Pec Me Up!
May 28, 2004 4:32 PM   Subscribe

Might manboobs ever become bodacious pecs? [More inside...]

The bane of my genetic existence are two fleshy mounds on my chest---the same fleshy mounds you will find on my father, my brother and my late grandfather. It is the curse of the family manboobs.

These aren't fat-related manboobs. I'm actually quite skinny--people constantly comment on it--yet I still stare down at my chest when wearing tight fitting clothes (or even not so tight fitting clothes) and see two fleshy lumps poking out for the world to mock and ridicule.

My friends tell me I'm crazy, that I don't have manboobs. But my friends are liars. I have manboobs.

My question, though, involves working out. I've been working out a lot this year. Not a ton, no. But I've done a relative amount of chest exercises as well as some good regular running on the treadmill. My body is starting to come together. I'm like a newfangled Fabio, except a Fabio with manboobs.

And that's the thing. I'm starting to think that genetic manboobs (as opposed to weight-related manboobs) don't follow the rules of hard work yielding good results. The shape of my manboobs is disconcerting. Looking down at my chest, starting at the left side, they slope upwards at the first hill of my chest "M" (as in my chest looks like the letter M) and then come back down in a much wider arch. It's unnatural. And I don't think chest exercise or push-ups will cure it.

Has anyone else cured their genetic manboobs? Any glimmer of hope?
posted by adrober to Health & Fitness (26 answers total)
I could help, but I'd need to see a picture.
posted by bonheur at 4:48 PM on May 28, 2004

There was a link in the past year on the blue that I thought was called "Men with Breasts" but I can't seem to find it. It was about a medical condition that may be what you're talking about. Perhaps someone else can find it.
posted by dobbs at 4:55 PM on May 28, 2004

Are you toning or bulking those manboobs, adrober? I would suggest that your regimen of bench presses start off, always, with two tough sets of 20 to 25 repetitions, done quickly and with little rest in-between.

Also, are you doing your cardio regularly, to burn off whatever fat might be under those nipples?

Shape 'em, brother! Don't just bulk 'em bigger, like steroid-induced "bitch tits"!

If you're already doing this, then tell me to piss off.
posted by Shane at 5:17 PM on May 28, 2004

The condition is called "gynecomastia", and this is the thread from last November
posted by briank at 5:30 PM on May 28, 2004

Could be mild gyno, in which case surgery may be the only option. Alternatively, you have more bodyfat than you think.

If it bugs you, see a doctor.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 5:43 PM on May 28, 2004

Have you tried basil garlic on those balsamic peaches of yours? I agree, you are thin.

Do you eat much soy? I'm trying to think of other foods which mimic oestrogen.
posted by Feisty at 5:43 PM on May 28, 2004

Haha, Fesity your comment made me laugh---I really don't think it's estrogen in my food!

But Shane, yours was helpful: I'm definitely not doing a rigorous chest routine. So I start off doing two tough sets of 20 to 25 repetitions on the bench press, and then what? I've been using the Nautilus machines, anything else you recommend?

And as far as posting a picture of my "disorder", get me drunk at Mardi Gras and we'll talk.
posted by adrober at 7:00 PM on May 28, 2004

Ok I just looked at those "gynecomastia" pics and no, that's nothing like what I have. Thank God. I mean I think I'm probably way more neurotic about it than I need to be, but the exercise thing seems a good solution... Thanks!
posted by adrober at 7:03 PM on May 28, 2004

as far as Shane's comments regarding doing more reps with lighter weight to get "better tone" or "spot reducing/toning", you may want to look into that. Most of the books I've read concerning the subject and my serious bodybuilder friends generally believe that doing considerably more than 12 reps is "a waste of your time" (that, if i recall correctly, a direct quote from the Schwartznegger encylopedia of bodybuilding). If you want a better chest, add more weight; if you're having trouble upping the weight, try strengthening your back and your triceps (often times my triceps seem to fail before my chest does when I'm benching). Also, get someone who knows to crit your form -- no use in learning wrong.

it sounds like you and i have a similarly weird build, and i think you're going in the right direction by working on your chest (which really means you need to work on *everything*, since bench presses are compound exercises and use several muscles) -- i've noticed good results from a reasonable workout plan (i usually do minimum 3 days a week, 1-2 hours each day). if you care to know more, you may email me.

