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    6'1" 200 hohandy's Avatar
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    Barrel Chest and abs

    OK - I have another secret shame to share with you all - and maybe someone can give me advice:

    I have an enormous barrel chest. I swam competitively as a kid (I've read somewhere that that sort of aerobic activity as a child when the rib cage is still malleable is conducive to huge ribcage growth) and was an otherwise skinny long distance runner from my mid-teens to my late 30s. All that constant aerobic activity gave me huge lungs and caused my ribcage to expand. My chest is pretty impressive-looking compared to a normal chest - but it is really more ribcage structure as opposed to extra thick muscle mass - making me look bigger than I am (I weigh 200 - but often get mistaken for around 240-250). I really envy those guys whose chests are big pecs hanging out over an 8 pak that is very narrow in profile. My ribcage juts out very far under my pecs so I don't have that narrow-ness in profile. And it seems like looking from the front that there is very little room there for a 6 pak or 8 pak to show. Picture the "unnaturalness" of how the stomach vacuum exercise looks when the stomach is sucked in - and that's what I compare my stomach to in relationship to the ribcage - there is no natural taper down from my pecs ro show of an 8 or 6 pak - its this huge vertical drop ribcage that just suddenly stops and then has to pull in suddenly to my waistline - so it always looks like I'm intentionally "sucking it in". It seems when most guys do upper abwork, it is affecting the whole area between the belly button up to the pecs - with me, there is only an inch or two (at most) from the belly button before the ribcage starts that seems to be affected with ab work.

    So my question - anyone else have this issue? I can't be the only freak here can I (no need to answer that LOL)? Does anybody know of any special or particular ab exercises that address or target barrel chest issues?
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    Chewing UNI-liver never2late's Avatar
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    I'm somewhat barrel chested. I guess you already know what goes along with it -- such as finding shirts that fit around the chest, only to be left with so much material to tuck into pants at the waistline. I'm not sure what it was/is from . . . I was a cyclist in the 70's - mid 80's, but I was already developed by then.

    My pectoral muscles seem to be the hardest to get any response from. I've backed off on barbell benching, and I'm attempting dumbell work to see if it makes a difference. Being aged 50 and beginning to get that "drop" to the pecs isn't helping either. So my natural inclination is to focus on the upper pecs with inclines almost exclusively right now to balance (or try to at least) things out visually.

    I think that 20 or 30 years ago we would have thought we were blessed with a barrel chest to pack muscle on top of. I've read where Arnold and others would do specific movements just to expand the rib cage -- where ours is expanded naturally by birthright.

    But I'm not so sure about this stage of our lives. Makes us look "hefty" even at our lowest weights. Which isn't a bad thing providing that there are some developed pecs to go along with it -- it's developing those pecs at this stage of the game that appears to be the challenge.
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    6'1" 200 hohandy's Avatar
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    Originally Posted by never2late
    I'm somewhat barrel chested. I guess you already know what goes along with it -- such as finding shirts that fit around the chest, only to be left with so much material to tuck into pants at the waistline. I'm not sure what it was/is from . . . I was a cyclist in the 70's - mid 80's, but I was already developed by then.

    My pectoral muscles seem to be the hardest to get any response from. I've backed off on barbell benching, and I'm attempting dumbell work to see if it makes a difference. Being aged 50 and beginning to get that "drop" to the pecs isn't helping either. So my natural inclination is to focus on the upper pecs with inclines almost exclusively right now to balance (or try to at least) things out visually.

    I think that 20 or 30 years ago we would have thought we were blessed with a barrel chest to pack muscle on top of. I've read where Arnold and others would do specific movements just to expand the rib cage -- where ours is expanded naturally by birthright.

    But I'm not so sure about this stage of our lives. Makes us look "hefty" even at our lowest weights. Which isn't a bad thing providing that there are some developed pecs to go along with it -- it's developing those pecs at this stage of the game that appears to be the challenge.

