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Size or Shape? – The Chicken & Egg Dilemma
“A four-inch chest gain is great, but a four-inch waist gain at the same time is not at all acceptable.” – Frank Sepi, top bodybuilding model clearing up some confusion about size and shape.
Here we will Discuss Get a Good And Perfectly Proportioned Body dilemma between Size & Shape First before entering into Intermediate level, As it will help you to understand the body Structure Correctly.
The irony about the never-ending size-and-shape debate is that there really shouldn’t be any debate at all. Shape and size are interrelated; you can’t really have one without the other. Besides, shape really means two things: the shape of the individual muscles and the overall shape of the body.
You can’t do much to change the shape of your muscles, because muscle shape is primarily a result of genetics. Fortunately, you have more flexibility when it comes to changing your overall body shape.
As soon as you begin building size you automatically change the shape of your body. But you want to ensure that the shape you are building is appealing – you must build muscle evenly.
Building the largest body may be your goal, but a preferable goal might be to build the most perfectly proportioned body. Always keep track of which exercises you’re doing, why you’re doing them, which muscles are responding and which ones are lagging behind and need more work.
This is the only way to shape the body properly. If your goal is to eventually compete in bodybuilding contests you should concentrate on shaping your body from the very beginning.
Now by this we don’t mean limiting yourself to isolation exercises. Instead, use basic compound movements to put mass where it belongs. Compound movements also give your physique great-looking proportions, because they work more than one muscle at a time.
It’s amazing what a bit of creative training can do for a physique. Just take a look at Dexter Jackson or Victor Martinez.
While neither has the mass of Jay Cutler or Ronnie Coleman, they can hold their own in competition because they’ve paid careful attention to their proportions.
By following this philosophy, guys such as Frank Zane, Shawn Ray, and Lee Librada beat competitors who outweighed them by 30 or 40 pounds. But the big guys wouldn’t shine without proportion, either.
Guys like Oliva, Arnold, Haney, Yates, Coleman and Cutler all have had (or have) well-proportioned bodies with muscle mass distributed evenly over their bodies.
“You cannot build a good physique using just a few movements. It’s impossible. Just think for a moment.
How can an individual build a balanced physique when typically his workout routine includes 15 sets of bench presses, 10 sets of shoulder presses, 5 squats, even fewer back movements, and probably no forearm, calf, or abdominal work.”
– The late Vince Gironde, the Iron Guru, commenting on where most bodybuilders go wrong in their training.
So what does all this mean for your training? Despite what some experts may tell you, all exercises are mass-builders – no exceptions.
Yes it’s true that some exercises are better than others for building mass (bench presses, squats, barbell curls, etc.), but even the so-called shaping exercises (side laterals, dumbbell flies, concentration curls, and leg extensions) will stimulate muscle growth – just not to the same extent as the basic compound movements.
Your shape comes from where the muscle mass is added. Side laterals, for example, shape the shoulders by building the side shoulder. Dumbbell flies build the outer regions of the chest muscles.
The flat barbell bench press is great for building the lower and outer chest, but eventually you’ll probably need to do more incline presses and flies to balance out the upper chest. In fact, sticking to the bench press is a pitfall of many bodybuilders.
The bench is great for beginners because it stimulates many different muscles of the upper body including the shoulders and triceps.
But many bodybuilders let their egos take over and begin to focus on “how much they can bench” rather than if the exercise is producing results. Because they are using whatever means necessary to push the weight up, you’ll often see their front delts take over from their chest in development.
One of the worst things you can do is to become set in your ways. You’ll have to follow a program to begin with, but if a certain exercise is not increasing the size of the targeted muscle and adding to the shape of your body, get rid of it.
Even bodybuilders who seem to grow by looking at weights must constantly modify their training routines to keep their physiques balanced and in proportion.
Your first step to fantastic, huge, perfect proportions might surprise you, but it will guarantee results: Read. Read as many books as you can on anatomy and physiology.
Try a used bookstore as you’ll probably pick up university and college textbooks for a few dollars. Remember there is no such thing as too much knowledge. The next step is to listen to your body.
