Dr. Clay is a “perfect storm” of sorts when it comes to bodybuilding. As a medical professional, he knows a thing or two about human anatomy. As a competitive bodybuilder himself, he has real-world experience and street cred. And as an NPC bodybuilding judge, he has a trained eye for the hypertrophied guy.
In this article aimed at the aesthetically-minded weight trainer, lucky T NATION readers had the opportunity to get their physiques professionally evaluated by Dr. Clay. Whether you’re a competitor or just a regular Joe wanting to look great naked, Dr. Clay will tell you where your weakness are and how to fix them.
Let’s take a look at the first of our three case studies:
Info: Age 31, seriously training 3 years, 184 pounds, 5’11”
Dr. Clay: Andrew, you remind me of Team Universe competitor, Jeff Rodriguez. Since he’s arguably one of the best natural bodybuilders in the world, I’d take that as a compliment.
Now, how can we improve your physique?
I started your assessment by looking at your front relaxed pose. Here’s my initial, no-holds-barred thought: “If that dude had a bigger chest and shoulders, he’d have a bad-ass physique!”
You have really big, well-developed upper traps yet underdeveloped shoulders. This gives you a bit of an A-frame appearance. While A’s are great in school, you don’t want to be shaped like one. The good news is that this is fairly easy to fix.
For starters, remove the word shrug from your vocabulary. Pretend that there’s not even such an exercise. And when someone asks you a question that you don’t know the answer to, do not even shr… I mean elevate, your shoulders. Instead, just say “I don’t know.” You get the point.
Shoulder abduction exercises, like lateral raises, should be your new best friend. More times than not, start your shoulder routine with lateral raises or a variation thereof. I would even go so far as to do two types of lateral raise/shoulder abduction exercises per shoulder workout. Over time this will help to give your shoulders that wide, capped look.
Your anterior deltoids are, overall, in pretty good proportion right now. However, they should be slowly but surely growing as well, just not as fast as your medial deltoids.
Overall, your chest needs to come up quite a bit. You should be working hard to bring up your chest so that it matches your upper traps and quads.
You have the most common type of chest development around: a good lower chest with an underdeveloped upper and middle chest.
Notice how, in your side relaxed pose, a line drawn from your collarbone down to your lower chest would have a slight concavity to it. You need to turn that concavity into a convexity. Then you’ll be the owner of a full and evenly-developed chest.
For some pointers on how to accomplish this, make sure to read my article called Building a Bodybuilder Chest. But I do want to leave you with one solid piece of chest-training advice. If you do the barbell bench press, which I suspect you do, either discontinue it or work on shifting the stress away from your anterior deltoids and toward your chest, because it looks as if you’re a “delt bencher.”
From the photos that I have, your arms look to be pretty evenly developed. You just need to bring up their overall size a bit. Again, work toward getting your arms to match your upper traps and quads.
Speaking of quads, let’s go ahead and discuss them. Yours are awesome! They have good size, sweep, and separation. You’re definitely set in that department, my friend! Just keep doing what you’re doing, but do it in more of a “maintenance mode.” So from now on, leg days should no longer be your toughest workout. That title should now go to… back day.
Don’t get me wrong, you have a good back that’s pretty much in proportion to your upper body, but it’s got a ways to go before it’ll be on par with your quads.
The first thing that jumps out at me when I look at your rear relaxed pose is — once again — your huge-ass upper traps! Notice how the overall size of your upper traps is comparable to your lats. Although I’m sure your upper traps are happy about being so awesome, your lats are less than happy about the situation.
I could give you the standard lat-building tips like do lots of rowing movements with shoulder adduction, like one-arm dumbbell rows. But instead I want to give you a more advanced tip: stretch your upper traps once per waking hour and get pinpointed soft tissue work (i.e. Active Release) at least once every couple of weeks.
Over time this will reduce the hypertonicity of your upper traps such that they aren’t stealing work from your other back muscles. Only when you can get your upper traps to “shut off” a bit will you be able to maximally stimulate your lats, lower traps, etc.
Moving inferiorly, it looks as if your hamstrings are nice and full. The fact that they have a sweep to them (i.e. they bulge out) in your side relaxed pose is pretty impressive, especially since I doubt you know how to artificially make your hamstrings “pop” in this pose.
Although your hams are good, I wouldn’t slack on them like you can with your quads. Basically, a person’s hamstrings can’t get too big.
Lastly, your calves and abs both look good, but keep hitting them hard. For the record, you should never stop hitting calves hard. Otherwise they will forever remain in the shadow of your awesome quads.
I know I hit you with a lot of stuff, Andrew. In case I overwhelmed you, here’s a summary: Keep your quads and upper traps the same size and get the rest of your body to match those two body parts. Then people will be telling Jeff Rodriguez that he looks like this incredible natural bodybuilder named Andrew!