    I'm pretty happy with my chest size/development actually - I do a ton of dips - (I have a dip station at home and won't allow myself to go out for the day until I've done at least 100) and bent armed db pullovers - which are usually recommended as ribcage expanders - are one of my favorite all around exercises LOL But it kills me that my ribcage seems to be taking up the parts that should be showing off my abs. The only times I've ever had shredded abs was back in my marathoning days - but I just can't seem to adequately target them doing crunches and regular abwork. Do you have that problem too?
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    Chewing UNI-liver never2late's Avatar
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    Originally Posted by hohandy
    But it kills me that my ribcage seems to be taking up the parts that should be showing off my abs. The only times I've ever had shredded abs was back in my marathoning days - but I just can't seem to adequately target them doing crunches and regular abwork. Do you have that problem too?
    I guess I do. I got married at the peak of my cycling days (good move, huh?), I was 168 at 6'1" (1977). Looking back at the pictures of our honeymoon, I still don't see any visible abs.

    I'm thinking -- although I could be wrong on this -- that the ribcage rounds out so far in front, that the area just below gets extended outward and has a tendency to pull the abs out -- at least the upper ones. It's hard to explain without a diagram.

    What I'm saying is that a smaller "normal" shaped ribcage curves closer to the abs below -- and hence allows the abs to be displayed more prominently.

    If you could see both types in a side photo, and could draw two lines extending downward from (1) the front of the ribcage and (2) from the front of the abs, there would be a greater distance between the two parallel lines of the barrel chested person, than the non-barrel chested person.

    With the area just below the ribcage, this circumference measurement has to follow the bottom of the rib cage circumference -- hence we have a tendency to "look" stocky. The only way to not look stocky is to do a abdominal vacuum, where this area is physically drawn in. I believe that that is why Arnold's vacuum's were so impressive . . . not so much because of the vacuum itself, but because of the size of the rib cage above it.

    Anyway you look at it, it's more difficult for someone with a barrel chest to create an impressive mid-section. You have to admire the ones that manage to do it. BF % certainly plays a role, as with everything of course. But there's more to it than just the BF issue when combined with such rib cage structure.

    Just a thought. I'm probably not 100% on the money with this, but I do think that I'm at least scratching the surface re: the difficulties and reasoning.
    --N2L
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    6'1" 200 hohandy's Avatar
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    Originally Posted by never2late
    I'm thinking -- although I could be wrong on this -- that the ribcage rounds out so far in front, that the area just below gets extended outward and has a tendency to pull the abs out -- at least the upper ones. It's hard to explain without a diagram.

    What I'm saying is that a smaller "normal" shaped ribcage curves closer to the abs below -- and hence allows the abs to be displayed more prominently.
    Exactly my thoughts also. Good. I'm glad I asked this question - I was afraid that I was just making excuses for myself! Thanks
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    Registered User GIpimp8's Avatar
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    Hey I read your thing about swimming expanding your rib cage, currently I am a high school swimmer and runner and I got into weight lifting last year. right now ive been having a problem because my chest has gotton really big, moreover on the outer lower region kinda making it look like I have boobs and its not gyno cause ive seen a doctor, could some of it be do to the swimming?
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    6'1" 200 hohandy's Avatar
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    Originally Posted by GIpimp8
    Hey I read your thing about swimming expanding your rib cage, currently I am a high school swimmer and runner and I got into weight lifting last year. right now ive been having a problem because my chest has gotton really big, moreover on the outer lower region kinda making it look like I have boobs and its not gyno cause ive seen a doctor, could some of it be do to the swimming?
    I'm no expert because I never had that problem - to my thinking it would depend on whether it's hard or soft - if it's soft there's an accumulation of fatty tissue going on - if it's hard then it's muscular and maybe you're similar to Never2Late and need to work on your upper pecs to balance things out. When you're lifting do you concentrate on regular bench or inclines?
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    Chewing UNI-liver never2late's Avatar
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    I had some time today to look this up. I've had a few people over the years say I was barrel chested, along with a few here at bb.com for a few pics I've posted in the photo section. Never gave it much thought, actually. Until today, I never knew anything about it except having it said to me.

    If you google images, you can find a few pics. Some compare next to a "normal" chest. On the sites themselves, I was taken aback a little by the descriptions being "deformity", "condition", and another that I can't remember as I type here.

    In the photos, from a side-view shot, there really is an incredible amount of distance from the back of the rib cage to the front compared to a non-barrel chest.

    I didn't have a lot of time to read through it carefully today, but several sites said that it usually leads to breathing difficulties and emphasema (sp?) later in life ("old age" not yet in our age). Something to do with how the diaphram is positioned due to the extended ribcage, and that we shallow breathe too much with the diaphram not being able to function properly due to the "condition". This takes its toll as we approach old age.

