In this T NATION series aimed at the aesthetically-minded lifter, members have the opportunity to get their physiques professionally evaluated by Dr. Clay Hyght, an NPC judge, medical professional, and competitive bodybuilder.
Whether you're thinking of stepping onto the bodybuilding or Figure stage or you just want to maximize your beach-body potential, Dr. Clay will tell you where your weaknesses are and how to fix them.
Let's jump right into this month's evaluations!
Info: Tim is 40 years old, stands 5' 10" and weighs 188 pounds. Although a former gymnast, he's only been seriously weight training for a couple of years (never even trained legs until this time). Tim is a recreational bodybuilder with no plans to compete. He just wants to improve as much as he can at an age when most men start to fall apart.
Dr. Clay: You already have a good physique, but you could have a great physique. So let me give you a few pointers that'll help to bridge that gap.
Your clavicles (shoulders) are just a smidge on the narrow side. Therefore, it's imperative that you build yourself a set of cannonball deltoids and prevent your upper traps from getting too big.
Right now your upper traps are perfect. So don't let them get any bigger or they'll make your shoulders appear even narrower. But you don't want them to shrink either. The ancillary stimulation that they'll receive from exercises like deadlifts will probably be all you need to maintain them, because upper traps are surprisingly resistant to atrophy.
Your delts themselves are quite symmetrical from front to back and also have some decent development, but they need to come up quite a bit to give your front torso the "wow factor" that it needs. As a general rule I'd start your shoulder workout with an overhead pressing movement before moving on to one targeted exercise each for the anterior and medial deltoids.
Then about once every four workouts, drop the anterior deltoid movement and substitute another medial delt movement. This will keep your shoulders growing, but in a balanced and symmetrical manner. For the record, you should be fine simply hitting one focused rear delt exercise on your back training day.
Your chest is similar in nature in that it's certainly good, but not where it needs to be. Although not ideal, most people's chest appears a bit bottom heavy when standing relaxed, as does yours. Based on that picture alone I might say that you just need to bring up your upper chest a tad. But after looking at your most muscular pose I can see that you need to bring up your upper chest a lot.
One way to realistically evaluate your chest is to flex it and see if it appears pretty evenly balanced from top to bottom. Currently, yours doesn't.
But I'd venture to say that within six months of targeted upper and middle chest training you can dramatically improve this. And within one year you could be the owner of a chest that's even thicker on the bottom yet evenly developed all the way to your clavicles.
I'd make low-to-high cable flyes a staple finishing movement in your chest routine. Over time this will really help you out.
Scanning down your physique, I don't think I need to spend any time talking about your abs or quads — they're both great. That doesn't mean you shouldn't still work toward improving them, as they could both use a tad more growth. They should just be at the bottom of your priority list, because if the rest of your physique was proportional to your abs and quads, you'd already be the owner of the bad-ass physique you're capable of having.
Wait, I just remembered that you've only been training legs for a year or so! You lucky bastard! Evidently the combination of your previous gymnastics career, your genetics, and your current quad routine are working. Keep it up, my man!
Though I can only see your calves from the front, they look comparable to your shoulders: good, but not great. Since you already have pretty good calf development, I don't think it'll take anything extraordinary to bring them up to where they need to be. Simply giving them the same focus you do other body parts will probably do the trick.
Since I've already killed your buzz by talking about your calves, we may as well go ahead and discuss your hamstrings. Although I don't have a side shot of your hamstrings, it doesn't look like you won the hamstring lottery like you did the quad lottery.
One simple way to begin remedying this is to separate the two. Trade a quad exercise or two for a hamstring exercise. Therefore more stress isn't being added to your body; instead it's being purposefully redistributed.
If you're training with a body part split, which is what I'd probably recommend, consider starting your hamstring routine with a knee flexion (leg curl) exercise, followed by a hip extension exercise (i.e. stiff-legged deadlifts), then conclude with another leg curl variation.
If you do that and stretch your hamstrings vigorously after training them (when they're still pumped), then you'll be sporting some hams that match your quads sooner rather than later.
Now let's wrap up this discussion with back and arms, both of which are certainly not a glaring weakness on your physique.
I only have one relaxed back picture, but it appears that your back is pretty balanced in terms of width and thickness. In terms of size, I'd say your back is better than your shoulders but not as good as your quads. I doubt your back training needs a huge overhaul, just a bit more focused attention.
Your arms are currently just about the right proportions for your shoulders. But as we discussed, your shoulders do need to come up a bit.
I realize it's easier said than done, but as your shoulders improve, make sure your arms improve proportionally. Speaking of proportion, from what I can tell your biceps and triceps are in proportion to one another, so try to keep it that way.
