The Big Chest Program
My daughter used to go around with a kid called Marvin.
He trained a little bit with weights once in a while just to butter me up.
He was skinny back then and as lazy as a treeful of South American sloths.
I was sitting at home one Monday evening, working with some papers at the dining room table. I was trying to put the finishing touches on a fast, big-chest program I wanted to conduct at the gym and wondering who I could get for a guinea pig when Marvin came slopping in all loose and easy, snapping his fingers and humming to himself. He pulled out a chair and sat down.
“Dad,” he said, “I’d like to marry your daughter.”
I thought about it. “Have you seen my wife?”
“Yes, he said. “But I prefer your daughter.”
I closed my eyes and muttered a little prayer my mother had taught me.
“Have you asked my daughter?”
“No, he said. “I figured since it was your daughter’s hand I’d get an understanding with you first.”
“Good,” I said. “Then understand this. The chances are absolutely nil that you’ll ever get my daughter’s hand
or any other part of her anatomy.”
He looked hurt.
“Like why, man?”
I opened my mouth to tell him and then I had a thought.
“Because you’re too skinny,” I said. “And your chest is too small.”
“Chest too small?” he screamed. “Man, I don’t figure on being no flipping gladiator.”
“No,” I said. “But if you were my son-in-law you’d be a constant embarrassment to me.”
He blinked in surprise.
“On the other hand,” I told him, “if you were a little heavier and your chest was about six inches bigger,
you’d be a tad more acceptable.
“Six inches?” he said. “Man, that’d take forever.”
“Three months,” I told him. “Three short months.”
“Positively.” I took some papers off the table. “Marvin, I have here the quintessence, the absolute ultimate in chest building programs.
I guarantee you’ll gain a lot of weight and put abut six inches on your chest.”
He brightened. “And then I get to marry your daughter?”
‘Marvin,” I told him, “I don’t think my daughter or any other woman this side of the banana factory would ever marry you. If they do, that’s up to them. Personally, I don’t think you’ll even remember it this time next year.”
“Wrongo, man,” he said. “When do I start?”
“Right now,” I told him. “I’ll get you a set of sweats and we’ll drive over to the gym.”
When we got to the gym I said to him:
“Now, Marvin, you’re going to embark on an exciting three month journey. An adventure that will make you heavier, broaden your shoulders and increase your chest about six inches.” I beamed paternally at him. “What do you think about that?”
“Great,” I said. “I knew you’d be excited.”
I turned him around so he faced me directly.
“Now pay attention, Marvin. Watch my lips.”
“This is a foundation program for guys who are not gaining fast enough. It’s a foundation program for guys who haven’t learned how to grow. It’s not designed to build definition. It’s not designed to peak your biceps. It’s not designed to get you into Mr. Universe condition. But if you don’t mind the foundation I’m talking about, none of those other things will ever happen. It’s as simple as that.”
Marvin turned and walked to the window.
“You’ll never build a really big body until you expand your rib cage. Do you understand that?”
Marvin leaned out the window.
“Crazy, man,” he muttered.
I dragged him back in.
“Will you pay attention?” I yelled.
He winced. “I got perfect pitch, Dad. You’ll ruin it.”
“Have you been listening?”
“Of course, man,” he said. “Of course.”
“What did I say?”
He coughed slightly. “Run it by me again.”
I closed my eyes and thought about early retirement.
“Never mind, Marvin. Let’s just do it.”
I got out a tape measure and put it around his chest.
He yelped and jumped away.
“Man, he said, “that’s cold.”
I dragged him back, put the tape around him and peered at it.
“Marvin, I said, “have you ever had a chest x-ray?”
He squinted down. “How much is it?”
I walked him over to the scales. “Get on.”
I fiddled with the counter-weight.
“How much?” he asked.
I looked closely at the pointer.
“You sure you got both feet on the scales?”
“One thirty-two,” I told him.
I walked him to a bench, made him sit down, and put a light bar across his shoulders.
“Now,” I said, “ten presses behind the neck.”
He did ten and I said, “There, that wasn’t so bad, was it?”
“I guess not, man.”
He got up and started for the door.
“Like maybe some time we can do it again.”
I grabbed him and dragged him back.
“We’re not finished yet,” I said. “There’s two more sets.”
He looked shocked.