    None had a trim-looking waist/mid-section, even at normal weight due to the extension of the rib cage. Most have a slightly-curved spine, which hunches the shoulders forward, along with a forward-leaning neck and head (which I have had all my life -- I always wished that my neck would just go straight up like other peoples, now I know why).

    Interesting day to say the least. If anyone who thinks they are barrel-chested gets a chance to look up a few torso photos, you'll think the photo is of you.

    Since I'm the type that loves to make lemonaide out of lemons, with the right training I think we could give ourselves an incredible back and chest when it comes to size. After all, we have the largest upper-torso's on the planet. Just gotta lay some good muscle down on top of it.

    From the bottom of the rib-cage down though, I don't think that we'll see that narrow waist RATIO unless we're in starvation mode. This however, could be worked-around by increasing the width of the shoulders to give the illusion of more taper.

    Just a few thoughts.
    --N2L
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    Glad to see this thread! I was a swimmer in high school and for a couple years in college. I have been told I have a barrel chest as well. My trainer tells me that the barrel chest is what is making my chest development so hard. I do agree that bodybuilding is partly illusion....if we can develop our shoulders so they look boader, it will give the illusion of a narrower waist.

    Great to read your thoughts...
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    Originally Posted by wanna_be_BB
    Glad to see this thread! I was a swimmer in high school and for a couple years in college. I have been told I have a barrel chest as well. My trainer tells me that the barrel chest is what is making my chest development so hard. I do agree that bodybuilding is partly illusion....if we can develop our shoulders so they look boader, it will give the illusion of a narrower waist.

    Great to read your thoughts...
    Thinking about this last night, so here's a synopsis of ways to make the best of the barrel chest situation.

    1. SHOULDERS
    Everyone should take advantage of developing the side delts for width, but more so with us. This was an illusional trick that was suggested a lot by Vince Gironda back in the day. Typically from what I understand, our mid sections have a tendency to make a vertical drop from the ribcage down -- there's very little hourglass shape. Making side delt development a priority, rather than just a touch-and-go area, is a must. Since roundness of the shoulders is a common trait, overdevelopment of the front delts would only serve to accentuate this appearance of rounding. I personally would leave the front delts alone.

    2. CHEST
    I've noticed in photos that the lower chest seems to be prominent. Perhaps this is due to the barrel curvature of the rib cage, I'm not sure. This has the effect of making the upper chest look unaturally less developed and "flat" by comparison. I would think that incline work to focus on the upper chest to bring the entire chest into balance would be needed here. Not only incline presses, but incline flys as well. Decline work, which focuses on lower pec development, would naturally be avoided.

    3. BACK
    Actually, it's not just a barrel "chest", it's a barrel back as well -- as far as the rib cage structure is concerned. Almost without fail in the photos that I've seen, there is a slight curvature of the upper spine that pushes the shoulders and neck/head forward. Think of bad posture -- there's only so much we're going to be able to do about this through development of the upper back. With the lats, most bodybuilders try to develop them all the way down the waist. This may be counter-productive for us, since our midsections are affected by the rib cage giving us a heaftier look in this area to begin with. However, upper lat development can be just a useful as the side delts -- giving the illusion of a trimmer waist. If we develop the lats too far down, it will negate this.

    4. MID SECTION
    This is truly the problem area, as the larger rib cage creates almost a vertical drop to the hip bones in the mid-section, all the way around the torso. The goal here would be to get the mid-section (the waist) as trim as possible. I'm hesitant to suggest that we do not target this area at all for development, but logic tells me this would be the best work-around. I think the best solution would be not to overly-develop the abdominals, but rather attempt to get BF% as low as possible to show what abdominals are already there. Getting the waist trim, along with development of the shoulders and upper chest area and upper lats may be the best route to take.

    Just a few options.
    Last edited by never2late; 04-10-2006 at 10:11 AM.
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    Barrel chest and emphysema

    Never knew about the barrel chest and swimming. I had a medical exam and the doctor interpreted the barrel chest (and back) as a possible symptom of emphysema (see below.) But I was a swimmer in high school. Let's hope that's the reason for the barrel chest.

