Saturday, November 21, 2009

How Big is Your Chest? - Father H.B. Lange, C.S.C.

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How Big is Your Chest?
by Father H.B. Lange, C.S.C. (1921)

Perhaps the admiration the man with the large, roomy, deep chest excites and commands is even more universal than that which the man with the powerful biceps receives, and this, all things considered, is only naturally so. The person with such a chest is, MUST necessarily be healthy, whereas the individual with merely a large biceps cannot be assured with that same degree of certainty concerning the state of his health. The chest, the upper-chest, contains, as everybody knows, that most vital of organs, the heart; it contains the lungs and the lower part contains the stomach, the liver, the kidneys and the spleen. The man possessing a large chest, a roomy chest and a deep chest gives all these aforesaid organs more opportunity for a like increase in size, and also a consequent increase in health and vigor. If our chest-box is small, if it causes the tape measure to record a circumference of but between thirty to thirty-six inches, is it not reasonable and logical to conclude and to maintain that these vital organs contained in that chest-box are correspondingly small, have they not less chance to cope with the attack of their specific and various ills? An army that is large, an army that is well coordinated, it is self-evident, will outlast and conquer an army that is small and not so well trained. So, likewise, the chest-box that is developed, that is perfectly and properly enlarged, has a much better, much surer advantage in withstanding ills, and also in recovering and recuperating after ills than has a weak and underdeveloped chest-box.

Then, too, it should be the source of much interest and enthusiasm to know and to remember that the chest is about the easiest and quickest part of the body to develop. Two months devoted to the earnest, regular, interested and intelligent practice of a few simple movements will make changes in one’s chest appearance that are astounding! Two months devoted in upper-arm developing exercises, if executed properly, are also bound to produce marvelous results, but these results cannot compare with the results obtained in the exercises for the chest. Personally, I believe this difference in rapidity and in the size of results can be attributed to he fact that even among persons living the most sedentary of lives the arm muscles are used more, are called into play more than are the chest muscles, and consequently the arm muscles are already better developed, in comparison and in proportion than are the chest muscles; which being the case, as soon as the almost dormant muscles of the chest region are stirred up and brought into play by proper exercise the inevitable result follows – newer and better blood circulating avenues are opened, the cells are rejuvenated, are exhilarated, are expanded and muscular tissue is bound to grow and increase.

So far the writer has confined his remarks to merely prefatory words. It will be best perhaps to try and define descriptively just what is meant by the chest. This is thought very advisable because the writer has found by personal experience that only one out of fourteen persons could correctly tell him what is meant by the chest. Ask the first acquaintance or friend you meet what is meant by the chest and note his reply. Generally, said reply will consist of a gesture made with either the right or left hands or both by tapping the region covering the lungs. Is that the correct answer? No! Why not? First of all, it is too general, it is not specific; and the definition of anything to be a good definition must be concise and specific. It must be to the point.

It will be the best, perhaps. to describe what the chest is not. The chest is not that part of the trunk covering the lungs. Neither is it that region under the armpits. Nor is it that larger plot covering the shoulder blades. It is, however, that larger part of the body made up of ALL these previously mentioned parts. All these different sections harmoniously assembled. Look into your dictionary. Find there the word “Chest.” What do you read? The answer is “a box.” A box, as everyone knows, is composed of four sides, to say nothing of the top and bottom. Speaking anatomically, the human chest is that section of the body made up of the breastbone and the ribs on the front, the ribs on the two sides and the shoulder blades forming the rear. The backbone also plays its part in the general scheme. That represents the framework. This framework is covered with muscle. Some of the most important muscles of the entire system, and muscles, too, that are woefully and miserably neglected in the bodies of the vast majority of human beings.

In the beginning of this article the reader read what organs are contained within the walls of the human chest. It is self-evident, as has already been said, that if the muscles controlling and guarding and covering these organs are not healthy are not strong, are not vigorous, the organs lying underneath are very liable to be in a similar condition; and it is just as self-evident that if the muscles controlling the guarding and covering of these various parts of nature’s human mechanism are healthy, strong and vigorous, then also said various parts MUST likewise be in the same robust, efficient condition. Accordingly and consequently, the individual desiring to possess health, REAL health, should develop the muscles of the chest – not just one or two, but all of them – for in doing so he will also develop all the vital organs contained in the chest-box.

