Some are born strong and others are made strong.
Useful Links: Part 2
If you’re pre-T and reading this article, chances are you want to build some muscle. That’s awesome!
In my experience, the internet offers a lot of contradictory advice on training for anyone on the gender spectrum. That’s not awesome.
Two of the questions I get most frequently from other trans guys relate to:
I’m going to cover a myth and a truth about both in two articles. It’s myth-busting time!
Myth #1 – Training your chest will make your man boobs bigger
Breasts are made up of fat tissue, so no amount of exercise will make them grow because there is no muscle to grow.
Moreover, an appropriate training programme and good nutrition will help you lose fat if you are dieting, keep you lean if you are maintaining your weight, and put on muscle mass with as little body fat as possible (provided you are doing things right in the kitchen) if you are in a gaining phase.
This means two things:
Why train chest
Breasts rest on top of the more superficial chest muscle, called pectoralis major. This muscle originates from the centre of the sternum, the upper ribs, and the clavicle, then attaches to the upper arm. Under the pectoralis major lies the smaller pectoralis minor, which originates from the ribs and attaches to the shoulder blade.
Chest exercises will strengthen your muscles and increase their size without affecting breast tissue. Instead, the area between shoulders and chest will thicken, as it usually happens to swimmers. Who doesn’t want to look as muscular as a swimmer?
Moreover, if you are going to have top surgery, sculpting your pecs can help the surgeon give your new chest a more natural shape.
Lastly, it can prevent postural problems that can result from a hunched over posture.
How to train chest
There is no “best exercise” for any muscle group, so don’t limit yourself.
However, I would recommend making compound lifts the bulk of your training and using isolation movements to increase volume and target the same muscle groups from various angles.
The list below contains some safe and effective exercises as a starting point. You can consult Exrx.net for free technique explanations and instructional videos.
Compound chest exercises
Isolation chest exercises
When doing exercises with dumbbells or cables, you can use one hand at a time to focus on each side of your chest separately. Don’t forget to train both, though!
Truth #1 – Training shoulders and back will enhance your V-shape
We can’t change the shape of our bones, so we can’t change what our hipbones look like. However, a wide pair of shoulders and back can offset the width of your hips and contribute to a more masculine-looking V-shape.
How to train the back
Of the many muscles in the back, some of the most crucial to develop a balanced and functional physique are latissimus dorsi (lats), trapezius (traps), and rhomboids major (rhomboids) in the upper back, and the spinal erectors, which span the length of the spine.
Lats, traps, and rhomboids
The upper back muscles contribute to pulling movements, which are usually divided into vertical pulling exercises and horizontal pulling exercises. All of them train lats, traps, and rhomboids, but they place more tension on some than the others depending on the type of movement.
Vertical pulling exercises tend to emphasise the lats, whereas horizontal pulling exercises may be more effective to recruit rhomboids and traps. Choose at least one exercise per type to ensure full upper back development.
Vertical pulling exercises
Horizontal pulling exercises
The spinal erectors
The spinal erectors are muscles that run on either side of your spine and allow you to keep good posture and extend the back. They are recruited in all those exercises that challenge your ability to maintain a neutral spine.
Here are some examples:
How to train the shoulders
The deltoid is the primary muscle you’ll be looking at if you stare at the shape of your shoulders.
The deltoid has three heads: anterior, lateral, and posterior. Again, you want to use a combination of at least one exercise per head in order to train the delts effectively.
Anterior deltoid exercises
The anterior deltoid also contributes to horizontal presses like dumbbell press or bench press.
Lateral deltoid exercises
Due to its middle-of-the-road location, the lateral deltoid comes into play when you perform most shoulder exercises. The lateral raise is a staple isolation movement to target this muscle and increase shoulder width.
If you sit and lean forward slightly instead of standing, you won’t be able to complete the movement using momentum from your hips or torso. As a result, the exercise will place greater stress on the lateral deltoid, as you won’t be getting any help lifting the weight from the rest of your body.
Posterior deltoid exercises
The posterior deltoids also contribute to some degree to vertical and horizontal pulling movements.
And here’s where chest training is going to help you out
In order to avoid strengthening one side of the body at the expense of the other, it’s paramount to perform exercises for both agonist and antagonist muscles.
Agonist means “that which acts” and antagonist means “that which goes against the action.” So, when an agonist contracts, producing movement, the antagonist relaxes. Examples are biceps and triceps, quadriceps and hamstrings, and, you guessed it, chest and back muscles.
Moreover, chest exercises where you press a weight in front of you follow a horizontal pushing movement pattern, whereas shoulder exercises follow a vertical pushing movement pattern.
For these reasons, including all four upper body movement patterns and programming the same number of exercises for each is key to an overall strong and balanced body.
In Future Episodes:
I’ll see you next week in Part 2: Lower Body Training!
What are your favourite exercises for chest and back?
An online fitness coach who likes bodybuilding, superheroes, and bread.
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