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By Stephenie Karony

Wednesday, December 6, 2000

Muscling in on
chest exercises

Question: I'm a healthy 37-year-old male who lifts weights, on average three times a week. Although I've been training for nearly two years my chest area still has a slightly sunken look, and is not up to par with the rest of my upper body. What do you recommend I do?

Answer: To achieve a more muscular chest, you must do a number of different things. For starters, you have to target the chest muscles from a variety of angles. The bench press, is the best overall chest exercise, because it lets you work several areas of the chest at once.

But don't stop there. For the chest muscles to continue to grow you have to shock them -- to surprise them, so to speak. The way you do that is to change the muscle fiber recruitment pattern. In other words you have to perform new and different exercises, ones your body has not adapted to.

So take advantage of all the equipment available to you. Use the incline and decline benches, vary your grip when working with bars, use cable equipment and weight stack machines, and try out different training protocols. Also be sure to tighten the pectoral (chest) muscles on each repetition.

Don't try to lift too heavy a weight. It might look impressive, but you'll be forced to cheat in order to get the weight up. Cheating reduces the strength of force (the muscle isn't working as hard), and you're placing unnecessary stress on your joints, and setting yourself up for injury.

Be sure to stretch out the pectoral muscles each time you train your chest. If these muscles are never stretched they will pull your shoulders in, which will eventually cause your shoulders to roll inward. This may be a factor in the sunken look you mentioned.

Finally, don't overtrain. When it comes to weightlifting, more is not necessarily better. A sure fire way to remain underdeveloped is to overwork the muscles. All of our muscle groups need to rest in order to recover. It's during this time our physical body restructures and repairs itself. If you don't allow for this important phase, the muscles won't have time to adapt to the training workload. All progression stops, the muscles fatigue, hypertrophy (increased strength and size) ceases, and injury may occur.

Q: Because of the high protein diet craze, almost none of my close friends eat whole grain foods any more. I know they're good for us, but I don't know exactly why. Please let your readers know about the benefits of eating whole grains.

A: High protein diets are all the rage these days, but in the long term they may be detrimental to your health. Colon cancer, stroke and type-2 diabetes are all on the rise these days -- in fact diabetes type-2 is increasing at an alarming rate, up 33 percent between 1990 and 1998. I have no doubt it's partly due to people like your friends, who have all but eliminated whole grains from their diets. This is unfortunate because by eating whole grains can lower your risk of developing these diseases. Whole grain foods -- such as bread, cereal, brown rice and wheat germ -- are rich in fiber, magnesium and vitamin E, nutrients that appear to reduce the risk of diabetes-2, colon cancer and stroke.

So why not just eat a lot of animal protein and take vitamin and mineral supplements? Because the protective effects of whole grains can't be explained by these nutrients alone.

Whole grains contain other nutrients that are known to be beneficial to our long term health. It's the refined grain foods, such as cake, cookies, white rice and white bread, that we should consider eliminating from our diets.

Health Events

Stephenie Karony is a certified health
and fitness instructor, a personal trainer and the author of
"Body Shaping with Free Weights." Send questions to her at
P.O. Box 262, Wailuku Hi. Her column appears on Wednesdays.

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