The WTF Physique
I attended a local bodybuilding show a few months ago. There were some great physiques there, no doubt, but there were also some "WTF physiques."
WTF is a WTF physique?
It's where a guy or gal walks onto the stage and everyone in the audience goes, "What the fuck are they thinking? They're not ready to step onto the competitive stage!"
I have a theory about the WTF physiques. I bet they train in a gym where they're the biggest, leanest, and most symmetrical lifters there. Only problem? Their gym in is Bumpoke, Kentucky and only has seven members.
Or maybe they train at 10AM when their gym is full of mostly housewives and retired guys. Sure, they have great bodies, compared to that crowd. But compared to other serious physique athletes, they don't look so hot.
If only they had an expert around to evaluate them, tell them where their strengths and weaknesses are, and show them how to improve. That kind of feedback would be invaluable, huh?
Well, T NATION has such an expert: Dr. Clay Hyght, an NPC judge, medical professional, and competitive bodybuilder himself.
Whether your goal is to compete someday or you just want to build a balanced, aesthetic body, Dr. Clay is here to guide the way. Here are this month's evals! — CS
Info: Cody is 32 years old and weighs 245 pounds at 6'. Cody lifted for sports most of his life (he can squat 600), but has recently become interested in training more for bodybuilding than rugby. After losing 20 pounds of fat last year, he's now thinking about stepping onto the bodybuilding stage.
Dr. Clay: Cody, your goal of competing in a bodybuilding show is certainly very attainable, but let's get down to the nitty-gritty to see what you need to do in order to win your first show!
Starting with your front relaxed pose, you are genetically lucky in that you have fairly wide shoulders and a reasonably narrow waist. But "fairly" and "reasonably" won't annihilate the competition on a bodybuilding stage.
You need to get your shoulders as big and wide as humanly possible! Doing so will give the appearance that you have really wide shoulders and a really narrow waist. To do this, I'd consider having two shoulder workouts a week for a six to eight week training cycle. In one of these workouts I'd do my delt triad, and the other workout should be a bit more power and strength oriented.
The standing barbell press (using your legs just a bit to accentuate your power output) is arguably one of the best exercises to enhance your overall pressing power. So consider starting one of those shoulder workouts with five sets of five reps on this "bodybuilder's push-press" as I like to call it.
Your chest appears to be on par with your delts, so it needs to be brought up a bit as well. One thing that most people overlook when it comes to improving a body part is stretching that body part, especially right after training it while it's still pumped. Over time this helps to stretch the dense fascia around the muscle which can be a limiting factor in its growth. Stretching the chest really helps to fill it out.
Moving down just a bit, you need to thicken up your abs. I know you're not in contest shape and aren't posing your abs, but they should have a little bit more "pop" to them. You'd need to make hanging leg raises and thrice-weekly ab workouts your new best friends!
Your quads are the body part that I'm using as the gold standard for the rest of your physique — they're really good! Your vastus medialis (a.k.a. teardrop) is just stupid... and I mean good stupid! And the distal part (down by the knee) of your vastus lateralis is also really thick.
But this genetic gift has a drawback.
Having thick distal quads can give the appearance that your adductors and quad sweep are lagging behind. Just to make sure your adductors don't get behind, make sure to do deep, wide-stance squats on a regular basis.
If I cover up the rest of your body, your calves look really good from the front. But since those crazy teardrops are just above your knee, you need to bring up your calves a bit. Train calves at the beginning of your workout. Although that may not seem like an "advanced" tip, that change alone can do wonders for your calves!
As I'm looking at your side-relaxed poses, the first thing that I notice is that you have really good upper-body posture for a big guy. If you'll implement daily chest stretching I suspect you'll keep it that way.
You do have a decent amount of internal rotation of your humerus though, like most of us bodybuilders. So implement the subscapularis stick stretch that I describe in detail HERE.
Also, apply the advice in the Pain-Free Lower Body Posture article. This will help you to get rid of that slight anterior pelvic tilt. Trust me, it's far better to address it now before it becomes a real problem.
Enough with the chiropractor-talk; let's get back to the aesthetics of your physique.
Your shoulders are pretty evenly developed from front to back, but your chest is a bit thin at the top as compared to the bottom.
The good news is that you're not alone. About 90% of bodybuilders (and aspiring bodybuilders) have the exact same problem. So instead of moping around like I've just pissed in your Cheerios, go read my article called Building a Bodybuilder Chest.
In addition to applying the advice in the article, consider "bracketing" your chest workout with upper chest exercises. Start your chest workout with an exercise that hits your upper chest well and finish your routine with a different upper chest exercise. Incline barbell presses with a medium-width grip and low-to-high cable flyes are two perfect options to start and finish your chest routine with, respectively.