“Two more sets? Man, I’ll get all sweaty.”
I clenched my teeth and said, “Marvin, pick up that goddamn bar and get moving or I’ll wrap it around your neck.”
He did two more sets and I said: “The next exercise is incline dumbbell curls. Three sets of ten and don’t work too hard at it.”
He did the curls and I said: “Now, Marvin, we come to the start of the chest work. The key to the whole program.
The key to all your future progress.”
I took him over to the squat rack.
‘You’re going to do breathing squats. One set of twenty reps. We’ll start off light today and gradually build up to all the weight you can handle.
Take three big breaths between each rep of the first ten and six breaths between each rep of the last ten and the first time I see you take a breath that isn’t the deepest you can take I’m going to pull your legs off. Is that clear?”
“Explicit, man,” he said. “Lucid, even.”
He started squatting. After five reps he began humming the scale each time he exhaled. He went up one note on each breath.
When he started into the second octave he sounded like fingernails on a blackboard and I reached for his neck.
“Marvin,” I snarled, “this isn’t La Scala and you’re not Pavarotti. Just do the goddamn things and do them quietly.”
He finished the squats and I made him do a set of twenty pullovers with a light weight to stretch his rib cage.
“Now,” I told him, “we go to the next exercise.”
He looked up at me from the bench.
“Of course,” I said. “If you’re going to look like a married man you’ve got to work like one.”
I coaxed him through three sets of parallel bar dips, twelve reps per set.
“Now, I said, “you’ll like this. We’re going to do another set of breathing squats.
Won’t that be great?”
“Marvelous,” he said.
He looked furtively at the door.
“Just bloody marvelous.”
“Twenty reps,” I told him.
“Twenty. Thirty.” He giggled. “A hundred and fifty. What does it matter?”
“Squats, Marvin,” I told him, “are the key to a really big chest and fast weight gains.
Nothing can take their place.”
“You could take mine,” he muttered.
He did the squats and another set of light pullovers.
I took over to the lat machine.
“Now,” I said, “three sets of Pulldowns to the back of the neck. Fifteen reps each set and a medium width grip.”
After the pulldowns I said: “Take heart, Marvin. You’re almost finished. Just one set of stiff-legged deadlifts for fifteen reps and one more set of light pullovers for twenty reps.”
He gave me a sickly look.
“It’ll kill me, man.”
“Marvin,” I said, “will you stop that infernal whining. We’ve all got troubles to bear.”
I made him do the deadlifts standing on a block and lowering the bar down to his toes.
He groaned through each rep.
He did the final set of pullovers.
“There,” I said, “That’s it. Any complaints?”
He opened his mouth and I said: “Good. I knew you’d like it.”
He struggled to get off the bench.
“We’ll do the workout three days a week for the next month,” I said, “and then
we’ll make it a little more advanced.”
I slapped him on the shoulder.
“You’re going to make a fine son-in-law, Marvin.”
He coughed nervously.
“Actually,” he said, “ I may have been a trifle premature about this whole marriage thing.”
I gave him a cold look.
“Marvin,” I said, “are you considering jilting my little baby girl?”
He gulped and headed for the door.
“See you Wednesday, Dad!”
The Big Chest Program, Part II
There is a street in a large city which runs parallel to and six blocks west of the main business section. Zoning regulations call it a secondary commercial area, which means that fire insurance premiums are twenty percent higher than they should be and parades go by a different route. Although the details were never listed in the municipal archives, the street has an enchanting historical background. Many years ago, a complete renovation project was conceived at City Hall. The motivating force was a lady alderman with the measurements of a sumo wrestler and the disposition of a starving pit bull. She was chauffeured to the street for a personal tour headlined to be the greatest media event since the parting of the Red Sea.
She started down the street. In the first block she received several lewd suggestions from the residents of the vacant lot on the corner and a six stitch bite on the hip from the doberman guarding the premises of the Coastal Iron Works. The lady was whisked away in an ambulance and the renovation project was dropped from council agenda. The street settled back to its normal routine and time wended its weary way.