    The symptoms of emphysema develop gradually over many years. It is a common occurrence for many emphysema patients to have lost over half of their functioning lung tissue before they become aware that something is wrong. Shortness of breath, a chronic mild cough (which may be productive of large amounts of dark, thick sputum, and often dismissed as "smoker's cough"), and sometimes weight loss are associated with emphysema. Initially, a patient may only notice shortness of breath when he or she is exercising. However, as the disease progresses, it will occur with less exertion or no exertion at all. Emphysema patients may also develop an enlarged, or "barrel,", chest. Other symptoms may be skipped breaths, difficulty sleeping, morning headaches, increased difficulty breathing while lying down, chronic fatigue, and swelling of the feet, ankles, or legs. Those with emphysema are at risk for a variety of other complications resulting from weakened lung function, including pneumonia.
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    my father had barrel chest too...and was dx with alpha-1 antitrypsin..which causes emphysema like symptoms. i'm sure i inherited it from that..but thought it was interesting that other swimmers have barrel chests too...
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    Ok - all this talk about barrel chests and emphysema is very distressing. Thanks, Never2Late for the good research, which is treating this as a medical condition. Jeeze... I know I'm a freak - but deformed??? NEVER!

    I'm going to posit a hypothesis as a way of wrapping my mind around this. All my life I've either swam competitively, run competitively or lifted. The swimming and the running (primarily the swimming at a young age) are responsible for the barrel chest. They are also responsible for unbelievable lung capacity - whenever it is tested the doctors *always* find it remarkable. I refuse to believe that this conditioning and this capacity early in life end up in seriously reduced capacity late in life - it just doesn't make sense.

    So, I would like to think that there are 3 ways to get a barrel chest - 1)physical deformity - born that way 2) repeated extreme aerobic ability at an early age, characterized by hard and lengthy drawing in and holding breath, which expands the ribcage when the person is young and the ribcage is not "set" yet (I've read the ribcage is still malleable until the early 20s) and 3) let's see - what else do we associate with emphysema? LONG-TERM SMOKING. And people who smoke draw in air and hold it, repeatedly. Start smoking early enough, it can have an influence on the ribcage - keep smoking long enough, and one develops emphysema.

    So, I want to say that a lot of the linkage of barrel chests and emphysema do not deal with the barrel chests associated with athletic performance and outstanding lung capacity caused by long-term early aerobic performance, but rather look at barrel chests as a medical condition from people who are either born with deformities or are long-term smokers - neither of which would have built up the outstandling lung performance. In other words, we need to separate out the effects of barrel chest from a medical/breathing problem perspective from the effects of barrel chest from an athletic performance perspective. To me it just doesn't make sense that exceptional aerobic performance at a young age results in advanced breathing problems in old age. It just doesn't make sense. And would be an awful kind of karma.

    Btw - here's a pic of me and my barrel chest http://forum.bodybuilding.com/showth...24395&page=103
    it's at post 3084 (I don't know how to link to individual posts, oh well)
    Last edited by hohandy; 04-10-2006 at 05:34 PM.
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    Originally Posted by hohandy

    Btw - here's a pic of me and my barrel chest http://forum.bodybuilding.com/showth...24395&page=103
    it's at post 3084 (I don't know how to link to individual posts, oh well)
    Bingo.

    Here's mine in a shot from last year (2005). Notice the protruding sternum, which is classic. I never knew what the heck it was until now.

    I totally agree re: early aerobic sports -- especially since you pointed out that the rib cage isn't "set" until 20 or so. I was a competitive distance road cyclist in those days (actually from mid-teens until late 30's).

    I also agree with your lung capacity thoughts. I'm the same, even today. I can take a breath in and breathe out -- and make it last until the cows come home.
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    Last edited by never2late; 04-10-2006 at 06:17 PM.
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    Originally Posted by hohandy
    Btw - here's a pic of me and my barrel chest http://forum.bodybuilding.com/showth...24395&page=103
    it's at post 3084 (I don't know how to link to individual posts, oh well)
    How'd I miss this the first time 'round? Looking good, hohandy
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    This guy is a competitive swimmer and claims to have a barrel chest http://tarheelblue.cstv.com/sports/c...ma_yuri00.html

    And here's another athlete whose strength is attributed to his barrel chest http://www.time.com/time/generations...027515,00.html

    And another http://www2.tulane.edu/katrina/tp_pedersen.cfm

    Ok, that's enough googling for me.

