Visible ribs often make you look very thin, so it's natural to want to beef up this part of your torso when you're trying to gain weight. You can't dictate where your body puts on pounds, however. Healthy weight gain will fill you out proportionally, according to your genetic body shape. But, by eating increased portions of quality foods and building muscle with particular emphasis on the chest and obliques, you can fill out and create the healthiest- and fittest-looking body for you.
How Weight Gain Works
You gain weight by eating more calories than you consume. An extra 250- to 500-calorie addition to what you need daily to maintain your weight helps you put on a healthy 1/2 to 1 pound per week. Where this weight is gained, however, is up to your body's genetics. Your rib cage should fill out along with other slender parts of your frame.
Avoid getting your extra calories from refined grains, soda, sugar or saturated fat; these foods won't help you look healthier and get stronger. Weight gain for quality muscle rather than excess body fat requires calories from nutrient-rich foods that contribute to good health.
Weight training, along with the increase in caloric intake, helps promote muscle gain as well. Use targeted strength exercises as part of your comprehensive program, so you can develop the muscles around your ribs.
Eating More for Weight Gain
At meals, increase your portion sizes of healthy carbohydrates, such as whole grains and starchy vegetables. An extra ounce or two of lean protein, such as flank steak or roasted chicken breast, also boosts your calorie intake as well as your protein intake, to support muscle growth. Have an 8-ounce glass of milk — full fat is fine if you're underweight — to add 149 calories to each meal.
Snacks with extra protein and unsaturated fats provide a way to add calories, too. A 1/2 cup serving of nuts or trail mix has 350 to 400 calories and 10 to 13 grams of protein. A turkey sandwich on whole-wheat bread with lettuce and avocado, cottage cheese with slivered almonds and blueberries, or a fruit smoothie made with whey protein powder and yogurt are other healthy snack options to promote weight gain. Dried milk powder stirred into casseroles or hot cereal, cheese on vegetables and scrambled eggs, and sunflower seeds on your green salad also sneak in extra calories.
Work Out to Build Muscle
You'll need to strength train to add muscle mass to your frame, so the weight you gain doesn't primarily come from fat. A comprehensive strength-training program helps fill out your entire physique, including your rib cage region.
Go for a minimum of two sessions per week that address all the major muscle groups, including the legs, back, hips, arms, shoulders, chest and abs. Use heavy weights; you want to feel muscle exhaustion after six to eight repetitions. Start with just one set of each exercise, but add more sets and increase weights as you become stronger. Compound moves, such as chest presses, pull-ups, squats and lunges, work the most muscles at one time.
After an intense weight-training session, have a snack that replenishes your carbohydrate stores and provides calories, as well as offers protein for muscle repair and growth. Two hard-boiled eggs with a whole-wheat English muffin, Greek yogurt with granola and berries, or canned tuna with a whole-wheat pita and raw vegetables can all help you recover from a tough workout.
Rib Cage-Specific Muscle Building
Target the muscles in your rib cage area with smaller, specific movements that challenge the muscles around your ribs. Chest presses, flyes and pushups help trigger the pectorals, which are located at the upper chest. Russian twists with a medicine ball, Pallof presses and the Pilates criss-cross are examples of exercises that target the obliques, especially the external obliques that lie just outside the ribs.
Complete a minimum of one set of four to eight repetitions of the chest exercises and up to three sets of 10 to 12 repetitions of the oblique exercises.