Even someone with an untrained eye and with no prior knowledge of bodybuilding can go to his first physique contest and notice immediately that some bodies look more "right" and "beautiful" than others. Why? Shape and symmetry. You don't need 20 years experience in bodybuilding to realize that anyone with a thick, blocky physique who has narrow shoulders and a wide waist and hips, combined with lousy shape and poor symmetry, does not look "right" or "beautiful" to the eye. Such physiques are not beautiful - maybe visually impressive in their own right, but not beautiful. Somehow they offend the eye and the senses. Examples of bodybuilders who look "right" and "beautiful" are Steve Reeves and Francis Benfatto.
Two examples of bodybuilders who do not look "right," even when they are in hard muscular condition, are Benny Podda and Tim Belknap, because they lack V-taper and are too thick, blocky and shapeless.
They get by on their incredible mass and muscularity and have fantastic individual bodyparts, but the overall package is missing. Obviously, I say this with no malice toward or disrespect for these bodybuilders. I'm merely pointing out the differences in physique types.
Of course, many will argue that shape is entirely due to genetics and, if you do not possess the wide shoulders and small waist of Steve Reeves, there is nothing that can be done about it. There is, though, and I'll get to that shortly, but first I'd like to make a point that many will not understand and many will not agree with. I know it will be unpopular . . . but here it is.
Those athletes with the best genetics for bodybuilding (those possessing ideal X-frames) not only will win more shows than their less fortunate peers, but they should win. There ought to be no debate about this. If an X-frame bodybuilder goes against a thick, blocky type in a bodybuilding contest, and both are in the same muscular condition, the X-frame bodybuilder should win every time. End of story. No ifs, ands, or buts. And if a bodybuilder with a moderate X-frame goes against a bodybuilder with a super-exaggerated X-frame, everything else being equal, it's all over but the crying for the moderate X-frame.
A lot of people will say that's not fair. One person was born with better natural shape and proportions. That was just luck. Why should luck enter into the equation as to who should win a physique contest? Why? Because nobody every said life was fair. It's not fair that I wasn't born with the talent to run as fast as Carl Lewis. It's not fair that I wasn't born with Wayne Gretzky's or Michael Jordan's talents. It's not fair that I wasn't born with the good looks of a Hollywood movie star, the writing talent of John le Carré, the business savvy of a Rockefeller or the muscle-building genetics of Sergio Oliva. Hell, it's not fair that I don't win $10,000,000 in the lottery. Them's the breaks. Life isn't fair. As was said down on Orwell's Animal Farm, we're all equal but some of us are more equal than others.
No, you can't play center in the NBA if you're five feet tall. You can't play defensive end in the NFL if you're built like Woody Allen. Too bad. That's just the way it is. Whining, complaining and moaning about it won't change anything. And in the same way you can't do well in bodybuilding with bad genetics. I agree, it's not fair, but that's life in the big city.
What does it mean to be a bodybuilder? In many ways it's unfortunate that bodybuilding is called body-building. The word itself has a negative connotation to the general public and mainstream press for one thing, and for another, too many take it to literally mean they're supposed to build their body as big as they can and make each muscle as large as they can. That's a sure way to destroy shape. Frank Zane, three-time Mr. Olympia winner and possessor of one of the most beautiful and aesthetically pleasing physiques of all time, wrote: "Just as the sculptor uses hammer and chisel to form his creations out of solid stone, the bodybuilder uses barbells and dumbbells to shape his own body. The type of exercise he does will determine the type of physique he will develop."
Creating a work of art and a beautiful physique means having a critical eye as to where you are building muscle on your body. It means trying to eliminate weak points and constantly monitor your development to keep everything in visual proportion so that no one muscle stands out or overpowers your physique. It means training for shape as much as for size. Zane also wrote: "Shape means everything to a bodybuilder. Anyone can get size and cuts if he follows and special training program consistently over enough time. Muscle shape is much harder to come by. It's muscle shape that gives a physique its personal identity and distinguishes it from the development of others."