    For what it's worth, I suspect that "barrel chest" is a medical term and that what you guys have has a different name, which may be why so many references to 'barrel chest' point to lung disorders.

    You both look pretty normal to me
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    Being barrell chested is a genetic trait.

    My doctor told my mom when we were little, that I would be barrell-chested, while my brother would be tall and "willowy" - and darned if he wasn't right.
    She said he told her that people who are scandinavian tend to be more willowy, while people who are of "Gaelic" (Welsh,Irish, Scottish, French, and some English) or "Teutonic" (Germans, some English) tend to have more barrell-chested people. Evidently, it was just the way the genetic traits prevailed in those gene pools.


    I would have thought that in a family, everyone would have the same shape, but who knows. I don't really know anything about DNA, but susspect that there are so many factors at hand - especially when you'll see one family member who has red curly hair who is short and fat, who has a sibling who is tall, extremely lean, can't seem to gain weight no matter how much they eat, and is blonde, or dark haired.

    What's funny, is I can thrive on a low carb diet, while eating a lot of meat makes my brother sick - and he primarily is a vegetarian because of that.

    The thing I hate about being barrell-chested, is that it seems like you have to pack on a lot more muscle to really build a chest - it is taking me forever. I've lifted at various times, and while I got "thicker" in the chest, I never gained any good definition. The upside, being that it seems the barrell-chested people tend to have larger pec muscles (I mean the actual size of them, not just the thickness) once they do get them developed.
    Last edited by Tiny Tim; 04-10-2006 at 06:41 PM.
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    Thumbs up

    Originally Posted by never2late
    Thinking about this last night, so here's a synopsis of ways to make the best of the barrel chest situation.
    2. CHEST
    I've noticed in photos that the lower chest seems to be prominent. Perhaps this is due to the barrel curvature of the rib cage, I'm not sure. This has the effect of making the upper chest look unaturally less developed and "flat" by comparison. I would think that incline work to focus on the upper chest to bring the entire chest into balance would be needed here. Not only incline presses, but incline flys as well. Decline work, which focuses on lower pec development, would naturally be avoided.

    I think you're right on the money with this one regarding the Barrell-chaest making it harder to build well defined pecs.
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    Originally Posted by dbflgirl
    This guy is a competitive swimmer and claims to have a barrel chest http://tarheelblue.cstv.com/sports/c...ma_yuri00.html

    And here's another athlete whose strength is attributed to his barrel chest http://www.time.com/time/generations...027515,00.html

    And another http://www2.tulane.edu/katrina/tp_pedersen.cfm

    Ok, that's enough googling for me.

    For what it's worth, I suspect that "barrel chest" is a medical term and that what you guys have has a different name, which may be why so many references to 'barrel chest' point to lung disorders.

    You both look pretty normal to me
    dbflgirl, you truly are a fountain of information and resources. Thanks for all the time and effort you put into your posts and replies here.

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    Originally Posted by Tiny Tim
    I think you're right on the money with this one regarding the Barrell-chaest making it harder to build well defined pecs.
    Thanks Tiny.

    BTW, I've run several educational programs in Jacksonville Beach over the years (at Englewood High School) with lasers and holography. Believe it or not, Englewood has one of the best laser labs for students in the country. Last time down was around a year ago. The Duval County school district puts me up at the Holiday Inn resort right on the beach. I love Jacksonville Beach -- I think it's one of the best kept secrets in the country.
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    Originally Posted by dbflgirl
    How'd I miss this the first time 'round? Looking good, hohandy

    hey thanks dbflgirl - very nice of you..
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    I have a 49" chest, 36" abdomen (wear 34 jeans comfortably) 55" around the shoulders.

    My delts look like golf balls.... I workout my shoulers twice a week by themselves in an attempt to gain. Forty four years old. Goal is to MP 225 for reps.
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    [QUOTE=hohandy]... we need to separate out the effects of barrel chest from a medical/breathing problem perspective from the effects of barrel chest from an athletic performance perspective. [QUOTE]

    Actually that was my point, but I guess I didn't state it explicitly enough. The doctor that examined me got me all worried because he assumed that a barrel chest only meant problems. I was never asked "Were you ever a competitive swimmer?" Actually, it was only yesterday when I read this forum that my anxiety on this issue began to dissipate!

