When I turned 50, it was as if my breasts fainted from the shock. I don't expect a return to perkiness, but I'm looking for a great exercise to help them head at least a little north.
We here in the Health section feel your pain.
Sadly, there's not much you can do about the change in breast tissue that occurs with age, says Dr. Margot Putukian, director of athletic medicine at Princeton University, but you can maintain the tone and development of the muscles that support and form the foundation of breasts: the pectoralis musculature.
To beef up these muscles, Putukian recommends bench presses (in the regular, incline or decline position) and "flys." Chest flys are performed lying on the back, preferably on a bench, starting with arms straight up, a dumbbell in each hand. Arms are slowly lowered to the side, until they are on the same plane as the bench or floor. You can also improve the appearance of your breasts by approaching the problem from a different angle, says Steve Zim, owner of A Tighter U Fitness Studio in Culver City and author of three fitness books, including "The 30-Minute Celebrity Makeover Miracle."
Although Zim says that exercise can't lift the breasts, in addition to working on the muscles in the upper chest area, you can improve the appearance of breasts by making some simple postural changes.
If, like many people, you unwittingly bunch your shoulders when standing, your breasts will appear to sag more than they actually do. One way to determine if you're standing properly is to stand with your arms hanging loosely at your side. If the palms of your hands tend to settle on the fronts of your thighs (rather than parallel to the sides of your body), your shoulders are probably rolled forward.
"If we're rolled forward," says Zim, "we're hunching in, and then guess what? Our chest is automatically going to drop."
To correct this problem, Zim suggests working on the muscles in the back and those on the back of the shoulders, called the rear delts.
To work these areas, Zim recommends two exercises: one that he calls the "bent-over row" for the back, and an exercise he calls the "bent-over rear delt" for the shoulders. (See below.)
For each exercise, do three sets of 20 repetitions. Rest for no more than one minute between sets. Start with 3-pound to 5-pound weights. If you don't feel tired by the end of 20 reps, use heavier weights. If you feel exhausted, use lighter weights or no weights.
To correct posture
Bent-over row: Stand upright with a dumbbell in each hand, and with palms facing the thighs. Bend your knees slightly and bend forward at the waist until your upper body is parallel to the floor. Arms should be hanging straight down, with palms facing the knees. Still bent over, slowly draw the weights up and to the side by squeezing the shoulder blades so that the bent elbows are about shoulder level.
Bent-over rear delt: Sit on a stability ball or in a chair, with a dumbbell in each hand. Lean all the way forward, chest on thighs, arms hanging at the feet, palms facing each other. Slowly raise your arms out to the side until they are parallel to the floor, with palms facing the floor. Hold this position and squeeze your shoulder blades together for a beat or two. Then lower the hands back down to the floor.
To build the chest
Like Putukian, Zim believes that working the upper chest area can provide more fullness in the upper pectoral area, creating the illusion of perkier breasts. For this purpose, Zim likes an exercise that he calls "The Frankenstein."
The Frankenstein: Stand erect with your feet about 2 feet apart, holding a dumbbell, palms forward, one hand on each side of a single dumbbell. Slowly lift the dumbbell to shoulder level, like Frankenstein making an offering, then slowly lower the dumbbell back to the starting position. "This is a great exercise for getting the upper part of the chest," says Zim. "You are building a little bit of musculature up top, which actually will pull the skin up a little bit, and create the illusion of more height in the chest."
-- Janet Cromley