Now, in the side relaxed poses, your arms look to be a bit on the thin side, especially because of your thick rib cage (which is a good thing). After looking at your front double biceps and side triceps pose, I can see that your arms are, in fact, a bit behind. But the good news is that both your biceps and triceps have a great shape and long muscle bellies. And these things you can't buy or even earn.
Your arms will look great as they get bigger. And one of the best ways to help accomplish the "get bigger" part is to do three low-volume arm workouts per week on nonconsecutive days. But do not do this while trying to bring up other body parts. Stick with once weekly workouts for other body parts while focusing on your arms.
I'm impressed as hell, Cody, that you can legitimately squat 600 pounds. Here's a virtual high-five. No wonder your quads are so damn big! But here's the deal, Cody: Your hamstrings, well, they're not so good, man. In fact, they're your weakest body part.
For bodybuilding purposes, I'd encourage you to redirect some of your focus from improving your bench press and squat to improving your stiff-legged deadlift and leg curl strength. When you step on stage, the judges aren't going to know a damn thing about how much you can bench or squat, but they will know that your hamstrings are lagging.
Now let's talk about the most important body part in competitive bodybuilding: your back. Overall your back is pretty dang good. But since it's not equal in proportion to your quads (especially your teardrop), I'd consider it "behind."
To be a bit more specific, the overall width of your back is better than the thickness of your upper back. To give you a bunch of ideas on how to improve that, check out my Building a Bodybuilder Back article. You're most likely lat dominant as opposed to upper back dominant.
Brief biomechanics tangent: The hypertrophy of your thoracolumbar spinal erectors along with your anterior pelvic tilt leads me to believe that your glutes aren't firing properly. The "Lower Body Posture" article that I mentioned before along with some of Bret Contreras' work should set you in the right direction.
In addition to bringing up your upper back or scapular retractors, you also need to bring up your upper traps a bit. But if you have to have a weak body part, it's upper traps, because they're easy as hell to make grow! Wanna know how? Dumbbell shrugs.
Cody, the truth is you could already diet down and do pretty well in the novice division of a local bodybuilding show. But I don't want you to "do well." I want you to win your first bodybuilding show!
By starting to make the improvements that I talked about, you'll be well on your way. And who knows, in three or four years we could see you on stage at the NPC USA or Nationals.
Info: Emily is a 26 year old Bikini Division competitor. She's won some shows and is now hoping to earn her pro card. She weighs 117 on stage, a little more off stage, and stands 5'6". Although she's always been athletic, Emily has only been seriously training for bikini contests for six months.
Dr. Clay: Emily, I'm going to be evaluating your physique on what I think is the ideal bikini physique. The reason I emphasize "I" is because it seems that the judging of bikini competitors is still a bit across the board, especially at the national level. With 2009 being the first year for the division, I guess that's understandable.
In addition to the photos you sent, I also took a look at your pics from both the USA and National Championship. And just to make sure that my version of the ideal bikini physique isn't too far off from what's being rewarded by the national level judges, I took a look at the top girls in each of those two contests.
With all that being said, here's what you need to do to build yourself a pro-level bikini physique.
Starting from the front, it's apparent that you have a little bit of a discrepancy between your upper and lower body. Your upper body is a bit on the thin side and your lower body is a bit on the thick side. I know girls hate nothing more than hearing the word "thick" used to describe their physique, so please let me explain.
Your legs aren't really too big. In fact, if you leaned out a bit more, your lower body would be just about perfect for the figure division. Your quads are nice and full with round muscle bellies. And your lower body overall reminds me of a sprinter.
But physique competitions are all about illusion, not about having the best body parts per se. For that reason, you need to really focus on bringing your upper body up in size and your lower body down in size.
Based on the pictures you sent, your shoulders need just a bit more fullness to them all around. However, based on your contest pics, your shoulders need to come up quite a bit.
I suspect that in your effort to "dry out" a bit for the stage you're losing some muscle fullness. I'd definitely look into correcting that prior to your next show. Otherwise, all the hard work you're doing to improve your physique won't show up on stage.
To help you fill out your shoulders, try my Delt Triad which is a triple superset consisting of lateral raises, front raises, and overhead presses. Start with your 12 to 15 RM on lateral raises and do the three exercises back to back with no rest in between. Then rest 45 to 60 seconds and repeat two more rounds of this Triad. You'll then know firsthand why it works so well: it absolutely fries your shoulders!