You may want to investigate this further, however. There's about a trillion opinions about bodybuilding, and maybe I've just been exposed to the ones that say "more reps == no significant advantage".

Anyhow, there's a wealth of pages that seem to agree that more reps isn't going to result in more tone. I can't seem to find many that take the opposite viewpoint, but it might be worth it to do some research before you add another half hour or whatever to your chest workout.
posted by fishfucker at 7:34 PM on May 28, 2004

Damn, I think Shane and I have disagreed before, on a related AxMe thread.

I maintain that if they are not gyno, then only lowering your bodyfat will make any difference. Chest exercises, in whatever combination of reps or sets, will not do squat, except to the extent that they burn a certain amount of energy. You can't spot-reduce fat on your chest by benching any more than doing lots of situps will spot-reduce fat on your abs (I think that's what Shane and I disagreed on last time). Adding more cardio - interval training in particular - is far more likely to help, I think.

If you're really that skinny, a disproportionate effort on your chest is going to make you look weird.

There is a certain amount of variation between men, your concerns about being "unnatural" notwithstanding. You may have to just suck it up.

Don't knock what Feisty says either. I have a friend who can grow perky buds if he drinks miso on a regular basis. Some people are just more sensitive than others. I'd lay off the beer for while for one thing.

And here's a gem from

I think people should realize that gyno is not the growth of noticeable tits on guys. In 99% of people with mild gyno it is virtually unnoticeable to anyone except the one suffering from it. And it is actually kind of cool since it makes nipple stimulation more enjoyable and adds to sexual experiences.

I think there's a lesson in there for all of us.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 7:38 PM on May 28, 2004


There is muscle size, and there is body fat.

Thank you, I feel better now.

I do however agree about more reps being wasted effort. In fact, a weight that you can manage 20 reps with on bench is a weight that's too low to stimulate hypertrophy.

Personally, I have had best success with the methods outlined here, together with a healthy dose of skepticism taken from regulars. YMMV, of course.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 7:43 PM on May 28, 2004

So I start off doing two tough sets of 20 to 25 repetitions on the bench press, and then what? I've been using the Nautilus machines, anything else you recommend?

Well, there are plenty of exercizes that target the pecs, from the machines to pushups to flies. But most people hit the bench primarily for pecs.

I think the main thing is, IF YOU ARE TAKING A WEIGHTLIFTING APPROACH TO THIS, you should work hard at a couple of 20+ rep sets, in addition to (or even replacing) "bulk" sets of 6-12 reps. Bulk sets will stimulate your short muscle fibres and tend to make you apish and mesamorphic, giving you big muscles with plenty of body fat. Sets of more reps will necessarilly push your muscles more towards development and tone, endurance, and lean efficiency.

I might be generalizing, of course. Bodybuilders like Mike Mentzer recommend working a muscle group monthly to complete muscle failure with a very limited number of reps. Obviously Mike has low body fat. The big trend these days is away from higher reps. But Mike is a professional body builder, and the more jealous of his competitors accuse his routine of working due to steroid abuse.

You and I are, I think, amateur shlubs. We pump more weight and less reps, we're likely to end up with gorilla guts and tits, while more reps are more likely to encourage lean, flat development of the pecs.

Cardiovascular will burn fat, too, and keep the tits off. I tend to think cardio is the most important, although I lift weights to keep my joints in shape and to ease the pain of tendonitis in my left shoulder (by strengthening the surrounding muscles which then naturally pick up the slack and ease the stress on that painful tendon.)

Like I said, I'm an amateur, and anyone is welcome to disagree with me. fishfucker might be more knowledgeable than I. But, in general, if you lift too much bulk when you get older, you tend to get a torso like a gorilla with breasts ;-)

Then again, some people might tell you to forgo chest exercizes and just run. If you do enough cardio and lower your %body fat, there's no way you'll have anything resembling manboobs. This approach is probably much more effective than weightlifting.

