Ask any newbie at the gym what his goal is and the response you’ll almost invariably receive is “I want to lose some fat and gain some muscle”. It is suitably vague and generic for a newcomer, but with sufficient probing, usually amounts to wanting a V-shaped torso: broad shoulders and chest tapering down to a narrow waist. More seasoned gym-goers will tell you they need to focus on the sculpting of their lax anterior deltoids or strengthening their rotator cuff muscles and forearms to facilitate heavier lifts, but that desire perpetually remains: adding bulk and breadth on and between the shoulders. If you are narrow-shouldered and concave-chested, though, a shape determined by very bone structure, you’re a no-hoper, right? Wrong.
And what better a time than New Year to find out why, to make a massive change to your body that’ll make a massive change to your head? Take heed and I will reveal my top 3 tips: some popular, and some lesser known, for sculpting a broad and powerful chest.
1. It’s not all in the chest:
Okay, so with all my talk of chest, that might seem a bit counter-intuitive, but I assure you it is the most important thing to remember when trying to bulk up your upper body. Because, firstly, building just your chest is impossible… and even if it were possible, it’d look utterly ridiculous: scrawny shoulders and a tiny expanse of back to support a bulbous, breast-like pair of pink slabs under your collarbone. How lucky we are that that can’t happen.
The simple truth is that muscles work in pairs (biceps and triceps, abs and lower back etc.) and one muscle can only be as developed as its antagonist is. So, you need to attack your upper back just as hard as your pecs if you really want to see growth. But who’s complaining? Why would it be a chore to build a mountainous back? For one, working a muscle group so huge as your back recruits infinitely more muscle fibres, enhances testosterone production and thus stimulates growth throughout your whole body. Win-Win. What’s more, your comparatively enormous back makes up over 50% of your torso and is therefore the most efficient way of broadening that expanse between your arms. Win-win? Double-win.
To sway your hip-to-shoulder ratio in favour of the upper body, for that ever-sought-after V-shape, you need to be working your pecs, your shoulders and your back. Imagine adding pads to each of those three and you’ll see why they’re all equally important in forming a gargantuan upper-torso.
2. Just breathe…
Breathing exercises used as chest expansion techniques have been hotly contested and even more hotly defended, by experts, by trainers and athletes alike. What this probably means is that it works… for some. And the only way of finding out if it works for you is by trying it.
My personal experience has been positive. When training for a recent half-marathon, I shed quite a lot of muscle mass, yet noticed an increase in my chest measurement when buying a suit a few months into training. My lungs expanded and thus so did my chest, my youthful ribcage still capable of quite some flexibility. I thought that I had perhaps gained muscle mass in my lats, or somewhere hidden in my chest, but I hadn’t; instead, in-line with my ribcage, I had earned myself a fine new set of stretch-marks and a huge, but not-so-sculpted chest. This speaks volumes about the importance of cardio and deep breathing.
To put this into practice, you can do sets of Full-breaths (breathing in as deeply as you can, whilst raising your arms out and up to expand your chest fully, then pushing all the air from your lungs on a long, deep out-breath) in your own time. Or, you can do sets of Breathing Squats; this involves a 25-rep squat set. Before you start, you perform 3 Full-breaths with the loaded bar on your shoulders, then a further 4 Full breaths after your first 10 reps, and a final 5 Full-breaths before your final 5 reps. Remember to take in all the breath you can, and try to push out even more than that! It is often recommended that this Breathing Squat set be super-setted with 25 dumbbell pullovers, during which a Full-breath simultaneously accompanies every rep.
3. “Are we there Y3T?”
Neil Hill’s Y3T training plan is taking over. And it’s no surprise, really: I’ve seen nothing but extraordinary results in everyone I know who’s tried this. But, why include it in a chest-expansion article? Because the variation in repetition ranges, types of movements and weight of lifts is specifically formulated to stretch the fascia, the binding around your muscles keeping their growth restricted. Stretch the fascia, let the muscle grow.
Week 1: 3 compound movements, 3 sets of 6-10 reps, (for chest, we’re talking bench press: flat bench, incline bench, decline bench).
Week 2: 5-6 exercises, bringing isolation (chest specific: flyes/ cable-crossovers, dumbbell pullovers) in alongside the compound movements. Increase rep-range to 12-15 reps. Reduce number of sets.
Week 3: 5-6 compound and isolation exercises, but you take your rep range up to 30 for upper body! For legs, you can go as high as 100 reps. Whoah. Aptly, this week of the programme is called ‘Total Annihilation’ and so you really can hammer your body with high-rep exercise variations: drop-sets, DTP, pyramid training, going beyond failure in every set… this week is yours. Make it hurt.
This cycle repeats and you can use it for your whole body or whichever body part you require.
So, there we have it: my top 3 tips for chest expansion. Now, just watch out for your shoulders when walking through doors: I don’t want to be sued for any colossal-torsos’ injuries!
Over and out.