The man who ran the dry goods store went broke and was replaced by two French widows who sold pastries in the front part of the store during the day and a much more popular commodity in the back part of the store at night. The furniture store was observed unloading small wrapped packages from an unmarked van at three in the morning and was replaced by a company the imported Chinese furniture. The man who owned the clothing store guessed wrong on summer shirt stylings and was shortly relieved of his sales problem by an early morning fire which leveled the building with speed and precision. Insurance investigators probed the rubble for several weeks and the shirt merchant was eventually given six to ten on the rockpile to contemplate the error of his ways. The ruins were cleaned up and replaced by a commercial gymnasium specializing in fast weight gains or losses for those in need of either.
One sunny afternoon, a young man walked briskly down the street. He had on blue tennis shoes with the toes cut out, an old pair of army pants with hearts sewn on both knees, and a bright green sweat shirt six sizes too big with the words WORK IS A FOUR LETTER WORD emblazoned on the front. He stormed into the gym, roared through the office door without knocking, and pounded his fist on the gym owner’s desk.
The gym owner gave a strangled shriek and leaped to his feet. His fingers clawed convulsively at the papers on the desk while his heart hammered in his throat.
“I’ve had it,” the young man screamed. “My patience has run out.”
The gym owner eased himself back into his chair and held his head in his hands.
“I want a big chest,” the young man yelled, “and I want it right now.”
He grabbed his sweat shirt and held it out from his body.
“When do I fill this shirt?”
The gym owner raised his head slowly and opened his eyes.
“Marvin,” he said, “Reg Park couldn’t fill up that shirt if he took Bill Pearl in with him.”
He smiled brightly. “However,” he said, “you are in luck.
Today we change to the second phase of your chest program. He beamed at the young man. “What do you think about that?”
The young man curled his lip. “Not much.”
“Great,” the gym owner said. “A positive attitude always helps.”
He pulled a sheet of paper out of the desk drawer and began writing on it.
“Now,” he said, “today we start on a program that’s a little more advanced.
One that’ll really fill out your rib cage.”
“Rib cage?” the young man shouted. “I got enough ribs already.”
He leaned over the desk and pounded on it.
“I want muscles,” he screamed.
“Muscles! Muscles! Muscles!”
The gym owner put on his most sincere look.
“Marvin,” he said, “a rib cage is essential for a big chest. You can’t do it any other way.”
He smirked wisely.
“You can’t put the cart before the horse, you know.”
“And what’s that gotta do with my chest?” the young man snarled at him.
“Actually” he said, ‘not that much when you think about it.”
He picked up a pen and wrote on the paper.
“I have a program designed especially for you, Marvin. It’ll expand your chest and pack on the muscle. And best of all, it doesn’t take any brains.”
The young man leaned forward.
“I didn’t get the last part.”
“I said, you’ll make big gains,” the gym owner told him. “Now listen up.”
“You’ll do a split routine. Two days on your chest and two days on the rest of your body.
“Now,” he said, ‘here’s the chest routine.
Take a little warmup and then do one set of heavy breathing squats for twenty reps. Take three huge breaths between each rep and work to your absolute limit. Try to add weight every workout.
“When you finish the last rep lay down on a bench and do twenty breathing pullovers with about twenty pounds.
”Stretch way back and suck in all the air you can.
“Take a five minute rest and then do another set of light breathing squats.
Twenty-five reps with the bar loaded to your bodyweight and then another set of light pullovers. If bodyweight squats don’t feel light, then you’ve got a long way to go.”
“Hold it,” the young man said.
“Bodyweight squats don’t feel light to me. How far have I got to go?”
“Quite a ways,” the gym owner said. He dropped into a gentle fatherly tone.
“But don’t forget,” he said, “the longest journey begins with a single step.”
The young man kicked the desk.
“And don’t forget I want big muscles, not a stack of stupid clichés.
The gym owner nodded approvingly.
“Exactly,” he said.
“Next,” he said, “take a short rest and then five sets of bench presses with all the weight you can handle. Ten reps per set and drop the poundage each set.
“Next is the flying exercise on a flat bench. Do five sets of twelve, get a stretch at the bottom, and drop the poundage slightly each set.”
“Now,” he said, “ a short rest and then one more set of bodyweight breathing squats and light pullovers. Twenty reps each.”
He smiled at the young man.
“Are you with me?”
The young man stared coldly at him.
“Marvelous,” the gym owner said.
“Enthusiastic cooperation.” He scribbled on the paper.
