It’s nearly impossible for me to get guys to understand why there are over a million Google search results for “boob shrinking exercises” — that is, until dudes start developing breasts themselves. Then you all start to understand why some women might want to temporarily remove their big naturals when they workout, or at least tape them down like Christina Ricci circa 1995.
Gynecomastia, the unfortunate medical diagnosis for man boobs, is usually a result of an underlying glandular issue and hormonal imbalance that causes men to develop breast tissue. Guys with gynecomastia rarely respond to exercise alone, but there’s also something doctors refer to as pseudogynecomastia, which basically means you have a fat chest — and these might be the moobs you’re looking to cure.
“Gynecomastia and pseudogynecomastia are very common conditions that worry many men, but they’re often too embarrassed to discuss it openly,” Michael Alperovich, a plastic surgeon and assistant professor at Yale School of Medicine, tells me. Despite the shame, though, he sees about one guy per week who’s concerned enough to request an evaluation. “It can be particularly troubling to younger men and adolescents who may be teased by peers.”
While traditional gynecomastia requires men to correct the underlying hormonal imbalance and potentially even undergo surgery as treatment, guys with pseudogynecomastia can tackle their thicc chests with diet and exercise. Which got me thinking: Can the boob-shrinking exercises meant for women like me help the latter group? And if they could work, would that shatter the notion that we cannot target one area as a fitness goal? When it comes to spot-training for all genders, are titties the one exception to this rule?
“You cannot selectively reduce fat in one area of the body, whether under your armpit or belly,” says exercise physiologist Phung Tran. When I reference the many boob-shrinking workouts online, Tran reiterates this point. “Spot reduction simply doesn’t work. When you’re losing fat, you lose fat proportionally throughout the whole entire body.”
If a guy or gal wants to incorporate any of these exercises with regular cardio, it will help them tone their chests. But still, this might not make them smaller, and in some cases could make their chest bigger — to my surprise, when I searched exercises to increase boob size, many of the workouts were the same as the ones alleged to shrink them.
“The reason for the ‘breast-shrinking’ exercises being similar to the ‘breast-growing’ exercises is because the effects of these exercises are the same: engagement of the pectoral muscles located underneath the breast tissue, not the actual breast,” certified personal trainer Jill Whalen explains. “The exercises targeting the chest neither increase or decrease the actual breast or cup size, but will tone and strengthen the muscles underneath.”
Since the workouts don’t do anything for breast tissue, men may be more successful at building muscle from these exercises tailored for women — provided they’re eating right, engaging in cardio and don’t have real gynecomastia, only the pseudo kind. (Breast tissue is typically more firm than fat, but it’s important to get evaluated by a doctor to be sure.) For women, these workouts can also help tighten their Cooper’s ligaments, which keep breasts lifted. Men don’t have these ligaments even if they have gynecomastia, so they generally don’t worry about having saggy man boobs as much as they worry about having moobs at all. So there are distinct benefits from these exercises for men and women, but they’re not the shrinking and growing side effects described.
I tried out a 10-minute “breast reduction” workout as well as a video on “exercises to grow your breasts” and this was painfully true: Sure, I got a decent workout, but my boobs remained the same as they ever were, albeit a bit sweatier. In the end, these were simply chest and arm exercises packaged for busty (or flat) women in a ridiculous way. For instance, at just over a minute into the breast reduction workout, trainer and YouTuber Kola Olaosebikan says that the workout is designed for “larger breasted women,” and that we’re “not going to be doing some of those exercises that make you want to slap the person doing the workout.” Wait, slap them with our big boobs, or because of them?
Either way, if you’re looking for a good laugh and a lot of encouragement during a short chest workout at home, these videos definitely get the job done. But the one thing man boobs have in common with my own is that we can’t shrink them without making the rest of our bodies smaller too — rest assured, you can get rid of your breasts, but those divas are taking some other stuff with them.