Damn, I think Shane and I have disagreed before, on a related AxMe thread . . . I maintain that if they are not gyno, then only lowering your bodyfat will make any difference.

Nope, on preview I agree totally, lowering your bodyfat is the way to go. But, spleeny_joe, weightlifting will burn fat too. Just not nearly as efficiently as cardio.
posted by Shane at 7:45 PM on May 28, 2004

adrober -- Nautilus is a good supplemental workout platform. But you really need to get on free-weights. They're cheap. My suggestion is:
  • Weight bench that inclines: $100
  • Long weight bar (I think 7' is standard Olympic size): $40
  • Weights (how many depends on how strong you are, but 4x25, 2x10, 2x5 is more than enough): $65
Normally I'd say don't work out more than every other day, but in your case, I'd recommend switching between muscle-building one day and muscle-toning the next. Light weights and high reps for muscle toning, the opposite for muscle building. Both will build muscle, actually, but the lighter weights won't tear as many muscle fibers and thus you can give your chest a bit of a break.

The other thing is, there's no such thing as spot-fat reduction. Not that doesn't involve a scalpel. Generally the way bodies work is, you work you ass off and fat comes off very slowly in the reverse of how it got on. This usually translates to the part you really want to de-fat taking the longest. So I'd also suggest some kind of general cardio, which you should do every day for 30 minutes.

A lot of people make the mistake of "working out" for a few months on-and-off and then giving up because they don't see dramatic change. Exercise is one of the most fair kinds of "work" there is: what you put into it you will get out of it. You have to discipline yourself and make it part of your routine, like brushing your teeth.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:49 PM on May 28, 2004

OKAY: regarding all this talk of "THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS MUSCLE TONE":

Muscle tone is often synonymous with muscle development or definition. Triceps are a great axample. If you have developed your triceps, or looked at various other people's triceps, you will note that some have a very basic straight shape, where other more developed triceps have a multitude of knots and curves to them. Some triceps are better developed.

So, whether or not "muscle tone" exists depends on your definition of the word.

I agree with both choices: muscle tone exists in the sense of muscle development. But, NO, your muscle tone or development isn't gonna show at all if it's covered in fat.

But, to me at least, tone/development exists apart from just burning the fat off that covers your muscles.

And the HIGH REPS/LOW REPS ARGUMENT also has good arguments on both sides. Personally, I just never want to become "musclebound" or sacrifice speed, flexibility or agility in favor of bulk, so I like some high reps mixed in with a little bulk.
posted by Shane at 7:59 PM on May 28, 2004


There is muscle size, and there is body fat.


maybe you got confused -- when I said "you may want to look into that", i meant: you may want to look into that because I believe it is incorrect. ok, I didn't use scare quotes around "tone" when I used it in that last sentence, but I don't think that requires some sort of public dressing down.

now *I* feel better.

i am in total agreement with what you are said, btw, I'm just poor at wording it, because I don't interact with trainers all that often, ok?

You and I are, I think, amateur shlubs. We pump more weight and less reps, we're likely to end up with gorilla guts and tits, while more reps are more likely to encourage lean, flat development of the pecs.

shane: I am totally an amateur shlub. However, the books I have read, and the people I know whose opinions I would consider to be something OTHER than that of the amateur shlub seem to disagree with the idea of more reps necessarily developing your muscles in a different manner. Anyways, I don't know enough or care enough about weight-lifting to get into some sort of argument that necessitates sentences in all caps here, but I'd just thought I'd offer up that counterpoint because I've heard it disparaged so many times, and because I myself (a loooong time ago) have tried a "more reps" approach, didn't particularly notice any worthwhile gains (in strength or appearance).
posted by fishfucker at 8:00 PM on May 28, 2004

This usually translates to the part you really want to de-fat taking the longest.

Heh, yeah, it's funny, when you start a cardio program your face usually thins out first, and your gut is the last to go. Also, when your face and legs and shoulders get thinner much faster than your stomach, your stomach looks bigger in relation to the rest of you.


I'd just thought I'd offer up that counterpoint because I've heard it disparaged so many times, and because I myself (a loooong time ago) have tried a "more reps" approach, didn't particularly notice any worthwhile gains (in strength or appearance).

