Chest expanders are a highly effective piece of exercise equipment that were regularly used by bronze era bodybuilders during the early 20th Century to sculpt large, highly defined musculature.
This is Fred Rollon, a strongman from around the early 20th Century. He was often referred to as “The “Human Anatomy Chart”. Bearing in mind this was during the pre-steroid era, his muscular separation is just outstanding. What’s of particular note, is that Rollon said that he didn’t train with weights at all but relied solely on his chest expanders.
But it wasn’t just for show – he trained with chest expanders with 300lbs of resistance.
John Grimek, a famous American bodybuilder from the 1930s and 1940s, also incorporated the chest expander into his routine. In this case, Grimek also incorporated traditional weight training into his routine but would also use chest expanders to add an extra dimension to his routine.
What is a chest expander?
A chest expander is a piece of exercise equipment consisting of a set of springs or rubber bands attached to two handles. Resistance is felt as the band or spring is stretched as the handles are pulled apart, With consistent use, this resistance causes the muscle to adapt and become stronger.
Benefits of chest expanders
There are a number of benefits of using a chest expander (such as this one on Amazon):
It’s a very light and highly portable piece of equipment. It weighs a few pounds and is compact enough to easily fit into a bag if you go travelling. Imagine carrying around a weight set that offers the same level of resistance.
Chest expanders use springs and bands to provide resistance. These provide a unique resistance curve. As the spring or band is stretched apart it actually gets tougher – more resistance is provided. This provides a different stimulus to regular weights.
The chest expander can be used on its own or combined with regular weight training to provide further stimulus to trigger muscular development.
With chest expanders it’s easy to adjust the resistance levels the equipment offers. You simply add or remove the required number of bands/springs from the device to make the exercises either easier or more difficult to perform.
You can work almost every muscle in the upper body using a chest expander.
The basic move of holding the chest expander out in front of you and pulling the handles apart is perhaps the most well known movement and works many of the muscles of the back.
Additional exercises can be performed by anchoring one handle and pulling on the other. For instance, whilst standing, you can anchor one handle to the ground with your foot. The other handle can be curled upwards to perform a bicep curl.
Alternatively, one handle can be attached to a solid, fixed object and exercises performed very much like a cable machine.