If you’ve said it’s leg day but your legs are still aching from the last workout, then work out a different body-part. And just because the bench press is a great chest exercise for some doesn’t necessarily mean it will put Cutler-sized pecs on you.
For some people the bench press does very little for chest development because their front delts and pecs take over. You must learn what works for you and trust your training judgment. Besides your own judgment, it never hurts to get a second and even third opinion.
While your friends are a good place to start, keep in mind they may hide their negative opinions – or they may just not know about bodybuilding physiques.
If you know a few competitive bodybuilders or, better still, bodybuilding judges, ask them to give you an honest appraisal of your physique. Now be warned – you may get a brutally honest opinion.
And that’s what you want. Just remember that honest comments will do more for your physique than the classic: “You look great.” Bodybuilding judges will not judge you on how you look relative to Joe Couch Potato, they will be comparing you to the best onstage with you.
GIVE PRIORITY WHERE IT’S DUE
Another strategy is to pay close attention to your body parts to determine which are growing the fastest and which are lagging behind. As soon as you notice weak points, modify your training routine to give them priority.
Start training them first in your workout when your energy reserves are highest. Don’t be afraid to perform a few extra sets and reps for these slackers, either.
In order to balance out a physique it’s sometimes necessary to deliberately slow down the progress of fast-growing muscles so the slow-growers catch up. If your back is weak and your chest is strong, then train your back first and give it lots of sets.
Meanwhile, train only enough chest to keep up what mass you have. You can even do the same within one body part.
For example, if your upper chest starts lagging behind your lower chest, back off on your flat presses and flies and increase your inclines. The same logic applies to legs.
Early in your training career you can begin every leg workout with squats, but if you’re like most bodybuilders, eventually your thighs and glutes will start overpowering your hamstrings.
Stiff-leg deadlifts and leg curls might not give you the same degree of satisfaction as squats do, but they’ll balance the back of your upper legs with the front. And believe me, no one can win a competition at any level with flat hamstrings, no matter how great their quads are.
STRIKE A BALANCE
Another mistake many bodybuilders make is training body parts that respond quickly because they enjoy seeing the results while ignoring body parts that don’t respond well or that they can’t see.
But just because you can build certain areas to a huge size doesn’t necessarily mean you should. Men are notorious for building biceps and not triceps, chest and not back, quads and not hamstrings, and even upper body but not lower body.
This is like walking around with a rat’s nest at the back of your head thinking that because you look fine in the mirror there’s no problem. You may not have a 360-degree view of yourself, but others do, so make sure you look balanced from every perspective.
Most people seem to have an easy time building their upper muscles and a hard time building their “lowers.”
You likely have a better-developed upper quad than lower, and the same goes for your biceps. On the other hand, your upper chest development probably pales in comparison to your lower chest.
A great-looking physique requires a balance between your “uppers” and “lowers” – especially the upper and lower chest, upper and lower biceps, upper and lower quads, upper and lower abs, and upper and lower back.
Finally, for complete development you need to remember that the muscles have two main parts: the large muscle belly, and the end regions, which are called origins and insertions.
Squats will do a great job of building the center thighs and glutes, but you’ll probably need to perform extensions and leg presses to fill in the thighs closer to the knee. The standing barbell curl is probably the best exercise for building the belly of the biceps.
However, to really fill in the lower biceps and brachialis (the muscle that connects the upper arm to the forearm) you’ll have to incorporate preacher curls and reverse curls into your arm training.
Generally speaking, basic compound exercises are best for the larger belly of the muscle and isolation exercises work for the origins and insertions.
BE A MASTER OF ILLUSION
Just as a ripped 180-pound bodybuilder will appear larger than a smooth 220-pounder, so too can you use illusion to maximize your physical appearance.
Hopefully by now you are beginning to see that muscle size, shape, proportion and symmetry are not purely the result of genetics; how you train is a huge factor.
Intelligent training allows you to improve your symmetry by emphasizing weak areas and de-emphasizing fast-growing areas. Even with limited genetic ability you can turn mediocrity into greatness.
You may never carry the Olympia-sized mass of a Jay Cutler, Ronnie Coleman or Gustavo Bedell, but there’s no reason you can’t develop an eye-catching physique.