You're totally right, FF, more reps does get bashed a lot. At the very least, if you're doing more reps, I think it's important to put a little hurting on. Just lifting a light weight 30 times without coming anywhere near exhaution isn't going to do anything particularly helpful.

Anyway, I've known at least one serious power lifter who got lean AND big by working himself senseless with short reps and lotsa weight, so I guess it depends on the person and situation. Personally, though, I'm not giving up my set of 21.

Just my personal .02.
posted by Shane at 8:12 PM on May 28, 2004

Sorry, the term "toning" just gets on my nerves. It provoked my wholly unjustified all-capital scream (sorry FF) because to me it signals the imminent approach of spot reduction, lycra tights, and "blasting" your muscles. I think that talking of toning as though it existed diverts people from the truth: you can grow muscle (hypertrophy) and you can show muscle (fat loss), and different things are required for those two goals - in fact to some extent they are in conflict, since to eat enough to grow significantly generally requires adding a little bodyfat, while losing fat generally requires sacrificing a little muscle mass.

Incidentally, Mike Mentzer is dead, and the speculation is that steroid abuse in his youth is to blame. He's certainly on the far end of the high-intensity, infrequent training spectrum. I gave "HIT" (High Intensity Training) a good go, over a year or so, and saw very slow progress (although I got to squat almost twice bodyweight, which isn't too bad for an amatuer shlub). I got a lot stronger, but no bigger. I switched to Brian Haycock's methods (linked in my post above) and gained a kilo or two every 8 week cycle. I've stopped going for growth now though, because I can't handle eating so much or so fussily and I'm not willing to devote myself to it - 180lbs at 5'8" is enough for me. The thing I would note about the two approaches is that MM's training theories are not really grounded in any sort of peer-reviewed experiment, while Haycock's are.

As to turning out like a gorilla, I think the problem is that as you get older, it's harder to crank your metabolism up. So you bulk just fine, but cutting gets harder. It would seem that adrober is some years away from joining us anthropoids, however.

I'm an amateur shlub too, of course. I'm feeling in my best shape in years, maybe ever, from a short weights routine 3 times a week, bicycle commuting most days and capoeira once or twice a week. A couple of 10 rep sets on eight exercises or so, whole body, is working great. I eat when I'm hungry. The thought of spending hours in the gym every day is depressing.

Finally, adrober, it occurs to me that if you just put on some size, those widdle buds will probably look (relatively) a lot smaller. You might want to have a surreptitious peek around the changing room too: you could find that your idea of "natural" is a little out of whack. My friends tell me I'm crazy. Why don't you listen to them? You will have much more fun.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 9:05 PM on May 28, 2004

You can get benefit from high reps but from what I've seen is that most people don't work hard at high reps. I switched from low reps and high weight to high reps and low weights after a previous injury in my shoulder started acting up. I did this until it healed up enough to get back to high weight and low reps.

I watched what other people were doing with high reps and tried it and realized that I wasn't fatigued. I talked to people and found out they weren't fatigued either.

So I changed what I did. I'd load up the bar with enough weight that I'd get out about 18 reps before I'd be pinned. I'd take off 20 pounds and repeat then I'd take off another 20 pounds and repeat again. Between sets I'd do lots of stretching. The pain two days later was excruciating. To keep the first set in the 18-22 range I'd have to increase the poundage.

I did this for about 6 months, maybe 8. Since the weight I was using was progressively increasing I know I was building up muscle fibre and it did show on me. It just looked very different than what I usually had. In fact because of the increased reps I think I burned a lot more calories. I did lose some ability on heavy bench presses when I returned to that but a great deal of it I got back very quickly. I just wasn't comfortable balancing the heavy weights.
posted by substrate at 5:16 AM on May 29, 2004

just how thin are you? i felt the same until my weight dropped further (by chance - the stress of moving to a new country etc; i've never been overweight, and i've never exercised in a gym or done anything other than running or cycling). also, i talked to my partner about it one day and she laughed and said that i looked good as i was, which perhaps helped.

so it may be nothing more than losing a few more pounds and relaxing a little. i even own a few slightly less than baggy t-shirts now ;o)
posted by andrew cooke at 6:26 AM on May 29, 2004

Capoeira is fascinating, joe, although I've never found a local place to try it out.

