Bodybuilding For Babyboomers - Week Seven!

Learn how to improve your chest and pecs without the bench press. Also, find out how to improve you calves with the help from Diane and Richard.
Dear Diane,

I was reading your calf training article the other day and it looks interesting. I am a personal trainer/bodybuilder from the NY area. My calves are 16.5" for a man that is average to small they are a stubborn muscle do you have any other hot tips for me to try. Man your legs look powerful tell me a little about your leg power. Do you think I could beat you at wrestling? LOL. I am 6', 225 18" arms, 27" thighs, 50" chest.

Dave from NY

Hi Dave,

During my years as a trainer I've seen many under-developed sets of calves. Sometimes genetics are to blame. But, more often I find that calves are overlooked in the development of a training program.

How many times have you heard, "calves are an endurance muscle, because they are worked throughout the day with normal daily activities?" These same people then fall into the trap of not prioritizing calf muscles and/or not working this muscle group hard enough.

Once per week, calves should play a prominent role in your training program, working the muscle in both a seated and standing position. That way you'll hit both the soleus and the gastrocnemius. When I'm in a mass building phase, I like to take my sets to failure and work with very heavy weights. And I mean heavy weights! For more information on training calf muscles, click here to see my article.

Right now I'm in a stage to lean out, so my current calf measurement of 15 inches is not my peak. But, believe me at only 5 feet tall, fifteen inches of calf makes for a big calf muscle. And yes, my legs are very strong due to a fairly good set of genetics.

Wrestling! Make the location New York City and you're on!

Happy training,

Dear Richard,

How can I build a bigger chest without bench pressing?

Giovanni R., Irvine Scotland

Dear Giovanni,

You have given me too little information to give you a quick answer. Why would you not want to do bench presses? Do you just hate them? Or do you have an injury that prevents you from doing them or have you just found them to be none productive in the past? Whatever the case, I will make an attempt to answer your question to the best of my ability without this important information to guide my advice.

Bench presses have been one of the most popular and effective exercises in building strength and impressive size. Yet there are many who just don't like them. Benches just don't work that well for everyone. For others, they work too well and their pectoral muscles get out of balance with the rest of their physique.

In other words, most of us have body parts that just seem to grow more easily than others. On the other hand, many of us have body parts that just seem to resist growing. For some it is the chest. Besides proper nutrition, sleep, mental attitude, etc., picking the proper exercises is of primary importance. The fact is that we do not all respond to any specific exercise the same way.

Some day maybe a group of experts in biomechanics will put out a book that explains how to measure bone lengths and tendon insertions to determine which exercises are best for the individuals sharing these same anatomical characteristics. Until then all we can do is figure out what works for each of us by trial and error. Luckily there are people like me that hopefully can cut that trial and error period short!

To begin with, I will assume that the bench press is just not working for you and you would like a routine that will bring out whatever the potential for pectoral muscle growth you do have. Yet that is not all that is involved in acquiring a "bigger chest." The size of one's rib-box is also a determining factor in the development of an impressive chest.

The most impressive rib-box I remember seeing was on John Grimek, the Monarch of Muscledom and the only undefeated competitive bodybuilder in the history of the sport. John could expand his rib box, tighten a belt around it and then expel enough air from his giant rib cage to allow another man to slip inside that belt! Another freaky rib-box was that of Ellington Darden, an acquaintance of mine from college days who was a former Mr. Texas and collegiate Mr. America and now a prolific and popular fitness author.

El had an amazing capacity to expand his rib box to produce a side chest pose that would elicit gasps from the unbelieving audience. Increasing the size of the rib-box occurs more easily in the teen years and early twenties.

By the 30's cartilage and bone are not as malleable or subject to expansion, but younger bodybuilders (you didn't give me your age) can profit greatly from doing dumbbell pullovers, particularly in between sets of squats when breathing is accelerated.

Now, having said all of that, what are the best exercises for building the pectoral muscles? Because the two muscles that make up the chest muscles, pectoralis major and minor, share the same functions at the shoulder [flexion, adduction (towards body), and medial (inward) rotation], there are two exercises other than benches that most bodybuilders favor: the dip and cable crossovers.

To maximize the effectiveness of dips, keep your elbows pointed out to isolate the chest muscles and minimize triceps involvement in the movement. I also found it helpful to bow the back and keep the head down so that it is directly over the feet. Slow repetitions while concentrating on maximum contraction of the pectorals seem to be most effective. Three sets of 10-15 repetitions should create a nice pump and burn.

Slow repetitions are also effective with cable crossovers. I am able to maximize pectoral contraction by deviating from the standard method of performance. I bend over and pull the cable handle down and across my chest one arm at a time to maximize contraction of the pectoral muscles rather than doing the standing two handed crossover. Doing it this way is the only way I could ever achieve a solid contraction of the pectoral.

Finally, I might suggest doing dumbbell benches and flyes. A number of lifters have told me that they did not experience the discomfort with dumbbells that they did with the barbell.

Well, Giovanni, there you have it. Please give us a follow up report and let us know how this advice has helped.

Happy training,

Copyright 2002. Diane Fields, Member Legendary Fitness, LLC. All rights reserved. The advice given in this column should not be viewed as a substitute for professional medical services. Before undertaking any exercise or nutrition program, Legendary Fitness, LLC advises all to undergo a thorough medical examination and get permission from their personal physician.

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