Forgotten Exercises: The Rader Chest Pull


Having previously discussed the history of the squat exercise, today’s post examines the creation of the Rader Chest Pull, an exercise that Peary Rader, one of the Irongame’s biggest names in the twentieth-century, often used in conjunction with the squat.

Typically Rader would inform trainees to perform this exercise directly after a set of twenty rep breathing squats. This would be done, in Rader’s words, in order to expand the ribcage and increase anabolism.

So how did one perform the Chest Pull?

Writing in the 1950s Peary informed his readers that

 The Rader chest pull is probably the most effective chest stretching movement ever devised. Great results have been obtained from it when other methods seem to fail. It is a little difficult to learn properly but once learned it is easy to do and can be done anywhere and anytime. Anyone can learn it with a little persistence.

You should do about 20 repetitions in this. You can do a few repetitions at any time during the day with benefit, for it is an exercise in which you won’t go stale and you can do it anywhere you can grasp something solid about 6 inches above the top of the head.

Take a position as shown in the photo (shown at the top of this post) and grasp something a little above the height of the head. Now pull down and inward with the hands and at the same time breathe in to your maximum. Breathe into the upper chest, never the lower chest. Lift the chest high and keep the head high and back a little. Tense the neck muscles, as this helps to lift the chest. You will notice that the chest muscles are tensed up and pulling hard. It is the chest muscles (pectorals) that do the lifting and pulling of the chest, resulting in expansion. You have to learn to pull hard and be sure the pull is downward and not inward.

If at first you fail to feel a little pain near your breastbone, you are not doing it right. You may be tensing the abdominal muscles which would pull the chest down and flatten it. You must keep the abdominal muscles relaxed. When you can feel this pain around the breastbone you are doing it right. It means you are stretching the rib box.

You will soon become very expert at doing this exercise and getting the right effect and your chest will feel high, arched and stretched after a session of it. Try to maintain the expanded feeling by correct posture.

Now importantly, Rader was very systematic about when and where the Chest Pull should be performed. Indeed, he only ever really accompanied it with high rep squatting or deadlifting exercises. It was not then for the faint of heart, which may explain why the movement has fallen out of favour in bodybuilding circles.

That the pullover, which many would view as an easier alternative to the Chest Pull, is itself relatively rare nowadays speaks to the disappearance of ‘rib cage expanding exercises’.

Have you ever tried the chest pull? If so let us know in comments!