Once you bring up your chest and shoulders you'll be one big, impressive looking dude! Since I spend a lot of time working with competitive physique athletes, I tend to explain physique potential based on how one could do at certain levels of competition.
If I were to approach your physique potential in the same way, I have little doubt you could win the Masters over-40 division of a local bodybuilding show by this time next year. I could also foresee you being very competitive in the same division at the national level with another year of focused training under your belt.
Info: Liz is 23 years old and weighs 125 pounds at 5'5". She's been training seriously for one year, but has always "played around some" in the gym. She's considering doing a Figure competition and is interested in doing fitness modeling. Liz has always been naturally lean and admits she can eat at Taco Bell pretty often and stay that way.
Dr. Clay: Liz, as I opened the email that contained your pictures, the first photo I saw was your front relaxed pose. My immediate thought was, "That girl has unlimited potential and can go as far in Figure competitions as she likes!"
Although you possess the right foundation and already have some great muscular development, there are still some improvements you need to make before Gina Aliotti and Nicole Wilkins Lee will start to get nervous.
Starting with your front relaxed pose, the main improvement you need to make is to fill in your upper chest under your clavicles. You want to have enough upper chest development such that there's no significant dip under your collarbones. And at that point your collarbones will practically not even be noticeable.
You also need some middle chest development as well. I'm going to venture to guess that you're not doing much chest work at all, and that will need to change. Make sure to check out my article called Building a Bodybuilder Chest, then focus on the parts about bringing up the middle and upper chest.
To begin to fix this problem sooner rather than later, I'd train chest twice per week while training most other body parts just once weekly.
To nutritionally support the building of this new pectoral mass, make at least one of your chest days higher in carbs/calories, as per my article called How Bodybuilders Should Eat. I'd also surround your workout with copious amounts of fast-acting protein and carbs. Surge® Recovery, branch chained amino acids, and creatine would be perfect to use pre-, during, and/or after training. Review The 3rd Law of Muscle as well.
In addition to bringing up your chest, your anterior deltoids also need to come up quite a bit. The good news is that this is typically pretty easy to do. A variety of overhead pressing movements and front raises should remedy this.
Unlike your anterior delts, your medial deltoids are already pretty dang good. In fact, I can't believe you have such a capped look to your shoulders considering you've only been training seriously for about a year. I certainly wouldn't stop training and improving your medial delts, but far less focus should be placed on them.
Now let's move inferiorly and talk about your arms.
Overall, your arms need to be brought up in size quite a bit. I almost hesitate to say that, because when you flex your biceps they're incredible! Your triceps certainly aren't shabby either. However, you have rather short muscle bellies in both your biceps and triceps, which makes them appear less impressive when they're not flexed.
To do well in Figure competitions your arms have to look great when in the side relaxed poses... and that's precisely where your arms reveal their thinness. But this should be fairly easy to remedy with plenty of direct arm work.
EZ-bar curls and standing alternating dumbbell curls are two of my favorite biceps exercises, while skull crushers and V-bar pushdowns are two of my favorite triceps exercises.
You'll also need to make sure to do plenty of overhead work on your triceps to target the long head. This will help to minimize the appearance of you having short muscle bellies in your triceps, particularly on the medial aspect.
Before moving away from arms, I notice in your front double biceps pose that your right arm (especially your biceps) seems significantly more developed than your left. This could simply be due to the fact that you're not flexing the left properly, or it could just be due to the fact that you're right-handed. (I'm assuming you're right-handed because you chose to flex your right biceps and right triceps for pictures.)
I suspect that simply paying equal attention to both arms will remedy this asymmetry before too long. If not, then you should start to look at potential nerve impingement at the C-5 nerve root, or the musculocutaneous nerve itself, which innervates the biceps. But assuming you have no history of serious accidents or injuries, I doubt this would be the case.
Now let's talk about your abs. They are awesome. Let's move on.
Your quads are just about right where they need to be. Once you finish leaning out, I suspect you'd have a good balance between your upper and lower body. But you could, however, work on slightly improving the sweep of your quads. This would make your waist appear even narrower and give you more of that coveted X-frame.
Assuming you do decide to compete, it's important that you don't try to diet down so far that your legs are as lean as they need to be on contest day. Doing so would most likely thin out your upper body too much.
Of course this should all be decided as your contest gets nearer, but I suspect you'd do best by getting your legs to where they are almost lean enough, then let the peaking process take care of the rest. This should put your legs right where they need to be on contest day, without having your upper body appear too ripped or striated.