“The final exercise is three sets of stiff-legged deadlifts. Do them on a block and stretch down until the bar almost touches your feet. Do fifteen reps the first set, twelve reps the second set, and ten reps the third set. Do a set of light pullovers after each set.
“Now,” the gym owner said, “do the chest routine on Mondays and Thursdays. On Tuesdays and Fridays, work the rest of your body.
“Start off with three sets of presses behind the neck, twelve reps per set.
“Bent-over rowing comes next. Five sets of twelve with a narrow grip.
“Next, do three sets of dumbbell incline curls, ten reps per set.
“And finally,” he said, “pulldowns to the back of the neck on the lat machine for five sets of fifteen reps.”
He finished writing on the paper and handed it across the desk.
“What do you think?” he asked.
The young man frowned, “ I think it’s a lot of work.”
“It is,” the gym owner said. “It is indeed. But,” he gazed up at the ceiling and put on his most serene expression. “If a man’s reach does not exceed his grasp, what is heaven for?”
He smiled fondly at the young man.
“Do you know who said that?”
“No,” the young man said. “Nor do I give a damn”
“Great,” the gym owner muttered.
“Nothing so stimulating as a good literary discussion.
“Is that it?” the young man asked.
The gym owner steered the young man to the door.
“Next month I’ll change the program and tell you about a supplementary exercise that’ll generate big gains.
“Tell me now,” the young man said.
“No,” the gym owner told him. “One thing at a time.
He searched his mind for something convincing to say . . .
The moving finger writes, he thought to himself, and, having writ, moves on.
He looked at the young man and changed his mind.
“Work hard,” he said.
The Big Chest Program Part III
I was eating breakfast when Marvin walked in. He sat down beside me and peered at the toast and omelet.
“Eating breakfast?” he asked.
“Yes, Marvin,” I said. “I’m eating breakfast. I’d hoped to do it alone.”
He took the fork out of my hand and scooped a large chunk of omelet into his mouth.
He handed back the fork.
I wiped it on my napkin.
“Little too much pepper,” he told me.
I heard the toast pop in the kitchen and got to my feet.
“Would you drink a glass of milk?” I asked him.
He beamed cheerfully. “Matter of fact, I would.”
“Good,” I said. I pointed to my glass. “Don’t drink that one.”
I brought the toast back and jerked the fork out of his hand.
He took a piece of toast and spread butter on it.
“Delicious,” he mumbled.
“Don’t talk with your mouth full,” I said. “You’re spraying crumbs all over the table.”
He took a deep breath and swallowed.
“Actually,” he said, “this is the day you’re supposed to give me the last part of my chest program.”
“I know,” I said. “I’ve got it ready.”
I studied him for a moment.
“You’re looking pretty good already. You’re sure you want to do the third part?”
He took the fork and piled omelet on his toast.
“Absolutely, man,” he said. “When they’re kicking sand next summer, I’m gonna be doing the kicking for a change.”
I thought about it.
“Marvin,” I said. “I’m getting the uneasy feeling I’m creating a monster here.”
He picked up the milk and drank it.
“However,” I said, “I have the last part of the program.
“You’ll do a four-day-a-week split program,” I told him. “Two days on chest specialization and two days on the rest of your body.”
“On Mondays and Thursdays start off with bodyweight breathing squats. That means the equivalent of your bodyweight on the bar and three huge breaths between each rep. Do one set of twenty-five reps, one set of twenty, and one set of fifteen. Do twenty light pullovers after each set of squats.”
“Next,” I said, “do bench presses for five sets of eight reps. Use a medium wide grip and work to your limit.”
“After the bench presses, do incline dumbbell presses for five sets of six. Let the weights go well out to the side and keep your elbows back.”
“Finally,” I said, “do flying exercises on a flat bench for five sets of twelve.”
Marvin ate another scoop of omelet.
“That’s all for the chest workout,” I told him. “Do you think you can handle it.”
He picked up another piece of toast and bit into it.
“I think so,” he said thoughtfully. “Provided I eat well.”
“Don’t worry about it,” I said, “You will.”
“Now,” I told him, “On Tuesdays and Fridays do the rest of the program.”
“Start off with regular presses. Do five sets of five in good style and not too much back bend.”
“Next, do standing lateral raises in very strict style for three sets of twelve.”
“Now,” I said, “we move to the back with five sets of eight on the standard bent-over rowing exercise. Use a close grip and pull the bar to your lower abdomen.”
