk of the body from the lowest of floating ribs to well up under the armpits and the clavicles or collarbones. The chest, in other words, is the entire part of the body which is adjacent to the rib box.
In spite of the fact that so many men believe that the chest is just the upper and front part of the body, nevertheless when measuring the chest they pass the tape entirely around them, including within it the sides and back as well as the front of breast. While the measurement they obtain includes the actual size of the rib box, it is greatly amplified by the muscles on the outside of the ribs.
For some reason the usual bodybuilder gives little or no thought to the fact that the muscles of the upper back are included in his chest measurements and that increasing the strength and depth of these muscles will greatly increase the entire chest girth. The accepted method of measuring the chest is to pass the tape entirely around the body with the tape passing across the nipples and around the body under the armpits. Care should be exercised to see that the tape is not held in a slanting position for it is the slanting of the tape which accounts for a good share of the phenomenal measurement of some strength stars.
As the muscles of the upper back are so much larger than those of the front of the chest, being easily twice as large and as deep as the muscles usually termed the chest muscles, when these huge and powerful muscles are developed to an extent that they become an inch thicker, they account for a full three inches in increased chest girth, according to the geometrical rule that the circumference of a circle is 3 1/7 times the diameter.
Lest you come to the conclusion that your primary training object should be the development of the muscles on the outside of the chest, I want to repeat that increased size of the rib box, with more room of living space for the heart, lungs and other organs, is the most-desired end to strive for. And it’s so much easier to obtain a really impressive chest like the greats of the past – Hackenschmidt, Sandow,
Arthur Saxon, Louis Cyr, Joe and Adolph Nordquist, Rigoulot or the modern men who are famed for their chest development – Grimek, Stanko, Deutch, Stepenek, Podolak, Peters, Thaler and many others – if you do not first of all have a big rib box to pack the muscles upon.
We must never lose sight of the fact that the chest and lungs are actually the storehouses of your physical power. Plenty of room for the lungs requires a big rib box, and as we have been constantly stating, big lungs are of tremendous value to any strong man, or to any man for that matter. Big, efficiently-operating lungs enable their owner to continue at intensive work for many minutes, exertion so great that it would exhaust the ordinary individual in a few seconds. This ability may not only come in very handy but be a means of saving one’s life under adverse circumstances. I think of one case contained in a story or three fellows who took a vacation in the north woods as spring was approaching. One young man experienced a mishap – broke through the ice – and was carried by the swift current well under the solid ice. There he lay for several minutes, first looking through the ice to see his companions trying to cut through the space between him and safety – a good foot of thick hard ice. He finally lapsed into unconsciousness but it was possible for one of his companions, Tommy Pedder, former
Although in the subsequent chapters I am going to launch out in describing the means of developing the muscles on the outside of the rib box, front, back and sides, I don’t want you to lose track of what other chapters have contained and to remember that your first aim should be to develop the size of the rib box. And the chief exercises which develop the size of the rib box will not be those which develop the muscles of the upper body. Rather heavy leg and back exercise, coupled with deep breathing, will result in the desired gains in rib box size. Whether you are striving to greatly increase your strength and development, or whether you are just one of the keep-fit enthusiasts, I want to earnestly recommend that you include in your training program many of the exercises which build the chest inside and out.
The practice of these movements for a few months will result in a gain of several inches in your chest girth. It is quite ordinary to gain an inch a month for four of five months, for there are many who have gained as much as three or four inches in a single month’ time by the practice of exercises this book contains. And when the rib box grows, you grow all over. There is more space to pack on the muscles of the chest and back, which add to the body weight and the strength; when the rib box is bigger the shoulders will keep pace with it and adjust themselves so that they too will be bigger; but best of all you will find that you feel much better and have far greater endurance with the increased chest size. If you were to practice no additional arm exercises, using the arms little more than as connection links to hold the weights employed in each exercise – as they are a part of the whole of your body – they increase in size too as your chest grows. Naturally your legs will have grown for they provide much of the effort in the best chest-enlarging exercises.
