Build a V-Taper, Save Your Joints
A V-taper physique: it's the shape your body makes when you have broad shoulders, a thick upper back, wide lats, and a narrow waist. It's the look of physical power, twisted steel, and sex appeal.
Science backs it up. Research shows that men who have a shoulder circumference 1.6 times greater than their hips are viewed as more attractive to women. It's called "the golden ratio."
The only problem? The best exercises to build a V-taper physique often leave your elbows and shoulders battered. This makes it harder to be consistent. No worries. Here are seven joint-friendly lifts that build the same areas.
The lateral and rear delts are the most important muscles for emphasizing the V-taper. Building size here will improve posture and shoulder width.
Barbell military presses are a great exercise if you have the shoulder mobility to do them correctly. Unfortunately, most seasoned lifters have the mobility of a pitchfork, so the barbell version can do more harm than good.
Here are three better options:
1 One-Arm Dumbbell Press
This exercise builds brutal strength and core stability. When you use one dumbbell instead of a barbell, your core works to stabilize the unbalanced load. The offset loading provides a wicked, anti-lateral flexion component, hitting your obliques harder than a medicine ball to the gut.
Ease into heavier weight. You can do single-arm dumbbell presses as a pure strength movement to build bigger shoulders and give you a resilient mid-section.
How To Do It
- Keep your feet shoulder-width apart or slightly wider and brace your abs.
- Extend the non-working arm to your side, hold it on your hip, or drape it across your body onto your obliques.
- Like a bilateral overhead press, create a shelf by keeping your elbows up to engage your lats. This puts your arm in a safer position to press overhead.
- Lock out at the top of each rep. Finish in a joint-stacked position and repeat for 4 sets of 6-8 reps.
2 Half-Kneeling Landmine Press
This is a primo pressing option for lifters who struggle to press overhead. Consider the half-kneeling landmine press a one-size-fits-all exercise. Since it's a unilateral exercise, your core gets smashed too.
The exercise's unique range of motion and arch challenges your shoulder stabilizers to build thoracic mobility and stability, which are crucial for quality movement and injury prevention.
How To Do It
- Hold a half-kneeling position.
- Squeeze the glute of your down leg. Brace your core to prevent extension and rotation.
- Press straight, keeping your chin tucked. Pause at the top and lower under control.
- Do the half-kneeling press as a primary strength movement and use 3 sets of 8.
3 Isodynamic Contrast Lateral Raise
The key to building wide, powerful shoulders is to stretch your muscles without compromising your joints. "Isodynamic contrast" just means you're using an isometric hold at the beginning of your work set.
Holding for 15 seconds improves your mind-muscle connection and pre-fatigues the medial head of your delts. Most lifters struggle to "feel" their delts. This method solves the problem and helps you build a stagnant muscle without overstressing your shoulder joint.
How To Do It
- Pick a weight you can use for 15-20 lateral raises.
- Do one rep, then hold the crucifix position for 15 seconds.
- After the hold, perform 10-15 reps.
- Repeat for 3-5 sets with 30-60 seconds of rest between sets.
A muscular upper back – namely traps, rhomboids, and rear delts – is dubbed "the yoke." Building an impressive yoke screams high-performance body and caps off a V-taper physique.
It also provides additional shoulder stability and reduces computer-person posture. The key muscle you'll focus on is your traps. They stabilize your scapula and function in a stability role on overhead press variations.
Your traps take on a direct loading role when retracting your shoulders (think rows and face pulls). It's a big muscle with a short active range of motion. If you want to maximize the upper fibers (surrounding the neck), you need exercises that include upward movement and rotation of the scapula.
That's where shrugs, cleans, and farmers walks come in. If you don't already know how to shrug, these variations will get you there.
Here are some options for the two other trap-building lifts:
1 The Dumbbell Hang Clean & Press
This requires movement from the wrist, elbow, shoulder, ankle, knee, and hip joints, making it a total body exercise. This makes the clean a better bang for your buck than almost any other exercise.
