Q and A: Thinking Outside the Box

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QQuestion about push-up frequency.  I am into my fifth month of olympic lifting and while I am home for the summer from school I am working out on my own.  One thing I want to do is bring up is my chest, but I don’t want to bench much because I am still working to fix a minor bit of kyphosis in my T-spine. 

I work as a manual laborer and I’ll be doing a program either two or three days a week for the O-lifts (waiting for my coach to send it), so basically I was wondering what would be a good volume to use with pushups and their variations to bring up my chest?  I have a 45 lb vest and gymnastics rings to use as well.  Thanks!

A:  Okay, first off – I’m going to go out on a limb and assume you’re a college student (hence, the “ I’m home for summer from school” comment) – and, if that is in fact the case, what the heck are you doing spending your summer doing manual labor?

Dude, one word:  Lifeguard

I did it for seven straight summers through high school and college and all I have to say is:  Best……summer….. job……..EVER.   Well that, and being the personal pull-up spotter for whoever this girl is in the picture below (which was featured on t-nation.com last week).

Seriously, whoever took that picture deserves the Nobel Prize……..for being my idol.

Okay, with that out of the way, lets get to more pressing matters – your question!

While adding in some push-ups would be a great way to “bring up” your chest – I’d argue that if you take a grenade approach and address your kyphosis and t-spine mobility, you’d give the illusion of increasing its size.

Let me briefly explain.

Almost without fail, on a weekly basis we have some new client start up at the facility who, inevitably, goes out of his way to say he wants pecs that can crush diamonds – you know, as if having an impressive chest is somehow going to help him throw a baseball harder, or improve the chances that girls will want to hang out with him.

More often than not, it’s usually some impressionable teenage kid who reads way too many Musclerag articles (Top Ten Moves to Chisel Your Chest!11!!!1!), but we also get our fair share of weekend warriors who have spent the past 15 years sitting in front of a computer – in flexion – perusing various fitness forums into the mix, as well.

Guys want pecs – it’s inevitable.  It’s akin to women and handbags – there’s just some unforeseeable gravitational pull that can’t be avoided.

The thing is, though, when it comes to developing an impressive chest, sometimes (not always), benching – or any dedicated exercise that targets the chest – is the last thing many trainees need to be focusing on.

To be perfectly frank, if you’re walking around with a sunken chest, protruded (rounded) shoulders, and otherwise have the posture of Mr. Burns from The Simpsons, then there are other things that I feel would help.

If anything, I’d focus more on the following (a little outside of the box thinking):

1.  Lots and lots and lots and lots (i.e:  a lot) of horizontal rowing.   Really, this is something that I feel most trainees can’t get enough of.  As I noted above, many of us are stuck sitting in flexion all day, and it makes absolutely no sense to head to the gym only to perform movements that promote more of the same.

A general rule of thumb is to perform one pulling exercise (1-arm DB row, for example) for every pushing exercise (bench press).  In this instance, I’d be more inclined to use more of a 2:1 or even 3:1 (pull:push) ratio to help offset the imbalance.

By implementing more pulling exercises into your programming you’ll undoubtedly strengthen the posterior muscles in your upper back, which will then help to pull the shoulders back – and, as alluded to above, give the illusion of “bringing up your chest.”

2.  What’s more, it only makes sense that you’ll want to hammer tissue quality in the form of foam rolling – particularly in the upper back and lats.

In addition, things like quadruped extension-rotations (done right), side lying windmills, walking spiderman with hip lift and reach, as well as some dedicated manual therapy/soft tissue work on the pec minor, upper/lower traps would be in high order.

3.  Too, I’d look into any anterior pelvic tilt you may be rocking.   This is something that often falls to the wayside, but if you’re in anterior tilt (hyper extension), the spine is going to compensate by going into hyper kyphosis in the t-spine.

So, seemingly, you could help your kyphotic posture by working on your hips.  As such, some dedicated hip flexor stretches, as well as TONS of glute activation work would be kind of important.