Some men take up the practice of progressive training with apparatus such as bar bells, dumbells or cables and gain at a phenomenal rate. Invariably these men will possess better-than-average depth of chest to begin. Their organs are in such a position at the beginning that they can do their work well and splendid gains are registered. If the beginner has a smaller chest he will not make real gains until his training efforts have resulted in gains of chest size and capacity, so that his internal organs can grow and be in a better position to perform their normal functions. It is so much easier for the man, young or old, who has good chest size, to pack muscles on his body or limbs and thus gain in weight, strength and size.
The young man who starts out using only dumbells or cables for the upper body will find it quite easy to build muscles on the chest, sides and back, and thus improve his appearance, and while this increased muscular growth will greatly add to the appearance, this man will not be as strong, or as superhealthy, as the man who employs his dumbells and cables so that the big muscles of the legs and back are constantly brought into play, or better still adds a bar bell to his training equipment so that he can make the most of himself physically.
When a man strives not only for muscle building, but most of all for increased rib box size, then things really happen in a physical way. As you will read in the anatomical chapters, the ribs are flexible enough, and so connected to the breast and backbone with cartilages, that they can increase in size even after the age of maturity; remember my own gain of sixteen inches in chest size more than twenty-five years after I reached my present height. And so many others have had similar experiences. A never-ending number of success letters attest to the fact that rib box size can be increased at the age of twenty-five, thirty-five, forty-five or even more. And when the rib box increases in size, we’ll say as much as five to eight inches, there will be changes in the adjustment of the other bones. The shoulder blades in some mysterious manner will become set much farther apart, and this great widening of the upper back is not only nice to look at but gives a much greater surface to develop muscles; and of course the muscles add so greatly to the strength. Starting with a very slender physique, it’s most encouraging to see how my own shoulders have widened, and particularly the upper back, about which I will write in the next chapter, has increased.
When the rib box has enlarged and the shoulder blades or scapula have become set farther apart, there is an improvement in leverage, which greatly adds to the power in the upper body. Another statement about my own physical self (kindly pardon so many references to myself, but it seems to me that they are of importance; for when the author of a book using the methods he offers you has obtained the results you want, it’s the best proof that he offers you proven methods, don’t you think? And lest you think that he might be the exception rather than the rule it is necessary for me to offer you many other concrete examples also) – my shoulders and relative length of arm bones was such that I had a just claim to the not very proud title, “World’s Worst Presser.” Narrow shoulders, short upper arm and long lower arm gave me an almost impossible-to-overcome handicap that caused me to be such a poor two hands presser that I am the only man in the world to my knowledge who two hands clean and jerked double or more than he could press. Six years ago I pressed 145 and clean and jerked 295. Constant training throughout the years strengthened my body and bettered my physique, broadened my shoulders and set the back muscles farther apart so that I pressed 190 pounds in perfect style, and in almost perfect style 200. Not so much for a big fellow like myself but very encouraging for a man who trained for an entire year before he could press 115 pounds.
Most weight lifters believe that unfavorable leverage in the two hands press also results in poor leverage in the one hand press commonly known as the bent press method. Yet in this style I have been able to continuously improve until my present best of 275 is a modern world’s record. Certainly the enlarging of my own chest, the result of the exercises which I am offering with this book, and the adjustments which resulted in much wider shoulders and finally greater strength through more favorable leverage, have resulted in these gains in strength and pressing ability.
It has been my observation, and I am sure that others of experience will agree with me, that a wide-shouldered man with only an average development is stronger than a man with more development and narrower shoulders. Throughout my career I found this to be true to my constant sorrow. It was discouraging to have a sixteen-inch arm years ago and to find men with arms two inches smaller who were stronger than I due to their more favorable leverage. All any of us can do is to make the most of our natural advantages or disadvantages. I did the best I could with mine and would have accomplished much more if I had had more favorable physical features to begin with.
Part of the gain in strength which results from increased chest size is the extra lung capacity, the bigger storehouses of power possessed by the bigger-chested man and part of it is the more favorable leverage which results from the adjustment of other parts caused by this growth of chest. As I go on with the chapters on muscle building, I will include some exercises for the arms and the shoulders which aid in developing the muscles of the chest. This may seem odd at first thought, but not when it is remembered that the deltoids or muscles of the shoulders are involved in all pectoral and most upper back movements. In the majority of big-chested men, the muscles of the shoulders are very well developed and quite strong. From this you can understand that in order to develop the size of the rib box and the muscles which enclose it, exercises which include the deltoids in their action must be a part of the training program.