As long as you keep in mind that bodybuilding is not about simply trying to get as big as you can, but about trying to build the most perfect body, you're still on the right track. You have to put some thought into which exercises you do, why you do them, and where you're building muscle. This is teh only way to control your development and design the body you desire. Here are some basic rules to follow for training to build symmetry and improve body shape:
1.) Always emphasize your slowest-growing and/or least -developed muscles in your training more than your fastest-growing and/or best-developed muscles. Give your weak points priority in your workouts, training them first when your energy, strength and enthusiasm are highest. Do more total sets and exercises for your weak points as well. In order to create symmetry and improve proportions, sometimes it might be necessary to hold back gains in some faster-growing/overdeveloped muscles to catch up.
For example, if your lower pecs are so large that they overpower your upper pecs and make it impossible to get your upper pecs in balance with your lower pecs, it might be necessary to reduce the size of your lower pecs and/or stop training them altogether to allow the upper pecs a chance to catch up in development. The same might be true of your upper and lower thighs, or it might be necessary to reduce your thigh size in order to improve the balance between calves and thighs and thighs and torso.
2.) Do not train all muscle groups equally hard or with the same number of sets. This is a corollary of rule number one. Do more work for the weak muscles, less for the strong ones. Remember, not all muscles respond equally to training and not all exercises are equal in terms of promoting muscle growth. For instance, bench presses build lower and middle pectorals too well for some people, leaving the smaller and less developed upper pecs to fend for themselves. As much as we would like them to, incline presses and incline flyes do not build upper pecs as well as bench presses develop the middle and lower pecs. Obviously then, it will be necessary to do more sets and harder work to create an equal amount of growth in the upper pecs.
Likewise hack squats, sissy squats and leg extensions do not build lower thighs as well as squats build the upper thigh, so you have to be careful not to overdevelop the upper thighs by squatting too much. Of course, you constantly strive for more and more mass, especially for your first five or so years of of bodybuilding. But after you have acquired some basic mass in each muscle group it may be that you only have to do a few heavy sets with basic exercises to maintain that mass, and many sets of specific isolation exercises to build up some small muscles or highlight some aspects of a muscle - e.g., the outer head of the triceps, the side head of the deltoids, the lower thighs, lower biceps, and the upper and outer pecs.
3.) Never try to develop all muscles equally or to build all muscles to their maximum size potential. Some muscles grow too fast and easily, especially the lower pecs, front delts, upper thighs, hips, glutes. obliques and traps. Their ultimate growth should be kept in check for the sake of symmetry. On the other hand, smaller muscle groups like the calves, abs, serratus, intercostals, side and rear deltoids, forearms, lower biceps, lateral head of the triceps, leg biceps. spinal erectors, upper pecs, lats, rhomboids, teres minor and major, and other small muscles of the upper back can and should be trained for maximum size and development. It's pretty hard to overdevelop these muscles. For the sake of simplicity, let's call them muscle groups one and two, respectively. If you try to develop all your muscles equally, the muscles of muscle group one will overpower the muscles of muscle group two and make good symmetry, balance and proportions an impossibility, besides ruining your aesthetics and shape.
4.) Develop a balance between your uppers and lowers. I'm talking about the relationship between the upper and lower pecs, upper and lower thighs, and upper and lower biceps and triceps. One should never overpower the other, but more emphasis should be placed on the upper pecs, the lower biceps, triceps and thighs. This improves balance and shape.
5.) Emphasize the origins and insertions of the muscles when you train, not just the central belly of the muscle. Basic exercises tend to develop just the belly of a muscle. This is important for building mass, but too much mass in the belly gives a muscle a shortened, bunched-up look. For a nicer shape use isolation exercises to develop the origins and insertions.
Creating an Illusion
By now you should realize that symmetry and muscle shape are not purely a matter of genetics. How you train counts heavily, too. You can train to improve your symmetry and body shape by intelligently emphasizing certain areas of the body while de-emphasizing other areas. By doing this you create an illusion of looking closer to the ideal X-frame physique, especially if you are not naturally wide in the shoulders and narrow at the waist and hips, or do not have long, full muscle bellies and small joints that give the appearance of the large muscles swelling off the joint.
Okay, I won't kid you - structural weaknesses cannot be radically altered or totally hidden, but they can be minimized or disguised. That's what creating an illusion is all about, camouflaging weaknesses. This is best accomplished by attacking the weak point on two fronts. You build up the weak point while at the same time reducing the nearby strong point which emphasizes the weakness.