The corresponding muscles that cross each of those joints must work in cooperation to accelerate a heavy resistance, stabilize the spine, and explosively transfer power.
When you combine a press on each rep, the exercise becomes one of the most efficient exercises possible, particularly for adding size to your traps and shoulders. And you don't even HAVE to do it with a barbell. Just grab a couple of dumbbells.
Past strongmen like Sig Klein made the dumbbell clean, squat, and press a staple. In the 1930s, he claimed that few men in the United States could handle a pair of 75-pound dumbbells for 12 quality reps.
I'd argue even fewer could today. Take the challenge if you dare. And if you're looking for a more joint-friendly variation, try a hang-clean, squat, and press.
How To Do It
- Squat down with dumbbells at your sides just below the knee in the "hang" position.
- With the dumbbells just below knee level and shoulders retracted, aggressively extend the hips and knees.
- As the dumbbells pass the hips, aggressively shrug and pull the elbows upward, rotating your arms until your triceps are parallel to the ground.
- Pull your body underneath the dumbbells while moving into the squat position.
- Hit the bottom of the squat and stand up immediately.
- Press overhead.
- Lower the dumbbells to the hang position and repeat.
2 Two-Minute Farmers Walks
Because the upper fibers of your traps have a limited range of motion for elevating your scapula, they'll thrive with more time under tension and more reps.
But rather than those herky-jerky shrugs you see at most gyms, try two-minute farmers walks with a slight-shoulder shrug. Add 3 sets of two-minute walks with 90 seconds of rest at the end of your back or pull days.
The two-minute farmers walk will challenge your grip, force you to breathe under control while holding optimal posture, improve stability from head to toe, and put a ton of stress on your traps.
How To Do It
- Grab dumbbells, kettlebells, farmers walk implements or 45-pound plates with handles.
- Stand tall, retract and slightly shrug your shoulders.
- Walk while keeping your chest tall in heel-to-toe fashion for two minutes.
- Rest 1-2 minutes and repeat.
Wide lats accentuate large shoulders and a thin waist. By combining horizontal and vertical pulls, you'll build cobra-like lats. Pull-ups and chin-ups get all the glory, but most lifters don't have the relative strength or shoulder mobility to perform them with clean form. The end result is beat-up elbows and shoulders with puny lats.
Try these instead:
1 Jackknife Pull-Up
This is a good one if you struggle with shoulder or elbow pain. If you can't do 8-10 controlled chin-ups or pull-ups, it'll also be a better option for hypertrophy. The jackknife pull-up solves the mobility and relative-strength problems most lifters face with traditional pull-ups.
By elevating your feet and adjusting your body angle, you'll reduce the load on each exercise and have more control. Add it to your workouts like you would any vertical pull.
How To Do It
- Use a secured barbell in a rack, Smith machine, or rings.
- Elevate your feet on a bench or box.
- Bend your knees to 90 degrees.
- Engage the shoulders first by depressing them. This will make the pull-up a back-dominant movement.
- Pull yourself up while driving your elbows down. Pause at the top and lower yourself in 3-5 seconds, focusing on engaging your lats.
- You can control the tempo, add a weight vest, and make slight changes in body angle to customize the exercise.
2 Trap Bar Bent-Over Row
This is a spine-saving way to build thick lats and broad shoulders. The wider-grip handles put constant tension on your traps and rear delts. Because the load is centralized on the trap bar, you can target your lats without your lower back being a limiting factor.
The trap bar allows for a safe and easy setup, and you'll be able to use a greater range of motion because of the neutral-grip hand position. Use trap-bar rows as a replacement for barbell bent-over rows. You'll quickly find yourself building pain-free muscle.
How To Do It
- Stand inside a trap bar and push your hips back, hinging with a flat back until your hands can reach the handles.
- From the "deadlift" position, squeeze the handles and drive your elbows back, performing a row.
- Lower under control, maintaining a neutral spine position.
- Dixson AF et al. Masculine somatotype and hirsuteness as determinants of sexual attractiveness to women. Arch Sex Behav. 2003 Feb;32(1):29-39. PubMed.