There are various exercises performable that will develop the chest, but there is no one special or particular exercise that will develop this part of one’s anatomy better, more uniformly and quicker than the exercise known as the complete, or full two-arm pull-over. The writer’s own personal experience, along with the observational experience gained in directing various students, cause him to speak with so much enthusiasm in regard to this exercise and its beneficial an result-producing efficiency. Most chest exercises broaden the chest, chiefly the upper part, while little influencing the lower part. The two-arm pull-over not only broadens the chest, but likewise deepens it. In fact, it is the only exercise that will effectually deepen this part of the body. It just naturally makes one use his diaphragm. The pull-over likewise acts on the deltoids of the shoulders – gives them that perfect roundness that is absolutely necessary if a person desires to lay claim to the distinction of having really well-shaped shoulders. It is better to measure 8” than 6” through the chest from backbone to sternum or front chest-bone. It is better still to measure 9 and 10” through than 6 or even 8, and that is what is meant by increase in DEPTH of chest measurement. This increase is produced by the combined use of the proper muscular movements and proper regular breathing, inhalation and exhalation. Coordination is the secret of correct exercise. Moreover, the complete two-arm pullover will also develop the triceps of the arm and most of the muscles of the forearm. It will likewise strengthen the wrist and fingers. The muscles of the chest that are directly and indirectly called into play, exercised and developed, are as follows: The right and left pectoralis major and minor – these are the two large muscles comprising the upper front part of the chest and the ones generally referred to and had in mind when the term chest is used. The external and internal oblique abdominal muscles, which are found on both the right and left sides of the body forming the front part covering of the abdomen. Directly on the front part of the abdomen and in between the two oblique muscles just mentioned, is situated a thin, wide muscle called the rectus abdominus. Just below and to the side of each pectoral muscle is a set of muscles called the serratus magnus, or great saw muscles, a name taken from their peculiar shape. They look, when well developed, like the ribs and they are used in drawing the shoulder blades forward and in rotating them, and they are very important in inspiration, in inhalation, a point to bear in mind when performing the two-arm pullover; that is, when returning the weight to position back of the head. These muscles just enumerated are the ones covering the front of the chest and part of the sides. The muscles comprising the back and remaining side muscles of the chest are as follows: The latissimus dorsi, or very wide muscle of the back and which extends under the armpits. When fully and highly developed it gives a man’s back the appearance of a wedge tapering from the hips upwards to the armpits. These two muscles have for their duty the depressing; that is, the lowering downwards and backwards of the arms and also in rotating the arms. And in extraordinary breathing – deep breathing – it elevates the lower ribs. Above the latisimus dorsi muscles and having its pointed end rising from the middle of the back, or in between the aforesaid latisimus dorsi muscles, and then continuing outwards and upwards and on over the top of the shoulder and then becoming pointed again, forming the back part and the base of the neck where it is fastened to the occipital bone, is the trapezius muscle. The whole muscle rotates the shoulder blades. The upper part raises the shoulder girdle, while the lower part depresses the vertebral margin. Such, in part, roughly, are the chief muscles involved in the two-arm pull-over.

The technique of this particularly interesting and highly beneficial exercise is as follows: For the purpose of illustrating we will suppose the use of a barbell. The reason for using a barbell instead of a dumbell is obvious. Even if there were just enough space in between the weights on a dumbell for gripping with two hands, this would necessarily be more or less cramped, and any cramping or any other style of unnatural position should be zealously and carefully avoided in any kind of exercise. Therefore, use a barbell or long handled bell; at least three feet should be the distance between the weights, so that the arms be outstretched on the front or the back over-head position the natural width of the shoulders. Having taken the barbell, always remembering to use one that can be easily and comfortably handled, place it on the floor, taking care that there will be enough room to perform the movements without striking either the walls or objects in the room. The next step consists in, or rather, regards the position of the performer. Having placed his barbell in the desired position, he lies flat on his back on the floor so that his head will be on a straight line with the middle of the bell handle; that is, perpendicular to it. Now, reaching back over his head, he firmly grasps the handle of the bell, making sure that it is perfectly balanced and then keeping elbows perfectly stiff – do not bend them in the least, as this would spoil the efficacy, the good of the exercise – he raises the bell up till it is straight above his face; keeping his arms still perfectly rigid at the elbows, he lets the bell descend until it strikes his thighs. Now, what has been done? If done strictly according to the directions just given, the performer will have described or made a complete half circle. That is, in raising the bell from the position in which it originally was back of the performer’s head, up, up, then letting it down slowly until it touches the thighs, the course followed by the firmly grasped bell would make a half circle. Be sure that you have gotten this understandingly. Read it over again and then again to be sure.