The most obvious example of creating an illusion of width is of someone who has naturally narrow shoulders and a wide waist and hips, so there is little or no V-taper, one of the prerequisites of an X-frame. By adding one inch of muscle to your deltoids, especially the important side heads, you create the illusion of reducing the waist and hips at the same time. Increase the delts by two inches and the waist looks two inches smaller. Or conversely you might keep your shoulder width the same but decrease your waist by two inches, which would make your shoulders appear two inches wider. Naturally the biggest change of illusion of width and V-taper takes place when you reduce your waist while adding size to the side heads of the deltoids. A two-inch reduction of the waistline while adding two inches to the shoulders would make you appear to be four inches wider, and your V-taper would improve dramatically.
You can create an illusion by adding size to your calves and reducing thigh size to create a better calf-to-thigh balance. You can make your are appear to be wider by overdeveloping the lateral head of the triceps. You can give your chest the appearance of more width by developing the upper and outer sections of the pecs more than the lower and inner sections. This makes your pecs flare out from the front the way the lats do from the back. By combining outer and upper pec specialization with the side-deltoid and lateral-head-of-the-triceps work - while reducing the waist and hips as much as possible - you can maximize your upper body width.
Creating an illusion is what bodybuilding is all about. You can only create an illusion by shape training and paying attention to every detail of your physique and training. You must have an eye as to when something is getting out of proportion or when your physique is not looking "right" or "beautiful." As I said before, creating an illusion sometimes means reducing a muscle, not building it. Just because you can build a muscle bigger doesn't necessarily mean you should. Doing so might ruin your shape and proportions, so stop and think if continuing to build a muscle will enhance of detract from the look of your physique. Frank Zane said he would never do any exercise if it didn't enhance and improve his physique. Neither should you.
Your skeletal frame can only hold so much muscle before the natural shape of the body is destroyed. Trying to add more and more muscle to your body, anywhere you can, is like trying to stuff five pounds of flour into a three-pound bag. The bag becomes overstuffed and bulges unattractively. The same is true of your body, so never build more muscle than your frame can hold, even if you can. Never get just big for the sake of it. And keep in mind that, whenever one muscle gets too big and out of proportion with another muscle, it makes that muscle appear smaller.
To build shape and beauty into your physique yo9u shouldn't just copy a routine out of a magazine because some champion uses it. His needs are different from yours. Don't train mindlessly. Think about what you need to build on your physique to improve it and where. Make an honest assessment of your weak points and then train to improve them. Make your training a dynamic, creative process. Be like the sculptor who adds size here and removes it there to create a work of art. Control your development - don't just let it happen. Only choose to do exercises that improve your shape and proportions. If they don't, even if they're among your favorite exercises - such as the squat, bench press or deadlift - don't do them.
Sculpting a beautiful body means paying attention to the development of the small muscles, those identified earlier as muscle group two. It means accentuating certain sections of major muscle groups and always training for balance within muscle groups and between different muscle groups. You must work on flaring everything out from the middle of the body. The lats and teres should flare out from the back. The outer pecs should flare out from the front. The side deltoid and lateral triceps should flare out from both sides. At the same time the waist should be as small as possible. That's how to build a beautiful and visually impressive physique and to give the illusion of an ideal X-frame.
Now that you know where you should build muscle to improve body shape, let's quickly go over some of the best exercises for each muscle group to help you accomplish better shape and beauty.
The Upper Pecs
Stick with incline presses with dumbbells, barbells or a Smith machine, and incline dumbbell flyes. Wide-grip bench presses to the neck can be good, too. To isolate the upper pecs pull the elbows back in line with the shoulders, drop the shoulders and arch the rib cage, without arching your back off the bench. To work more upper/outer muscle fibers, use a wide grip on the barbell and do the incline flyes in constant tension style, stopping the bells 12-15 inches apart at the top.
The Outer Pecs
The best outer pec exercise is the wide-grip or Gironda dip. Elbows must be kept wide, and it is important to dip as low as possible but only come up three-quarters to keep constant tension on the outer fibers. Any wide-grip barbell presses (flat, decline or incline) or dumbbell flyes done in constant tension style will work the outer fibers too.
Lateral Head of the Triceps
To hit the lateral or outside head of the triceps, try triceps pressdowns with the elbows wide, rope extensions, again with the elbows wide and turning the wrists out in the contracted position, or lying dumbbell extensions, moving the dumbbells across the face.
Try lying EZ-Curl bar extensions, letting the elbows splay out to the sides and lowering the bar to below the chin. I also recommend close-hand pushups.
