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We all know the type: those who posses that enviable combination of ultra lean, evenly distributed muscle size topped off by the shoulder width of a Herculean God and the miniscule waist of a high performance swimmer, those who have managed the delicate art of combining the muscular attributes needed by all self-respecting bodybuilders with the athletic and aesthetically pleasing shape of world class gymnasts. Let’s face it: when seeking to build a phenomenal physique, most of us would rather emulate that so distinctly and gracefully portrayed by the great ‘50s-‘60s bodybuilding icon, Steve Reeves, or his modern era equivalents Bob Paris (from the ‘80s), and Dexter Jackson, Stan McQuay and Melvin Anthony (of today). So perfectly developed are these men’s physiques that they will forever be enshrined as trendsetters for shape and proportion over extreme size at all costs.  So what is the one attribute that characterizes all of these perfect 10s on the bodybuilding symmetry and proportion scale? Other than almost all muscle groups being as close to fully developed as possible and in proper balance to one another, the one area that separates these gentlemen from the unduly rewarded mass monsters is the sharply distinguishable disparity between the width of their shoulders and the smallness of their waists, made all the more apparent by the flaring shape of their lat muscles – wide like the body of a stingray at their uppermost point and fully developed from top to bottom. Yes, they have all displayed the coveted V-Taper so necessary for bodybuilding success. Could this kind of shape have resulted from having been bestowed the right genetics, in which case implying that many of us may never appropriate such a look for our own physique? While hereditary factors will always be important determiners of muscle building success, fortunately anyone can improve their shape with the right tools and methods of attack. Building the perfect V-Taper can be done and doing so will vastly improve the shape and overall look of your physique. Read on to discover exactly how we can maximize our genetic potential to create our own Herculean look.

Train for size and shape

If you analyze a typical power lifter’s physique you will see exactly how not to train for top-of-the-food-chain aesthetics. These athletes’ utilization of the iron and methods for developing power fit their purposes perfectly: they aim to create as much leverage as possible, meaning they need compact mass and require exaggeratedly thick muscular development from head to toe. Along with such overall massiveness, narrow, rounded shoulders, wide waists and tremendous back thickness – with an emphasis on inner and lower back strength and size – are the order of the day for these men. When training for mass the addition of basic movements such as the bench press, squat and dead lift are, as we should all know by now, necessary. However, once sufficient mass has been achieved – and especially if competitive bodybuilding, or simply the acquisition of a great “beach body”, is the aim – then it becomes less of a concern to repeatedly hammer the multi joint compound movements; though it is smart practice to strategically include these in one’s program for size maintenance purposes (bench presses and squats, for example, can be done every second or third workout – isolation exercises such as dumbbell presses and hack squats might provide suitable alternatives at other times when striving to develop greater aesthetics). So the first rule of thumb when seeking to develop an exaggerated V-Taper is to train the body as a whole, while not overemphasizing mass building movements – for some bodybuilders – especially in the off-season – it is not uncommon for them, in a misguided attempt to developed balanced mass, to hit only mass builders at the expense of specific shaping movements; they may eventually build thickness everywhere – including the waist and buttocks – with the additional unfortunate side effect of chest development which overshadows the shoulder width, and thighs which dwarf the calves. Power bodybuilding certainly has its place, but to become visually impressive from a proportion and symmetry standpoint a fair emphasis must be placed upon targeting those areas that draw the eye and focus the attention, namely the big three.

The big three: the shoulders, back and abs.

To become a well-rounded bodybuilder, all muscle groups must be targeted with equal ferocity. The purpose of this article, then, is not to have you neglect certain areas, but, rather, to encourage the prioritization of important body parts and movements to create an even greater degree of visual impressiveness. When training weak areas it is often beneficial to work them first in your training session – often with super sets and other intensity techniques.  This serves the purpose of enabling you to tax them when you are at the peak of your training potential, when your energy levels are at their highest. If certain mass building movements are to be included this would, for the purposes of this article, be best done after the exercises that are designed to optimize V-Taper development (a complete program to be featured later in this article will show how to do just that).  So what are the best movements for building back and shoulder width and crafting abs of steel, and how do we train these areas for maximum development?

Build boulders for shoulders

In strength athletes and bodybuilders, shoulders tend to come in two varieties: those that are sloping and overpowered by massive traps and an overdeveloped chest and neck (common among power lifters and strongman competitors), and those that are fully developed, wide and perfectly balanced throughout the posterior, medial and frontal areas; clearly it the latter variety that characterizes the aesthetic physique. To build complete shoulders it is important to target equally all three deltoid heads. Any radical size discrepancy between the three will negate the overall shape of one’s V-Taper. In saying this, it is the medial head that forms the bulk of one’s shoulder width and is therefore significant in establishing the inverted-triangle that typifies a V-Taper appearance. Thus, utilize the following movements when working the shoulders but place side laterals first in your routine so as to ensure those side deltoids are targeted with maximum intensity.


