Riley Byrne, a personal trainer from Wollongong, was born with a chest deformity called pectus excavatum. The condition causes a ‘hole’ in the middle of the chest, resulting from the breastbone sinking into the chest and a visible flaring of the ribs leaving a deep dent. Affecting around 1 in every 300 men, Pectus is condition that many can relate to.
Living with Pectus left Riley with severe anxiety as a result of his physical appearance. “I had poor self esteem & no confidence. Imagine, every time you take of your top people poking your chest saying ‘what is that hole in your chest?’ It was humiliating. You honestly feel like an alien.”
After joining a gym at the age of 17, Riley decided to take matters into his own hands and attempt to correct the cosmetic severity of his condition. Through continual education, up skilling and research, Riley was able to gain muscle and correct his posture, decreasing the visible symptoms of pectus. Riley acknowledges the fact that appearance was only one factor motivating his change. “Changing your body is so much more than just changing the way you look, it’s the way you feel, it creates work ethic & it most importantly it gives you confidence & in my opinion being confident is fundamental for a happy life.”
Riley has incredibly defied the odds and created a lifestyle of health and fitness, taking the condition and building a budding fitness empire as a result of his experiences. He currently runs two successful training businesses (including Pectus PT for those also living with pectus), works regularly as a fitness model and recently launched an educational YouTube channel.
“My advice to people facing barriers to training is to stop worrying and worrying so much about the opinions of others. It is going to be hard at the start, but persist…. write down daily goals, tick them off every night, have a clear end goal, make it happen & craft the body and life of your dreams.”
Whether living with pectus or not, Riley’s positive approach to overcoming the odds can be applied to any workout routine. Follow his workout below and work towards building your own barrel chest.
4 sets of 3,6,9,12 reps each set respectively
(decrease weight each set to hit given rep range near failure with an emphasis on optimising strength in your first heavy set)
Heavy compound chest movements always come first for me because key bodybuilding principles of strength and progressive overload on major compound movements are still apparent for pectus.
Decline Smith Machine Press
3 sets of 8 reps
Decline is great for pectus as it enables you to target your lower chest and building this portion of your chest is key for minimising the cosmetic extent of the condition
3 sets of 10 reps
(slow time under tension with 3 second eccentric & concentric portion of the movement)
This exercise when performed with controlled slow proper form and a strong to mind to muscle connection that ensures the inner chest is controlling the movement will be key.
3 sets of 12 reps
The dumbbell pullover is the ultimate Pectus exercise. It simultaneously builds & stretches your chest. You can really feel the muscle fibres in and around the pectus indent working when you do this exercise correctly. This is a staple in my routine for fixing Pectus. Don't go too heavy but rather focus on perfect form & stretching the chest with a full range of motion.
3 sets of 15 reps
This exercise is a great finisher for a chest workout to really breakdown all the muscle cells in your chest so that when you fuel your body with protein and proper nutrition you can build it back bigger and stronger.
Related: The Chest Workout From Hell