AS THE ‘DAD BOD’ has been embraced as a cultural catchphrase, body positivity has become more acceptable among men who have come to realize that a six-pack isn’t necessarily a must-have physical attribute. Many are slowly (but steadily) accepting a wider range of body types as belonging in the norm.
That said, there are some physical conventions that seem harder to break from—and a major one has to do with the upper chest. If you’re a man with prominent breasts, a.k.a ‘man boobs’ or ‘moobs’, you might not be as ready to embrace your so-called ‘flaws’ as others. More specifically, ‘man boobs’ can refer to everything from a little extra on top to a medical condition where excess fat develops on the chest—and they are at the base of many men’s insecurities.
The conversation around body type is shifting as more guys are willing to decry the dark side of the pursuit of an ideal physique—but that doesn’t mean the pressure to be perfect has vanished. A strong, shapely chest is a uniquely male attribute that many may feel like they should have, no exceptions. Hollywood superheroes are still largely portrayed as barrel-chested, which can be difficult to see for men who don’t fit that particular mold. Due to this and other factors, the desire for the main-character body may still persist in the back of your mind.
Gaining self-confidence regardless of your physical attributes is important for your mental health, but there’s also nothing wrong with trying to become the best version of yourself. If that means shedding some weight or building muscle when you feel like you need to, you’re allowed to change your body the way you see fit.
What Is Gynemastia?
The medical condition most typically associated with “man boobs,” known as gynemastia, is much more common than you might expect; up to 30 percent of men will be affected at some point in their lives, often during periods of life when the body undergoes hormonal changes like puberty or between the ages of 50 to 69.
But this isn’t a one-size fits all condition. There are several factors to consider for guys with ‘man boobs’ in determining the cause of the enlargement. Some men might just carry excess fat in their breasts, so exercise can help to reduce the area down to a more proportional size. Thankfully, the fatty lumps aren’t necessarily dangerous (belly fat in the gut is what you should really worry about), but the condition could be caused by changes in hormone levels from a variety of natural or synthetic factors. Clinical gynecomastia is a hormonal imbalance or elevated levels of estrogen and lowered levels of testosterone. This could come naturally, or might be caused by medications, street drugs, or steroids.
Still, it’s usually not a serious problem and may go away on its own. However, if you think you have gynecomastia and it continues to persist or cause you discomfort, you should visit a doctor to find out if medication or surgery will help.
To get rid of their prominent breasts, men are increasingly opting for a surgical solution. Male breast reduction procedures rose by 32 percent from 2000 to 2017 according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, and in 2019 was the fourth most common cosmetic surgery procedure for men.
For those who are dealing with excess fat stored in the chest, picking a more targeted workout plan might help. Using a routine that works to build muscle while burning fat can be a key path to success. Picking exercises that work your whole body to kickstart your metabolism will help along with hammering the chest, so get ready to work hard and fast.
You should also make sure that all of your training focus doesn’t go into your chest. Over-emphasizing what you perceive as your problem area might only cause new ones. To help create more symmetry, think about what’s behind you. “If you want a bigger chest, do back exercises,” says Men’s Health fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S. “Doing only pushups and bench presses will lead your chest muscle fibers to tighten, pulling your shoulders forward (especially if you have a desk job). Offset that with rows; stronger back muscles will pull your shoulders back, allowing your chest fibers to broaden out visually. “
With that in mind, check out this workout.
The Man Boob Eliminator Workout
Firm up your chest and shed your man boobs with these supersets.
DO THIS: Beginning with exercise 1A, do as many reps as you can in 30 seconds. Then rest for 30 seconds.
Next, do exercise 1B, completing as many reps as you can in 30 seconds, and then rest for 30 seconds. That’s 1 round. Complete 4 rounds of superset 1, then rest 2 minutes before moving on to superset 2 for 4 rounds.
Add these supersets to your workout routine 2 or 3 times a week.
1A. Inverted Row
Set up a barbell in a squat rack or find a bar at a height where you can hold it from underneath with your body almost parallel with the ground. Make sure to squeeze your glutes and engage your core, as if you were holding a plank, so that this becomes a full-body exercise. Squeeze your shoulder blades, then pull yourself up to the bar (imagine that you are pulling the bar down to your chest to help engage your back).
This basic exercise can help to shape your chest more than you might expect—but you might be missing out on some benefits if you’re not in the proper position. Like the inverted row, you should do your best to keep your plank position strong, with engaged glutes and core. For more great chest engagement, make sure that your hands aren’t too wide apart and your elbows don’t flare when you lower to the floor. Once you can push through 15 to 20 perfect reps, begin experiment with variations and half-rep schemes.
2A. Goblet Squat
Hold a dumbbell or kettlebell at chest height. Keep your chest and core engaged to keep the weight from tipping your torso forward—squeezing the back will also help with this. Take your time to lower down, keeping your knees wide apart. Press up from the ground to raise back up top.
The key here is that this is not a squat with a front raise. Instead, focus on your hip hinge and extension. Bend your knees slightly, bring the weight back through your legs, then stand up and squeeze your glutes powerfully to drive the weight up.
How Can Diet Affect Your Man Boobs?
Importantly, no amount of focused exercise can target specific areas on your body for “spot reduction.” Chest workouts are one thing you can do to change the way your body looks, but the composition of your body will not change dramatically if you’re doing nothing to improve the way you eat. (Diet also won’t allow you to target specific spots like your chest, but you’ll have more success with a solid nutrition plan).
Losing weight is mathematically simple—just burn more calories than you take in (this is called a calorie deficit). By no means, though, does that mean calorie cutting is simple in practice, especially if you’re also exercising and looking to build muscle. You’ll need plenty of fuel to burn.
Diet is not only about how much you eat, but also what you’re eating. Muscle building is highly dependent on protein intake. If you’re not getting enough, you may be missing out on some gains. To maintain muscle mass, it’s recommended to get between 1.2 and 1.6 grams of protein daily for every kilogram of your target body weight daily, Heather Leidy, Ph.D., a protein researcher and associate professor in Purdue University’s Department of Nutrition Science told Men’s Health. To gain muscle mass, you’ll need even more. Prioritize lean sources of protein like chicken, turkey, beans, and tofu to keep your muscle building on track.
To get started with an eating plan that will help you achieve your body composition goals, talk to your doctor or a dietician to create a diet plan that’s specific to you.
Writer/editor Lara Rosenbaum lives in San Francisco, and is an avid health advocate and outdoorswoman. She is a former senior editor at Women’s Health, and former member of the U.S. Freestyle Ski Team. She thrives on adventure and sunshine. Follow her on Twitter @lara_faye, or visit her at: www.lararosenbaum.com.
Cori Ritchey, NASM-CPT is an Associate Health & Fitness Editor at Men’s Health and a certified personal trainer and group fitness instructor. You can find more of her work in HealthCentral, Livestrong, Self, and others.
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