4.  Additionally, from a programming standpoint, again, you’ll want to focus on posterior chain stuff.  The glutes in particular, help to posteriorly tilt the pelvis, so it only makes sense to focus on movements that will strengthen that area.

Movements like pull-throughs (preferably held for time at the top of each rep) and 1-legged hip thrusters are fantastic.  Also, one major mistake that many trainees make is not “finishing” their squats or deadlifts with their glutes.  As a result, when coaching someone, I like to use the cue “get your hips through,” or “finish with your glutes,” which often helps.

5.  Lastly, and arguably most important of all, you can’t forget to hit the anterior core.  People often forget that one of the roles of the rectus abdominus (RA) and obliques is to posteriorly tilt the pelvis.

Note:  see a pattern here?  Much like the glutes – which are often weak and inhibited – the RA and obliques are as well, so it’s Janda’s Lower Cross Syndrome to a “T.”

To that end, things like pallof presses, chops/lift, and roll-outs (starting with ball rollouts and working your way up to ab wheel rollouts) would be great options.

Of course, this isn’t to say that throwing in some push-ups on a daily basis is going to throw a monkey wrench into things.  As it happens, I’d much rather you perform loaded push-ups than bench presses.  But at the same time, the post above was just to get you to think outside the box a little bit.  What’s more important:  push-ups, or fixing the actual kyphosis as it relates to your chest development?  That’s the question.

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Plus, get a copy of Tony’s Pick Things Up, a quick-tip guide to everything deadlift-related. See his butt? Yeah. It’s good. You should probably listen to him if you have any hope of getting a butt that good.

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Comments for This Entry

  • ChrisNunz

    Tony, tell me you have the name of that pull up girl so that I could stalk--*cough*--so that I could congratulate her on her progress.

    June 14, 2011 at 8:29 am | Reply to this comment

  • Alex Scott

    Great point on the the pull/push ratio, one of the key aspects of any program. Always like to see some good T-spine mobility exercises demonstrated as well. Would love a post about good self-applied soft tissue work for T-spine and chest to help with kyphosis and its consequential shoulder pain.

    June 14, 2011 at 11:11 am | Reply to this comment

  • Jeff

    Dude you just gave some college kid corrective exercises to do, instead of big chest pump exercises! This college kid aint going to be doing no corrective stuff! He wants to feel a burn in his pectorals Gentilcore! What are your top five horizontal pressing exercises?

    June 14, 2011 at 12:32 pm | Reply to this comment

  • R Smith

    Tony, I hate to seem like a TOTAL suck-up (why stop now, right?), but I can speak to this guy's question. I've always had a bird chest. It's one of those things that has bothered me my entire life. So, yeah, I was a little "concerned" when you guys started programming 3:1 pulling to pressing motions. But four months in, I noticed something "weird": my posture was much, much better. As someone who never had a car that he fit into comfortably, slouching was the norm. Then through college and into adulthood, I slumped more and more. For the first time in my life, I stood Marine-tall, shoulders back and down, chest up. AND for once, I actually looked like I had a chest. Then, the hottest female trainer at my gym commented that I looked "lean and strong." Let's just say, it was then that I realized CP was a magic lab of sorts. RS

    June 14, 2011 at 4:21 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Ethan

    Thanks Tony! (I'm the guy with the question). I am currently pulling at a 3:1 (some days 4:1) ratio, but I will definitely have to try out some of the other exercises you listed. I had no idea about the possible anterior pelvic tilt, so thanks for throwing that out there to. This helps a lot.

    June 14, 2011 at 5:07 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Tony Gentilcore

    @ Ethan: not a problem my man! Glad I could help. Give those hips a look - I have a sneaky feeling that they could be playing into things. @ Ronell: We're pretty much the shit. I know.....;o)

    June 14, 2011 at 7:25 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Rozin

    Tony, How do you feel about pulling chest movements such as dumbbell pullovers?

    June 19, 2011 at 12:09 pm | Reply to this comment

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