Bodybuilding Myths

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Myth Busters

Rib Cage and Hip Expansion

By Vince Martin, P.T.

Popular belief holds that, through proper exercise, one can change the volume of (expand) their ribcage. Usually, this is accomplished by the performance of two exercises used in combination. These exercises are the "breathing squat" and the cross-bench dumbbell pullover. Through diligent performance of these exercises, along with the continued performance of the remainder of the weight training routine, trainees would experience significant expansion of their thoracic cages. Or would they?

Here's how the typical rib cage expansion routine went: First, the breathing squats were performed. The breathing squats, which entailed twenty-rep sets of squats with several deep breaths between each repetition were supersetted with cross bench dumbbell pullovers, which provided the "stretch" for the rib cage. The combined effect of the deep breathing and stretching supposedly provided the desired effect of enlargement. Now for the truth behind this concept.

The ribs are connected to the vertebral column at the rear of the body. They are formed to connect, or articulate, in a certain way and at a certain angle. In front, the ribs are connected via cartilage to the sternum, or breastbone. Various texts in the past have alluded to the "stretching" of the cartilage as the means by which the rib cage is expanded. First of all, the "length" of the cartilage by which the ribs are connected to the ribcage is unalterable. No amount of deep breathing or stretching can alter this predetermined attachment. Second, even if it were possible to alter the cartilaginous attachment of the ribs to the sternum, this would mean that the manner in which the ribs articulate with the vertebrae posteriorly would have to be altered. Again, there is a pre-set limit to which the ribs can correctly and functionally articulate with the vertebrae. Therefore, this cannot (and must not) be changed.

However, weight training can alter the skeletal structure. The points of attachment on the bones where the muscles connect actually enlarge slightly due to the forces exerted by the muscles at these attachments. This slight enlargement of the points of muscle attachment does not equate to any significant skeletal enlargement such as rib cage expansion.

So what provided this apparent rib cage enlargement? The answer is found in the word "apparent". The rib cage did not expand. Rather, as a function of the training routine in general, the musculature of the trunk became developed. This resulted in a much "thicker" look. The trainees of old simply attributed their results to the wrong reason.

There are some dangers inherent in attempting to expand the rib cage, however, especially with regard to the performance of cross-bench dumbbell pullovers. This exercise emphases "stretch". This typically mandates arching the back excessively over the bench, and reaching back excessively with the arms while holding a dumbbell. The back arching can lead to irritation of the joints of the spine, dislocation of a costal cartilage, or a dysfunction of the ribs where they articulate with the rib cage. Stretching excessively with the upper arms can overstretch and damage the ligaments of the shoulder joint. So, not only is expansion of the ribcage impossible, it is also potentially hazardous to attempt to do so.

Here's another myth based on similar reasoning: "Squats and deadlifts widen the hips." This is another long-held belief by many trainees. Like the principle of rib cage expansion, it is based on nothing scientifically sound. In order for the hips to be widened, the pelvic bowl would have to actually be expanded. Just as in the case of the rib cage, all of the articulations (relationships of the joints) would have to be altered and cartilage stretched. Totally impossible. It is quite likely that this myth has been perpetuated due to the fact that most trainees would gladly accept any reason at all to avoid performing two of the most difficult exercises ever conceived. Avoiding these two valuable exercises, in fact, would be a grave error, as they provide more results that most other bodybuilding exercise could ever hope to.

Until next time!

About the author: Vince Martin, PT, is the founder of Scientific Fitness Systems. Their publication, Scientific Bodybuilding Journal, is available by subscription. For more information, visit http://www.io.com/~vinnie/index.html or e-mail me at vinnie@mail.io.com.


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