Although your quads are practically on point, your calves need to come up quite a bit to be proportional to your upper thigh development. Hitting them two to three times a week with a variety of set/rep schemes should do the trick. Doing jump rope intervals would also help by improving the motor unit recruitment of your calves. This would make building your calves even easier.
Now let's talk hamstrings. Yours are good, but not great. Keep in mind that in Figure competitions it's extremely important to have really well developed shoulders, back, glutes, and hamstrings. Everything else is largely secondary.
With that in mind, you should work on getting your hamstrings as developed as possible. Having a good sweep or pop to your hamstrings in the side view is really imperative on the Figure stage. There's a posing trick that you can do to make your hamstrings appear more developed than they are, but let's come back to that once you've laid down a little more muscle tissue in your posterior thighs.
Before we talk about how to bring up your hamstrings, let's look at your glutes.
If there's one body part in Figure that's more important than all the rest, that body part is arguably the glutes — primarily the gluteus maximus. Of course it's not just the development of the gluteus maximus that's important, but also the lack of body fat on top of it. But I don't think body fat will ever be a problem for you.
Overall, your glutes (both the size and shape) are really good. But you could improve them by simply developing them more so that your glutes appear more full and rounded from the side. Deep squats, walking lunges, and some direct glute work should do the trick.
Two things come to mind that you can do that would improve both your glutes and hamstrings:
1) Make sure to do your stiff-legged deadlifts in a manner such that you're squeezing your glutes as you approach the top position of the movement.
2) Do a track workout at least once per week. A combination of sprints, plyometrics, and/or stair running will do absolute wonders for your entire lower body, especially your glutes hams and calves, all three of which you need to improve.
Let's wrap up your assessment by examining your back.
Although your back is a bit on the thin side in terms of development, it still looks fantastic because your frame has such a great shape. Plus your back is, thus far, pretty evenly developed between your upper back and your lats.
Essentially, you just need more of the same. For that reason, making deadlifts and/or rack deadlifts a staple in your back routine would be a good choice, as would different pull-up variations.
In my experience, back is the main body part that responds well to a higher frequency of training. So, until further notice I'd structure your program such that you hit back twice per week with a variety of exercises and set rep schemes.
Liz, I've been involved in helping Figure competitors since the very first year they introduced the Figure class. In fact, the very first Figure competitor I helped turned pro. So I know very well what type of physique it takes to be an elite Figure competitor, and you, my friend, have just that type of physique!
Info: Josh is 29 years old and weighs 165 pounds at 5'7". He's just completed seven years of schooling to get his Master's and PhD in Exercise Science. Josh is considering entering a bodybuilding competition in the upcoming year, mainly to prove to himself that he can do it. Josh has been training using the DC principles, but his joints sometimes suffer in the process.
Dr. Clay: As I start to assess your physique, I find myself donning my chiropractor hat. I'm a bit concerned about the sharp angulation (hyperextension) of your spine in your upper, lower back — right about the level of the thoracolumbar (T12/L1) junction. If my observation is correct, then that spinal joint is also likely to be hypermobile, which could cause problems down the road.
I suspect the root of this postural problem is your anteriorly rotated pelvis. If left uncompensated for, an anteriorly rotated pelvis would make you lean forward quite a bit. We compensate by hyperextending our lumbar spine, or leaning back with our upper bodies such that we appear to be perfectly upright. But as you can imagine, this places an undue amount of stress on the lumbar spine, especially the facet joints.
In order to properly evaluate your posture, I leveled the photos. Doing so reveals that you do have a fairly significant forward lean when viewed from the side. This is likely your body's way of keeping itself from the pain and/or injury that would likely result from further hyperextension, most of which would occur where your body has already chosen a pivot point — T12/L1.
I'd start by reading my article called Pain-Free Lower Body Posture. That article will serve as a perfect baseline to help you understand what's going on and how to start to correct it. With you having a PhD in health and exercise science, I have no doubt you'll soak up the information and probably even become quite the expert in lower crossed syndrome — a term that Vladimir Janda coined to describe an anteriorly rotated pelvis and the hypotonic/hypertonic muscular issues that accompany.
Although you're definitely going to need to do the standard "loosen your hips and lower back while toning and strengthening your abs and glutes" type rehab protocol for lower crossed syndrome, I suspect you'll need to place extra attention on anterior core stability.
Now, let's get to the fun stuff!
As I'm looking at your front relaxed pose, it's obvious that you have a great shape to your upper torso: good, but not overpowering upper traps, wide clavicles, good medial delt development, and lats that pop out even though you're not trying to display them. You can't buy or even develop great skeletal structure, so feel blessed that you have one!