Even though bikini competitors don't need the "muscular cleavage" that I've spoken about regarding figure competitors, you do need to bring up your upper and middle chest a bit. This will do wonders for your balance and symmetry and will help you get rid of the thin look that your upper body has.
As with your chest, your arms also need to come up quite a bit. Even though your goal is certainly not to have big arms, since you don't flex them on stage you run little risk of them ever appearing too big. So don't be afraid to train them hard!
Speaking of training intensity, let me take a moment to give you my two cents on how a bikini competitor should train. Even though overall size isn't your goal as a bikini competitor, training to bring up a weak body part is still training to build muscle. So in that regard, us meathead bodybuilders and you graceful bikini competitors should train rather similarly.
However, once a body part of yours has ample size, then you can and should train it with less overall volume and intensity.
Although I certainly tend to prefer body part splits over total body training for figure competitors, it would typically be fine, maybe even preferable, for a bikini competitor to use a whole body approach to training.
But this approach would be more applicable once your body is a bit more even in terms of development. So for now, follow a body part split geared toward upper body mass and lower body trimming.
Speaking of that, let's move on and discuss the rest of your physique, starting with your midsection.
If you're ever inspired to say grace in a "Ricky Bobby from Talladega Nights " fashion, it should go something like this:
"Dear Lord Baby Jesus, I thank you so much for my lean, lightly muscled abs which are not too thick, yet not too thin. I'm thankfully able to maintain this lack of abdominal fat and leap over other bikini competitors with relative ease.
Oh little 8 lbs. 6 oz., Baby Jesus, I also want to thank you for my tiny waist, proportioned hips, and wonderful hourglass shape upon which the ideal bikini midsection should be based. Please use your little baby Jesus powers to help me keep doing what I'm doing so that I can maintain my perfect midsection. Amen."
Now let's move below the waist and talk about your quads.
As I alluded to earlier, in and of themselves your quads are great. But to improve the overall appearance of your physique and to place higher in bikini contests, you'll need to whittle your quads down just a bit.
Check out an article I wrote called Lean Proportions. This will give you an idea of how to best tailor your leg training and cardio (can you say sprinting?) to achieve the thigh trimming that I'm talking about.
If you happen to have a stadium close by, try running stadium steps with long strides as fast as humanly possible. Not only is this great for fat burning, but it's also a PERFECT exercise for your lower body! In fact, between stadiums, sprints, walking lunges, and various plyometrics, you could probably skip the gym altogether on leg day!
Now let's move around to the rear, starting with your back.
Overall your back has a great shape with perfect shoulder width and a nice small waist. However, its lack of thickness does reveal your relative newness to training. But if you were to train your back along the lines of how I discuss in my article "Building a Bodybuilder Back," I'd be willing to bet that your back would no longer be a weakness by the time of your next competition.
For competition purposes you do need to lean out a bit in the lower, lateral back region. You certainly don't want to lean out too much and lose your hourglass shape, but decreasing the skinfold measurement in that area by about 5-7 mm would enable you to have a leaner but still shapely appearance.
There's no doubt about it, the most important body part in bikini contest is the glutes. Genetically, you're set. But to maximize your genetic potential you're going to need to fine-tune your training and nutrition, especially in regards to the final week of your contest prep.
Based on the pictures you sent, you really don't need to do a whole lot other than to come in slightly leaner. This will decrease the width of your hips/thighs at their widest point over the greater trochanter (a.k.a. saddleback region). However, do still work to improve the roundness and fullness of your glutes.
If I were to base my assessment on your contest pictures, we'd be having a different discussion entirely. On stage your glutes are way too flat and appear underdeveloped. This is a mistake I see time and time again among figure and bikini competitors.
In an effort to come in lean you're compromising the shape that you need to place well. Carbing up properly (or not carb depleting at all) is the key to remedying this problem, but you also need to make sure to consume the right amounts of sodium and water in the days prior to your next contest. Otherwise you risk pulling too much fluid out of the muscles and, ironically, back into the subcutaneous tissue. This is why you're thinner but don't really appear leaner in your contest pictures as opposed to your current pics.
If you carb up right and only drop enough water to dry out a pinch, then you'll bring a full yet denser look to the stage, especially in your low back, glutes, and upper hams.
As for your hamstrings and calves, they're certainly not a weak point that will keep you from doing well on stage. But you could stand to bring them both up just a tad.
Emily, by making these improvements, I have absolutely no doubt that you can earn IFBB Bikini Pro status in the near future. And if you so desire, I bet you could end up gracing the pages of many a fitness magazine à la Jamie Eason.
Go to it, girl!