Q: I’m 17 years old and a bodybuilding beginner. How do I build a really big chest?
A: Use training methods appropriate for you, recuperate properly, be highly dedicated, work on building a big physique overall, and your chest should develop in line with your overall physique.
As you’re young, I also recommend that you add the breathing pullover to your workouts. You don‘t have anything to lose, but you may benefit greatly. It isn’t systemically demanding, so it won’t mar your recovery ability.
Some bodybuilders are opposed to the possibility of increasing chest size through rib cage enlargement and claim that chest girth can be increased only by muscle growth. Still, many people appear to have increased their rib cage size. I’m one of them. I faithfully used the breathing pullover twice weekly for a couple of years when I was a teenager.
Although some middle-aged bodybuilders claim to have modestly increased the size of their rib cages by doing breathing pullovers, the possibility of rib cage enlargement is much greater with youngsters.
The breathing pullover is usually performed immediately after an exercise that gets you heavily winded—like high-rep squats or deadlifts—but you can do the rib cage work whenever you want to and without having done any exercise before it. You may even find that you can’t do the pullover properly if you’re heavily winded. If you want to specialize on enlarging your rib cage, you may want to do a set or two of rib cage work every day for a few months.
Go easy at the beginning, especially if you’re not performing the breathing pullover when winded from a very demanding exercise. The exaggerated breathing may make you feel dizzy unless you work into it over a few weeks. Your chest may get very sore, too, if you don’t work into the rib cage stretching gradually.
Here’s how to do breathing pullovers: Use no more than 10 pounds to begin with—a short and unloaded bar, a pair of small dumbbells, a single dumbbell or a barbell plate. (Note: Do not use a pullover machine.) After a few months you may increase to 15 pounds and later on to 20 pounds if you’re a large man, but no more. Don’t use progressive resistance. Using heavy weights will defeat the pullover’s purpose and risk harm to your shoulders.
Hold the resistance and lie lengthwise on a bench. You may want to eep your feet on the bench to prevent excessive back arching and stretching of your abdominal wall. Hold the resistance above your upper chest, with straight elbows. Take a shoulder-width grip or closer if you’re using a single dumbbell or a weight plate. Keep your elbows locked throughout, slowly lower the resistance, and inhale deeply.
Don’t inhale in one gulp but in a steady stream. Spread your ribs as much as possible. Lower your arms until they are parallel or only slightly below parallel to the floor, no farther. At the bottom position take an extra gulp of air. Pause for a second, and then return to the starting position as you exhale. Repeat for at least 15 slow reps. Focus on stretching your rib cage.
Try doing the pullovers with your head just off the end of the bench. That may produce a better effect on your rib cage.
If keeping your elbows completely straight irritates them, maintain a slight bend. Keep it to a minimum, however, or you’ll reduce the potential expansion of your rib cage.
Elbow irritation may come from using more weight than I have recommended or from not introducing the exercise into your program carefully enough. Elbow irritation may also come from using a straight bar, whereas a parallel grip on a weight plate or dumbbell(s) may be safe.
Editor’s note: Stuart McRobert’s first byline in IRON MAN appeared in 1981. He’s the author of the new BRAWN series, Book 1: How to Build Up to 50 Pounds of Muscle the Natural Way, available from Home Gym Warehouse (800) 447-0008 or www
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