You do need some serious work on your upper pecs, however. Although your chest looks good in your side chest pose, your upper chest is lacking significantly in both your front and side relaxed poses. The "muscular cleavage" that you have in your lower chest should go all the way up to the top of your sternum.
So focus on your upper and middle chest, but don't completely neglect your lower chest as it could use a bit more size as well.
Moving down a bit, you need to work on your abdominal development as well. I'm quite certain that some of the lack of pop to your abs is due to your lower crossed syndrome and the subsequent lack of abdominal tone plus slight abdominal distention that comes with an anteriorly rotated pelvis. But even in your front double biceps shot your abs should be a bit more apparent, and they will be once you thicken them up a bit.
To accomplish this, err on the side of training abs heavier as opposed to lighter. Many people tend to forget that developing hypertrophy in the abdominals is fundamentally no different than doing so in any other skeletal muscle. You have to tax the muscle with a stimulus (i.e. tension) that forces the muscle to adapt.
With that being said, I do feel that abs tend to recuperate more quickly than other muscles. So, as a general rule of thumb, I'd recommend training your abs three nonconsecutive days per week, like Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Use different exercises to vary the stimulus and to help prevent overtraining, but I wouldn't let the reps get over 12. If you can do more than 12, then you need to add resistance.
As for your quads, they're good to go. I'd just keep doing what you're doing.
Your calves, on the other hand, do need to be brought up quite a bit. Currently your thighs are proportionally wider than your calves. So I'd especially target the medial gastrocnemius as this will fill out your calves when viewed from the front and help them to look proportional when viewed in your front relaxed pose.
By the way, although it's a bit premature to be giving you posing tips, putting your feet closer together will help to minimize the discrepancy between your thighs and calves.
From the side we can see that you need to bring up your arms and especially your hamstrings. You're standing with your knees almost fully extended, which makes almost anyone's hamstrings appear fairly flat. But, as you can see in your side chest pose, you could still use significantly more development in the posterior thigh region. In bodybuilding, basically your hamstrings and back can't be too developed.
I don't think it'll take anything top-secret or cutting edge to fill in your hams, just a lot of hard, focused hamstring work.
Back to your arms. Although your arms need more size overall, your biceps are pretty dang impressive, especially that freaky peak on your right biceps.
Your triceps, however, are a different story — they need some work! I'd definitely train them twice per week for a while, and make sure to focus on exercises that target the long head of the triceps (i.e. overhead extension movements).
Let me back up just a bit. I realize you're following DC (Dante Trudell, a.k.a. Doggcrapp) training principles, and I'm a fan of Dante's work myself. With that being said, I feel that it's often beneficial to deviate from DC training in order to bring up lagging body parts. Your triceps are an example.
If blasting them with one killer rest-pause set every 5 days or so was going to build you some great triceps, then I think you'd already have a really good pair. It's kind of like the old saying, "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing while expecting a different result."
If you were to follow up eight weeks of DC blasting with eight weeks of a more traditional, higher volume, bodybuilding-type program designed specifically for your physique, you'd be amazed at the results! I've heard it said right here on T NATION years ago: "The best training program in the world is the one you're currently not on."
Overall, your back is really good. You have a good blend of thickness and width with no glaring weaknesses. Just focus on getting a little bit more of the same — balanced, symmetrical muscle.
If I were your bodybuilding coach, here's what I would say: "Let's plan for you to compete next fall some time. That will give us time to put some muscle on you and bring up your weak points before starting to diet down.
"Weight-wise, our initial goal will be to get you up from 165 to about 175, but with practically the exact same amount of body fat. Then we'll maintain that weight while gradually leaning you out just a tad. Then, at roughly 16 weeks out we'll start whittling away every speck of visible fat you have while being equally focused on keeping every ounce of muscle."
Josh, I have no doubt you can do a bodybuilding show... and kick some serious ass doing it! In fact, my goal for you would be nothing short of first place in the Novice division!
— Dr. Clay
Want Dr. Clay's Professional Advice?
Want to be featured in a future installment of The Body Shop? Then drop me an email at [email protected]. Include at least four clear photos — front, back, left side, and right side — all unflexed. You may also include a flexed shot or two, but the four unflexed shots are mandatory.
No blurry cell phone pics you took using the bathroom mirror, okay? Bust out a real camera and get someone to take some decent shots of you. And don't forget to get your legs into the pics, too!
Along with your photos, please include a brief bio: age, years spent seriously training, height, weight, goals, and stuff like that. Thanks! — Chris Shugart