“Next do chins with a close grip for five sets of eight.”
“After the chins, do pulldowns to the back of your neck on the lat machine. And remember,” I told him, “you’ve gotta work up into heavy weights on all these.”
I looked at him closely.
“Can you do that?”
He thought about it for a while and then opened his mouth.
“I know,” I said.
“Provided you eat well.”
“Next, the arms,” I said. “Alternate incline dumbbell curls with French presses on a flat bench for five sets of eight reps each.”
“Then alternate standing barbell curls with triceps extensions on the lat machine for five sets of ten reps each.”
“And finally, “I told him, “do prone hyperextensions for three sets of twelve. Get to where you can hold weights behind your neck as soon as possible.”
He pushed a piece of toast into his mouth with his forefinger and then licked the finger carefully.
“I’ll have to eat a lot,” he told me.
“Marvin,” I snarled at him, “you eat like a hammerhead shark now. Pay attention to me.”
“Finally,” I said, “we come to something a little different. It’s a supplementary exercise you can do half a dozen times throughout the day. Every day,” I added. I looked at him carefully.
“How does that grab you?”
He wiped egg off his chin.
“An exercise I can do half a dozen times every day?”
“Marvelous,” he said. “Just marvelous.”
He picked up the last piece of toast.
“Isn’t there something I can get up and do three or four times during the night?”
“No,” I said. “That’s not necessary. But it’s not that much work.”
He got up and walked into the kitchen. I heard the fridge door open. He came back with the peanut butter and the milk container.
“Now listen,” I said. “The supplementary exercise is a sort of chest pull that was invented a long time ago by a man named Peary Rader. It’s called the Rader chest pull.”
Marvin looked at me.
“It’s a chest pull invented by a guy called Rader, so they call it the Rader chest pull.
I put on my friendliest smile.
“Marvelous,” he said. “Just incredible.”
He spread an inch of peanut butter on his toast.
“Let me guess.”
He bit into the toast and wiped peanut butter off his mouth.
“You lay on the floor and someone pulls the squat rack on to your chest. Right?”
“No,” I said. “It’s a great exercise guaranteed to lift your sternum, expand your rib cage, and give you a nice high foundation for a really big chest.
He mumbled something
“Don’t talk with your mouth full,” I said.
“You can stand and use the top of a door, or sit and use the door handles, or kneel and use the top of a chair. Almost anything will do”
“Get in front of the solid object and grab it. Anything from shoulder width to hands touching is fine. Blow all the air out of your lungs and then inhale to the count of three. At three your lungs should be completely filled. Now, hold your breath and start pulling as though you were trying to form a letter ‘V’. Pull in and down as hard as you can for a count of three. You should feel your sternum lift, your rib cage expand and your pecs contract. Use the muscles in the front of your neck and try to lift your sternum even higher.”
“Now, relax and exhale to the count of three. Blow out all the air you can. Pause for a count of three on empty lungs and then do the cycle all over again. Inhale, tense, exhale, pause. One cycle counts one rep. Do twenty reps.”
I looked at Marvin.
“Have you got it?”
He patted my wrist.
“I’m with you.”
I wiped peanut butter off my hand.
“Good,” I said. “And don’t forget to do the exercise five or six times throughout the day.”
A month later, my wife invited Marvin for breakfast. He came slopping in wearing a ripped T-shirt, cut-offs with threads dangling past his knees and torn running shoes with a shredded black shoe in one of them and a shredded white shoe lace in the other. She put a bowl of whole grain cereal in front of him. “Eat up, Marvin,” she said.
“You look a lot better,” I told him. “How much did you gain?”
“About six inches on the chest,” he told me. “And twenty-one pounds.”
“Good,” I said. “And when are the nuptials?”
He stirred the cereal and raised a dripping spoon to his mouth.
“She turned me down.”
He sucked the cereal off the spoon. It sounded like a gumboot coming out of the mud at low tide.
“Really?” I said. I peered under the table at his shoe laces. “I wonder why.”
He pushed another load of cereal into his mouth. “Beats me,” he mumbled.
I drank the last of my milk and got up.
“Can you come for dinner next Sunday?”
He gulped down the cereal and nodded.
“Good,” I said.
“I’ll be out of town that day.”
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