I think, back in the day when I was 16, I got my best results from this bench routine: 2 sets of 20 reps that hurt; add weight and go about 10-12 reps; add more weight and go about 10 reps; then add LOTS more weight and struggle to get the bar up 4-6 times. That last set of 4-6 reps really added mass, and the starting sets of 20 kept my triceps and pecs chiselled.

I'd do this and other exercises religiously three times per week, and I'd run, especially during the summer, at least three miles 3-5 times per week. In hindsight I think I should have lifted maybe just twice a week. I definitely overtrained. I basically wanted to be a superhero. Anyway, back then, my triceps looked like someone drew them on with a thick black Sharpie marker.

Then I got into cross country and backed almost totally off the weight lifting. Now, well... I'm in pretty good shape, definitely good shape for an "old guy," heh.
posted by Shane at 11:55 AM on May 29, 2004

Let me toss my hat into the ring here.

What I've mostly heard for lifting weights is descending pyramids with increasing weights.

So let's say 3 sets
1 set: 12 reps at 100 lbs
2 set: 10 reps at 110 lbs
3 set: 8 reps at 120 lbs

The final set should be to muscle failure, not muscle exhaustion, but failure.

I've done what Shane has done, and I still do it from time to time, 2x20(or 25) sets. They're easier than the pyramid for me, but I don't know if I ever get the building factor I get from my normal weight-lifting routine.

Now toning is a myth, but only to a certain extent. Because most people keep there weight in their midsection, it is almost impossible to tone your stomach without a ridiculously low bodyfat. But for your upper body, most people should be able to tone it fairly well, especially since you mentioned you were skinny. Weight lifting will definitely start defining and enlarging your muscles.

Working out the chest will also broaden your chest which will help spread out your 'manboobs'. But if you're going to work out, I highly discourage you from working just your chest. If you're going to lift weights, you should be doing a whole body workout. If you're short on time, then concentrate on the big muscle exercises: bench press, incline bench, squat, lunge, deadlift, dips, shoulder press, ab work, rows, pullups, and a little bicep+tricep work. You can break this up into two 30 minute workouts a week.

Definitely work in some cardio, if you really want to get rid of your manboobs, then swimming will really help define and tone your upper body and shoulders. Running is really
good for you as well, keep that up.
posted by patrickje at 12:38 PM on May 29, 2004

I've seen research indicating swimming is a poor way to lose fat because the body reacts to the water by retaining subcutaneous fat as insulation.
posted by NortonDC at 2:00 PM on May 29, 2004

If you're short on time, then concentrate on the big muscle exercises

I offer an emphatic yes to this advice. Particularly squats. Just exercising one muscle group doesn't convince your body to "grow". If you want to flip the switch on, so to speak, you need to be forceful. Squats usually do the trick.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:50 PM on May 29, 2004

Doing pec exercises like push-ups and bench press might be the worst thing you can do, as they will develop and broaden the pectoral muscles that underly your man-boobs, pushing them out even further.

What you need to find out is whether fat loss is going to help or not. It doesn't sound like you have a lot to lose, and it's not clear that fat is really the issue anyway. Your body is not infinitely sculptable via muscle gain and fat loss. The shape of your chest might not be something you can really change without surgery.
posted by scarabic at 11:51 PM on May 29, 2004

Hmmm, well a few things...

My brother has gotten into very good shape and his manboobs are noticably smaller. So I think the weight loss will have an effect...

In other news, yesterday I attempted the bench press and found myself struggling to lift just the bar by itself more than 10 times. This is going to be quite the uphill battle...

But I'll definitely shoot for the 3 miles a day thing. I appreciate everyone's help!
posted by adrober at 9:03 AM on May 30, 2004

Not weight loss. FAT loss.

Benching is part technique. Don't arch your back. When you start using heavier weights, ask someone to spot. Curl your thumbs around the bar, don't let them rest underneath.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:10 PM on May 30, 2004

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