Preacher curls with either a barbell or dumbbells are best, followed by EZ-Curl reverse curls and hammer curls.
Side Head of Deltoids
The best side-head developer is the side raise or lateral with either dumbbells or cables. You can use one arm or two arms at a time. Remember to keep strict form and not to swing the bells up or to drop them down. Raise and lower the bells under muscular tension, pausing at the top. Teach yourself to contract the side delt as strongly as you can contract your biceps and growth will come. Keep the undersides of the forearms and the palms of the hands facing down at the top. For side-head development also try W-presses, Scott dumbbell presses, medium-grip upright rows with the bar traveling at different distances from the body, dumbbell upright rows bringing the bells up under the armpits and holding in the top position for a count of two, Parrillo delt rowing on a seated cable row machine (use long straps and pull the hands behind the head at ear level, not to the stomach as in lat rowing), and behind the neck presses, especially in the pre-exhaust style with dumbbell laterals.
Rear Deltoid Head
Best bets here are the rear delt machine and bent laterals, one or two arms at a time, with either dumbbells or cables. Wide-grip bent rows done smoothly, with no heaving, and pulling the bar to the upper chest, not the stomach, are good. Also try behind the neck upright rows on the Universal bench press station or a Smith machine.
For lat width stick to wide-grip chins to the front and back or wide-grip pulldowns to the front or back. For lower lats try close-grip chins or pulldowns, reverse-grip barbell rows and one-dumbbell rows, pulling the bell to the rear slightly, not just to the chest. To hit all sections of the lats include dumbbell pullovers, medium and parallel grip chins or pulldowns, and various rows (T-bar, bent barbell with different width grips, and cable rows).
The Spinal Erectors
Hyperextensions, stiff legged deadlifts and good mornings are your best lower back exercises, and the safest too. Regular deadlifts place too much strain on the spine, build the obliques too much and thicken the waist.
Dumbbell pullovers are the best serratus exercise I know of. Close grip chins and pulldowns build some serratus and serratus/low lat tie-ins. Also give one arm dumbbell pullovers while lying on your side a try.
Avoid straight leg situps and leg raises which involve the hip flexors and lower back too much. Stick to crunches, knee-ins on a bench or knee-ups hanging from a chinning bar or on a hip flexor bench.
These are the cords of muscle at the top of the thigh tying into the hips. It's a tough muscle to bring out if you're carrying too much bodyfat. The best exercises for the thigh rods are the lying-down leg extension, locking the legs out, the roman chair squat, and the cable extension or thigh kickouts (done by attaching a strap to the ankle from a low pulley, facing away from the machine and bringing the leg forward while tensing the thigh rods). Lunges also work, as do sissy squats. Unfortunately, few gyms these days carry roman chair squat devices or leg extension machines that allow one to lie down. Practicing flexing the thigh rods helps to bring them out, too.
Parallel squats with the toes pointing out are excellent, as are leg presses and hack squats, feet wide, toes pointing out and pushing from the heels.
The best lower thigh exercises are leg extensions (locking out completely and holding for a count of two), hack squats (feet low on the platform and rissing on the toes as you go into the low position), Smith machine squats (placing the feet in front of the machine so you can lean back onto the bar), front squats, and straight-back squats with the heels elevated on a four-inch block.
To work the soleus (lower calf) any calf raise with the knees bent is effective, with the seated calf raise being the best. To work the gastrocnemius (upper calf), do (knees locked) standing calf raises, toe presses on the leg press, toe presses on the hack squat machine (facing down), and one legged calf raises. Another excellent exercise for the soleus is the squatting down calf raise, while the donkey calf raise hits the entire calf to some degree, depending on how much the knees are bent.
To hit the outer head of the calves, twist your heels out at the top of the movement, rolling slightly onto the outside of the foot. For the inner head, twist your heels inward and rise on the big toe.
Train the tops of the forearms with reverse wrist curls, reverse curls, reverse preacher curls and hammer curls. The undersides of the forearms respond to wrist curls seated, or standing and holding the bar behind the back.
Building a beautiful and shapely physique is a much more creative and individualistic process than building mass and size alone. It can also be more rewarding. I strongly encourage you to adhere to the principles of shape training and symmetry building in order to create a beautiful physique, one that is as perfect as you can make it.
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