For thousands of years magicians have used illusion to make people see what wasn’t there.
From a bodybuilding perspective, illusion can be a genetically challenged competitor’s best friend. Although structural weaknesses cannot be totally hidden or eliminated, with creative training they can be minimized or disguised.
The best example in bodybuilding is the illusion of shoulder width. There is little you can do to widen your bone structure. (You can “stretch out” your clavicles if you are under 30. More on that later.) Yet with a bit of creativity you can make your shoulders appear a couple of inches wider.
By adding just an inch to each shoulder, your shoulders appear two inches wider. At the same time, you can use a combination of diet and cardio to reduce your midsection by another two or three inches.
The final effect of all this is a four- to five-inch increase in the appearance of your shoulder width. Besides the extra couple of inches on your shoulders, you’ve dramatically enhanced your V-taper by shrinking your waist a few inches.
Let’s continue your transformation by balancing out those legs of yours. First, add in some leg extensions and presses to increase the size of your lower quads. Then by adding in seated calf raises to work your lower calves,
you create the illusion that you have long full calves. You can carry out similar changes to the upper body. You’ll do preacher curls to bring out the lower biceps and dips to emphasize the lower and outer chest.
By building the lower and outer chest you emphasize the line that separates the chest from the abdominals. This gives the pecs an armor-plate look and also creates the illusion of upper-body width.
If your arms appear as two straight sticks, you can overcome this by emphasizing the side (lateral) triceps. This makes you look as if you have two hams hanging from your shoulders.
The average bodybuilder can expect to make noticeable changes in as little as four to six months. Within half a year you’ll actually start looking like a bodybuilder.
Another six months and you might be ready for your first bodybuilding contest. Another year or two and it might be the state or regionals. Don’t let your current appearance deflate your confidence.
EXERCISES FOR SHAPE AND ILLUSION
Now that you know the importance of building size in the right places, let’s look at some of the best exercises for developing symmetry and proportion, and ways to create illusion.
Although it is a great exercise, the flat barbell press doesn’t do a very good job of filling in the upper chest.
The best exercises for this are incline presses using barbells, dumbbells, or the Smith machine.
Once you have a decent amount of muscle mass in the upper chest, start adding incline dumbbell flyes to your routine to give the upper chest a good stretch and to help fill in the area where the front shoulders join the chest.
You may have to experiment with the angle on the bench. Most bodybuilders find that angles between 20 and 30 degrees work best, but others need to go even shallower – say to 10 or 15 degrees. Others may need to go higher – somewhere between 30 and 45.
To really create the illusion of chest and torso width, try dips.
Most gyms have parallel dipping bars but you may have access to bars that form a V. Try both and see which feels the most comfortable, particularly on the shoulder joint.
When doing dips for the chest, always lean forward and keep the elbows flared wide.
Narrow upright dips tend to put most of the stress on the triceps. Flat and decline flies are great for building the outer chest and for carving that clean line that separates the chest from the torso.
Lateral Head of the Triceps:
To hit the outer or lateral head of the triceps, try triceps pushdowns with your elbows held wide (that is, not tucked close to the sides like traditional pushdowns).
Also, try performing the exercise with a rope instead of a metal attachment. The rope allows you to flare your hands out at the bottom of the exercise.
Another great way to target the outer triceps is to perform lying dumbbell extensions by lowering to the opposite side of the body rather than to the ears.
While there is no way to lengthen short triceps, you can create the illusion of length by building the lower end of the long head.
One of the best exercises for doing this is the lying EZ-bar extension, again with the elbows flared wider than normal. Another lower-triceps builder is one-arm cable pulldowns with the hand supinated (facing upwards).
Nothing looks as impressive as a front double biceps pose that shows no gap or space between the upper forearm and lower biceps. Unfortunately, biceps length is primarily genetic.
But, as you’re learning, you can create the illusion of increased length by targeting the lower biceps. And without a doubt the No. 1 exercise for hitting the lower biceps is the preacher, or Scott, curl. You can use the straight or EZ-curl bar, dumbbells or a cable machine for this exercise. Try them all.