Info: Age 24, 5’6″, 211, currently off season. Three years seriously bodybuilding, but training for sports for six years previously.
Dr. Clay: Beau, congratulations on possessing something that’s super important in bodybuilding but that you can’t buy or even earn — a waist that’s small both from left to right and front to back! Yay genetics!
Now let’s break down the physique that’s above and below that small waist of yours, starting with the boring part first: posture!
Vladamir Janda would have a heyday assessing your posture since you possess both of the syndromes that he’s famous for identifying: upper crossed syndrome and lower crossed syndrome. But don’t feel bad, you’re in good company with about 99% of all of us bodybuilders.
My quick advice would be to focus on stretching your chest and anterior shoulders, upper traps, internal rotators of the shoulder (i.e. subscapularis), and hip flexors. At the same time focus on strengthening/toning (as in neural tone) your scapular retractors, shoulder external rotators, abs, and glutes.
I would highly encourage you to check out two articles that I wrote for Figure Athlete: Sexy Upper Body Posture and Pain-Free Lower Body Posture. Just ignore the fact that these were written for women. The information is just the same and will do you good!
This advice alone is worth thousands of dollars in chiropractic visits that you can save yourself if you’ll start to address these postural problems now. Otherwise the excessive arch in your lower back is going to start causing low-back pain before you know it.
And at some point you’d also start to have shoulder problems like Impingement Syndrome due to the abnormal (although not uncommon) position and biomechanics of your humerus.
Now that you understand the importance of and are going to begin working on your posture, let’s get to the fun stuff.
Your chest is a classic example of good lower-pec development, decent mid-pec development, and subpar upper-pec development. Although the appearance of this is minimized in your side chest pose, it’s still apparent. Your goal is to have your chest appear evenly developed in the side chest shot.
Be sure to check out Building a Bodybuilder Chest. It will give you quite a few ideas on how to bring up your upper chest.
One idea would be to start your chest workout with incline presses — either barbell or dumbbells. Then finish up with a few sets of low-to-high cable flyes in the 10 to 15 repetitions range.
Overall, your shoulder development is pretty good. But I’d still work to gradually improve them.
Since we’re in the shoulder area already, I think it’s time we had a talk, Beau. It’s about shrugs. I know you love to do them and are strong as hell on them. But it’s time to stop. Otherwise your traps are going to eat your head like they’ve already eaten your neck!
In all seriousness, your traps are great and don’t need to grow at all. Otherwise they’ll start to detract from your shoulder width and overshadow your upper chest even more. Simply doing deadlifts and/or rack deadlifts should be plenty to maintain your current trap size.
Now let’s talk arms. Yours need to come up quite a bit to match your overall size. Your biceps are a bit ahead of your triceps in development. So emphasize triceps more while still steadily bringing up your biceps.
To get a little more specific, the development of the long head of your triceps is lagging. This is apparent in your front double biceps shot, because your arms don’t have that “hanging” look (fullness on the bottom side) to them. Make sure to do at least one overhead extension movement during each triceps workout. This will help to fill that area in.
I’d also consider making floor presses a staple exercise in your training regimen. This will target both your upper chest and triceps at the same time.
Although I only have one (relaxed) picture up your back, it appears to be pretty well developed and pretty even in terms of thickness and width. But since your lats don’t insert really low, you should always be working on filling in your lats to give them the appearance of being longer and with lower insertion points. This will make your waist appear even smaller than it already is.
Moving down to your legs, you seem to have good quad development with thick distal quadriceps as well as thick adductors — something you don’t see very often. You also have a really good sweep to your quads. So I guess my overall quad advice is: keep doing what you’re doing!
Moving inferiorly, I can only barely see your calves from the front, but it appears that you need to bring them up quite a bit. Although lofty, your goal should be to have your calves in proportion to your quads. Then you’d be set!
Until further notice, I would never train calves just once a week if I were you. Instead, consider two calf workouts per week the minimum, with three being more common than not.
Although this may sound a bit corny, every time you take the stairs, go up on your toes as high as possible with each and every step. Yes, you’ll look a bit odd doing this, but I have a strange feeling no one is going to make fun of you. Over time this seemingly weird advice will really help to improve the neurological tone of your gastrocs and soleus.
I can’t see much about your hamstrings, but until they have a really full, borderline freaky sweep from the side, they’ll need to come up a bit in order to match your quads.
Most of us bodybuilders tend to do three or four quad exercises, yet only one or two hamstring exercises. Although I can’t say for sure that that’s what you’re doing, I do suspect that taking one exercise from your quad workout and adding it to your hamstring workout would probably be a good idea.
At just 24 years of age, you already have a killer base upon which you can build a really good physique. I have no doubt you could win a national qualifier within the next couple of years. Likewise, you probably even have the potential to earn your pro-card in the next few years… if that’s something you really want.
Info: Former Division One soccer player but had a career-ending knee injury. Now a full-time student and personal trainer who’s been competing in Figure for one year.