Now, having completed the first part of the movement, the second part is easier – by that is meant, easier to understand – perhaps more difficult to do. Still grasping the bell firmly – the palms of the hands are down now, whereas when beginning the lift they faced upwards – you slowly lift the bell, with elbows held perfectly rigid, up, up overhead and then backwards and down till it once more lies on the floor back of your head. That completes the two-arm pull-over – that completes the lifting part of it. There yet remains another part and a very, very important part – breathing.

On the proper performance of the pull-over, whether one does the one-arm or the two-arm style, it should be borne in mind that the lungs are called upon to work vigorously. The diaphragm is expanded and depressed according as one inhales and exhales. When you bring the bell to the position from back of the head downwards to the thighs, then exhale all the air out of the lungs, thereby depressing the diaphragm. When you begin to raise the bell upwards from the thighs to return it to its original position back of the head, then slowly and fully fill the lungs with air, that is, inhale all you possibly can, thereby expanding the diaphragm.

You hear so much about the deep breathing. In the practice of the pull-over one gets all the deep breathing one wants and of the most beneficial kind, because it is most natural since your lungs are really called upon to take in and to expel air vigorously, and since their deep breathing is induced by violent and vigorous action and therefore in accord and in perfect harmony with such action. You have a real, sound and natural reason for inhaling deeply and for exhaling forcibly, a reason such as you do not have in merely standing before an open window, with your hands upon your diaphragm, and then taking the proverbial ten deep breaths. In this latter instance you are taxing your lungs to perform an action which has not been induced by a proportionate amount of physical exertion, since you are merely standing still. Did nature intend that man should breathe deeply when in repose or when almost in repose? Should he breathe as deeply then as when performing or just having performed some violent action or exertion? It is obvious that he should not, and it has been the writer’s experience, in his work as director of physical education, with boys and young men, that many who have become deep-breathing enthusiasts have complained of a dizzy sensation after having persevered in this practice of stationary deep breathing for some time. The writer always discourages the practice of stationary deep breathing. If you wish to practice deep breathing, then do something, perform some act, like running, exercising, the two-arm pull-over, etc., that will make you breathe deeply. Bear in mind that this form of deep breathing, that is “stationary deep breathing,” as I have named it, is more or less harmful, because it is unnatural. If the reader has carefully and attentively read the preceding lines he will know just why it is more or less harmful. The writer’s statements are not made indiscriminately or without warrant; they are based upon the answers to hundreds of questions on this practice of stationary deep breathing. He himself was an enthusiastic devotee of this form of so-called chest expansion for almost a year, and the noticeable feature at the expiration of that time was the very noticeable one of dizziness. The writer does not say that deep breathing will not develop the lungs, because it does, since it forces them to stretch, so to speak. What he does maintain is this: That no amount of stationary deep breathing alone will develop the larger muscles covering the walls of the chest. The man does not live who has imagination enough to make him believe that by deep breathing alone he can develop those large muscles comprising the back of the chest, the latisimus dorsi and the trapezius. Nor will anyone be found so foolish as to hold that the pectoralis muscles can be increased by deep breathing alone. And since increase – real, solid increase in chest measurement can only be acquired by the development of all the muscles, that is, by exercise so graduated and regulated that it is vigorous enough, without danger of strain, to gently and growingly and progressively coax these aforesaid muscles to an ideal stage of perfection, why waste time, why endanger one’s system BY practicing and IN practicing mere stationary deep breathing?

There is more than one point in connection with the practice of the two-arm pull-over, a point that is, it can be said without exaggeration, more important than any other, as important as the exercise itself, and that is, proper ventilation. NEVER practice this exercise in a room that is not properly ventilated. Have your exercise-room well aired before you begin. Keep the window open top and bottom – a foot above, a foot below; if you re fortunate enough to have two windows, keep them both open. Even in the winter have plenty of fresh air; remember you will never catch cold in fresh air, You will catch cold from the lack of fresh air. You will never catch cold while you are moving – but while loafing or sitting around. If you want a real chest do this – get an adjustable bar bell, clear a space in your room open the windows, follow the directions given; use a comfortable non-straining weight; work WITH A WILL and work JOYOUSLY, and inside of a short time your coat will be too small. There is NO exercise better than the two-arm pull-over for all-around chest and shoulder developing.

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