After preacher curls, the hammer curl and Zottman curl will also help fill in the gap by beefing up the upper forearms and brachialis.
By far the best way to widen the shoulders (at least in terms of muscle mass) is to increase the size of your side shoulders.
The best exercise for doing this is the side dumbbell raise (also called a lateral raise). For variety, try performing the exercise with one or 322 two arms at a time.
You can also do the exercise on a cable pulley machine or side raise machine. Other great side shoulder exercises are medium- or wide-grip upright rows.
Nothing adds power to the physique and impressiveness to back poses like a well-developed set of rear shoulders. Just take a look at the rear deltoids on such current champions as Victor Martinez, Dexter Jackson, Jay Cutler, Toney Freeman and Gustavo Bedell.
Without rear delts, your coconuts will be a half shell! The best exercise to target the rear deltoids is the bent-over lateral raise. You can perform this exercise either standing up and bent over at the waist, or sitting down on the end of a flat bench.
If you find the exercise stressful on the lower back, try performing it lying facedown on a 20- to 30-degree inclined bench. As with dumbbell side raises, you can also perform bent-over lateral raises using a cable pulley machine. Another great rear shoulder exercise is the reverse pec-deck.
When it comes to full back development, few bodybuilders come close to Jay Cutler and Ronnie Coleman in back poses.
(Although Franco Columbu and Dorian Yates in their day would beg to differ!) True back impressiveness is heavily dependent upon genetics; where your lats attach to the torso can make or break most back poses.
Those with the best lat spreads have lats that attach down low, and their lats have that broad, sweeping manta-ray look.
Conversely, those with high lats have a large gap between their lats and waist. While you can’t shift the lat attachments, you can emphasize the lower lats and create the illusion of lower lat attachments.
Instead of performing front pulldowns with a wide, palms facing forward grip, grab the bar with a shoulder-width grip, palms facing towards you (called a reverse grip). You can make the same modification on chin-ups.
Barbell rows can also be performed this way. But keep in mind that this grip places more stress on the biceps than a wider grip does.
You’ll eventually reach a point where the back muscles will be capable of lifting much more weight than what the biceps can safely handle (six-time Mr. Olympia Dorian Yates found this out the hard way when he tore one of his biceps while reverse barbell rowing with over 350 pounds).
One way to help take your biceps out of the equation is to use Flexsolate lifting straps.
While bulging biceps are a dime a dozen in gyms and on bodybuilding stages, there’s just something about a well-developed set of serratus that gives the physique a truly polished look.
Besides adding a finishing touch to your physique, a well-developed set of serratus will give you more stability on such exercises as squats and bench presses. One of the best exercises for working the serratus is the cross-bench dumbbell pullover.
Other great exercises include narrow reverse-grip pulldowns and chin-ups, and straight-arm pushdowns. But diet is just as important to the serratus as any exercise. This is one of those muscles that simply disappears under a layer of fat.
Upper Thighs or “Thigh-Rods”:
These are the chords of muscle located at the top of the thighs that go right up under the posing trunks.
Probably the best exercise to bring them out is the lying leg extension. As many gyms don’t have this variation of the leg extension, you can try sissy squats and lunges. Also, practice contracting your thighs hard between sets.
The best exercise for bringing out the lower thigh muscles is the leg extension, but make sure you lock completely out at the top of the exercise.
Other great lower thigh builders are sissy squats, front squats, hack and Smith-machine squats.
The vastus medialis, or 323 teardrop, is stressed mainly in the top half of the squat, whereas the whole quad is stressed evenly at the bottom. So do your full squats, but if you need to bring out your teardrop then do a set of half squats as well.
Most people who are considered to have weak calves have a gastrocnemius that attaches high on the leg. To help camouflage this deficiency you should spend extra time working on the low calf muscles (called the soleus).
By building this smaller muscle you can make it appear as if your calves are longer and fuller than they really are. The best exercise for this is the seated calf raise machine, but most calf exercises done with the knees bent will shift most of the stress from the upper to the lower calves.
Frequently Asked Question:
What is a well proportioned body type?