Dr. Clay: Emily, first of all I commend you on making a great comeback from your knee injury and for having the dedication it takes to step on stage. That’s something not many people have, so you should be proud.
Now let’s talk about what you need to do to improve your placing in your next competitive outing. The two most important areas for you to bring up are your chest/anterior deltoids and your glutes. These two improvements alone would make a tremendous visual change to your physique.
One of the most common mistakes that I see Figure competitors make is neglecting their chest, especially upper chest. Although you definitely don’t want to have slabs of striated pectoral beef, you do want to have enough chest development such that there’s no concavity or dip under your clavicles.
You also want to have just a little bit of “muscular cleavage” along your sternum. In other words, you want to build your chest enough so that — even in the upper chest — it sticks out a bit and forms a line at the medial border along the sternum.
So your focus should be on bringing up your upper and middle chest. But because of those things you ladies have called breasts, there’s no need to concern yourself much with your lower chest.
For more info on how to target these areas of your chest, check out Building a Bodybuilder Chest. Specifically, check out the sections geared toward bringing up the upper and middle chest.
Along the same lines, you need to bring up your anterior deltoids. Your medial deltoids are actually pretty dang good, but your shoulders lack that three-dimensional “capped” look. Bringing up your front (and rear) delts will remedy this.
You should still train your medial deltoids, but such that they are not improving nearly as rapidly as your anterior and posterior delts.
You have better abs than many Figure Olympia competitors, but I do notice that they tend to lose a little “pop” on contest day. This is fairly common due to the drying-out process, and I wouldn’t have mentioned it except that I also noticed it in other areas of your physique as well — shoulders and arms, for example.
I would revisit your contest peaking procedures if I were you. This “flat” look is usually due to inadequate carbs, water, sodium, or (most likely) a combination thereof. Coming in fuller — yet just as lean and dry — would have an immediate effect on how you look on stage.
You have a good back that’s pretty balanced in terms of thickness and width. But for purposes of doing well in Figure, you do need to bring up your back a bit.
Now let’s talk about what’s arguably the most important muscle in Figure competitions: the gluteus maximus. Good news first: Your glutes and upper hams are plenty lean and have a good skin texture to them, and that’s half the battle right there.
Now for the bad news, which really isn’t that bad: Your glutes need to be much fuller and rounder. I suspect that your glutes are normally quite a bit fuller than they were when you competed. If so, this has to do with the flatness I mentioned before that comes as a result of not peaking properly. Deep squats, walking lunges, and various glutes isolation exercises should become your new best friends!
Your hamstrings need to come up a bit as well. This will help you to look better from the sides as well as from the rear. Make sure to do plenty of stiff-legged deadlifts, but do so in such a manner as to target your hamstrings and glutes as opposed to hamstrings and lower back as most people (erroneously) do them.
Bringing up your calves will also help you tremendously, even from the front where the medial head of the gastrocnemius is visible. I suspect you’d do well by hitting calves three nonconsecutive days per week.
Let’s move around to the front and talk quads. Although you could use more sweep to your outer quads, your overall quad development is good. Slowly but steadily improving them should do the trick.
Now, let’s begin to round out this discussion by talking about your upper extremities.
You need to bring up both your biceps and triceps in order to match the development of your medial deltoids. This is most apparent in your competition photos, because your arms are a bit flat there.
Notice how when you flatten out your strongest, most developed body parts (i.e. medial delts and abs) still look great, while your weaker body parts (i.e. anterior deltoids and arms) really flatten out and seem to deflate? That’s part of the reason why peaking perfectly is so important when it comes to doing well on stage!
While it may seem as if I’ve ripped on your development from left to right and top to bottom, you do have a really good physique. In fact, I have no doubt that you have the potential to win a Figure competition. Now go prove me right!
As they say, knowledge is power. Only by knowing what your weak points are can you begin to improve them. And that, my friends, is the exact purpose of this series of articles.
I want to thank Andrew, Emily, and Beau for having the nerve to submit their photos to have evaluated in front of the world. Not only have you guys benefited, but so have the rest of us.
As you can see, I’m not going to blow sunshine up your skirt, but I’m not going to be mean either. After all, we are all in the same boat: just trying to be the best that we can.
— Dr. Clay
Want Dr. Clay’s Professional Advice?
Want to be featured in a possible future installment of The Body Shop? Then email me. Include at least four clear photos — front, back, left side, and right side — unflexed. You may also include a flexed shot or two, but the four unflexed shots are mandatory.
Now, we’re not going to use crappy cell phone pics you take in front of the bathroom mirror. So whip out the real camera and get a buddy to take some good shots of you. Also, please don’t forget that you have a lower body (that means to get your legs into the pics, buddy!)
Along with your photos, please include a very brief bio: age, years spent seriously training, height, weight, goals, and stuff like that. Thanks!
— Chris Shugart