    I don't think all doctors are quacks. But, the amount of health information keeps multiplying geometrically. Probably many people on this forum know MORE about sports medicine and nutrition than many doctors who as specialists confine their research to one area, or as general practicioners only have a superficial albeit broad view of medicine.
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    Originally Posted by Joe55
    <QUOTE=hohandy>... we need to separate out the effects of barrel chest from a medical/breathing problem perspective from the effects of barrel chest from an athletic performance perspective. <QUOTE>

    Actually that was my point, but I guess I didn't state it explicitly enough. The doctor that examined me got me all worried because he assumed that a barrel chest only meant problems. I was never asked "Were you ever a competitive swimmer?" Actually, it was only yesterday when I read this forum that my anxiety on this issue began to dissipate!

    I don't think all doctors are quacks. But, the amount of health information keeps multiplying geometrically. Probably many people on this forum know MORE about sports medicine and nutrition than many doctors who as specialists confine their research to one area, or as general practicioners only have a superficial albeit broad view of medicine.
    I would think from the medical point of view that they have noticed a correlation between emphysema/breathing problems and barrel chests and worked their way backward from there assuming that the barrel chest was achieved by smoking and not by natural exercise methods. I wish I could remember where I read about the link between barrel chests and childhood/adolescent swimming, but I remember being quite relieved what I read that because it explained a lot (my fanatac mother had my sister and I on a swim team when we were kids often traipsing us around all over NYC training at various pools from when I was a kid. Most of my memories of when I was 6 until about 9 have to do with swimming laps. To this day a chlorinated pool brings back all kinds of childhood associations.)

    I just did a Google search for "barrel chest" and "Swimming" and came up with lots of hits, but most seemed to be for soft porn stories. Evidently *someone* thinks barrel chests are hot.
    Last edited by hohandy; 04-11-2006 at 02:13 PM.
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    Originally Posted by brookpe
    I have a 49" chest, 36" abdomen (wear 34 jeans comfortably) 55" around the shoulders.

    My delts look like golf balls.... I workout my shoulers twice a week by themselves in an attempt to gain. Forty four years old. Goal is to MP 225 for reps.

    That's quite a goal - my shoulders suck. How much you bench?
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    Originally Posted by hohandy
    That's quite a goal - my shoulders suck. How much you bench?
    I quit flat benching... I do inclines/declines only- the barrel chested thing tends to make your upper chest appear nonexistent- as noted above.

    I can incline 225X6... so now its a matter of degrees (pun intended). But I am doing 180 X2 on the SMP.

    Brook
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    Originally Posted by brookpe
    I quit flat benching... I do inclines/declines only- the barrel chested thing tends to make your upper chest appear nonexistent- as noted above.

    I can incline 225X6... so now its a matter of degrees (pun intended). But I am doing 180 X2 on the SMP.

    Brook
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    If there's a correlation between barrel-chested-ness and swimming, do we have any way of telling which is cause, and which is effect? Maybe barrel chested youths have greater lung capacity, which makes them better swimmers, which makes them more likely to go out for the sport?

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    Originally Posted by mike_sargent
    If there's a correlation between barrel-chested-ness and swimming, do we have any way of telling which is cause, and which is effect? Maybe barrel chested youths have greater lung capacity, which makes them better swimmers, which makes them more likely to go out for the sport?

    Mike
    I do enjoy a good case of deductive reasoning. The game is afoot!

    5 youths join a swimming program. Of the 5 youths, one is naturally barrel chested (already). This one individual swims the pants off the others. This one youth is encouraged to stay with the sport . . . of which they excell in. The other 4 eventually fall by the wayside.

    Years later, they begin to associate their barrel chest with all their years of swimming (or other sport) in their youth.

    When, in actuality, it was DUE to their barrel chests and resulting enhanced lung capacities that they were in the sport (and excelled in it) to begin with.

    Certainly has possibilities. Kudos to Mike.
    Last edited by never2late; 04-11-2006 at 06:11 PM.
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    Do any of you guys who have sites on other chest and ribcage deformities? The front of my ribcage seems to be deformed. :'(
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