-Side laterals: for shoulder width (works the medial deltoid).

-Bent laterals: for rear deltoid development (creates the impression of greater width when the physique is viewed from the side).

-Front raises: for front deltoid development (also helps to push out the side deltoids to create impressive width).

Dumbbell presses: a great mass building movement that places a tremendous emphasis on all three heads without the unnecessary recruitment of extraneous muscle groups. Builds size through isolation.

Shoulder training tips:

-When engaging any lateral or raising movement, really focus on bringing the weight back to the starting position as slowly as possible to maintain tension on the working muscles, while holding the weight for a fraction of a second at the top of the exercise to ensure greater muscular overload.

-With pressing movements do not bounce the weight at the bottom, as this, along with increasing the potential for injury, will remove stress from the deltoid muscles. Try to maintain constant tension through a full range of motion at all times.

Create wings of steel

Probably one of the most under-emphasized body parts due to it being ‘hidden’ when it is trained, which often prevents us from achieving the same degree of ‘feel’ we might from, say, training biceps or chest, the back would have to be one of the most visually important muscle groupings, aesthetically speaking. First, it can be seen from all angles – side, back and front – and it creates the impression of width, size and shape. Without sufficient back development – flaring lat muscles, strong lower erectors and inner thickness – one’s physique would look odd in any pose. The back is also, of course, critical when seeking a pronounced V-Taper. Once again, all parts of the back must be developed equally, but there is a specific area that demands much of our attention: the lat muscles which convey a manta ray or cobra-like shape when viewed – from the front or the back – when standing with the arms slightly outstretched, or when we hit our most impressive back double biceps shot.

Recommended back exercises

-Chin ups: done with a wide, medium or narrow grip the chin up is probably responsible for developing more back width in a vast legion of muscle hungry bodybuilders than any other exercise.

-Dumbbell rows: a variation on the standard mass builder, the barbell row, dumbbell rows, in the experience of many, allow for better specific recruitment of the lat muscles while also helping to establish phenomenal inner back thickness.

-Close grip (or V bar) pull downs: excellent for working the lower lat muscles – to create a greater wedge look – the V bar pull down is an important way to assist full lat development. Secondary stress is placed on the inner back muscles to ensure back detail is maximized.

-Dead lifts: a classic mass builder, the dead lift will work virtually all muscle groups. However, it also works wonders for establishing a great V-Taper when included in every second or third back session. The dead lift builds all areas of the back, with primary stress placed upon the erectors and the upper back/traps. A fully developed back must look both wide and thick.

-Dumbbell pullovers: a great movement for stretching out the lat muscles and building overall size in this area.

Back training tips

-With chin ups and pull downs arch the elbows back until no further movement can be accomplished. This way a full contraction can be achieved. This will lead to complete development of the lat muscles.

-When dead lifting be sure to pull the arms back at the top of the movement to recruit fully the lat muscles. Many people make the mistake of stopping short of full contraction as their main focus is on getting the bar over their knees; unfortunately they keep their shoulders rounded at this point rather than bringing them back to more fully work their entire back region.

Craft razor sharp abs

Wide shoulders and lat muscles would not have the same degree of impact they otherwise would when accentuated with a tiny waistline. The attainment of a small waist is, for the most part, contingent upon good nutrition and the low body fat levels this will achieve. The major criteria for tightening up that mid section, then, is a good diet comprised of around 35 percent high quality proteins, 40 percent complex and fibrous carbohydrates and 25 percent essential fats combined with enough cardiovascular activity to burn fat while preserving valuable muscle mass. Once the waist has been stripped of fat the shape of one’s abs will dictate the training strategy they will use to further shape them. Some people sport naturally thick waists: so long as their abdominal and oblique development is apparent specific abdominal work may be counterproductive; building further size through a midsection that is already wider than it should be could offset V-Taper development. Therefore, assess your waist before targeting it with extra abdominal work (a waist measurement of 31 inches is ideal for a male who stand 5’7” with 33.1 inches being optimal for those measuring 6’ tall). Fortunately most of us have a waistline that compliments, rather than detracts from our overall aesthetics. For these people the following abdominal movements are recommended.

-Swiss ball crunches: an excellent movement for working the abdominal wall – which forms the desired six-pack – the Swiss ball crunch also allows one to properly isolate the abdominals by removing pressure from the lower back and upper body muscles.

-Hanging leg raises: great for the lower abs, the hanging leg raise helps to create detail that forms the lower area of the wedge so necessary for complete V- Taper development.

-Rope crunches: for adding detail to all areas of the abdominal wall along with the oblique muscles and serratus, the rope crunch – to which weight can be added – reigns supreme. It not only provides sustained pressure on the entire abdominal area but it build mass like no other movement of its kind, without adding size to the sides (where “love handles” often form).

Abdominal training tips

-When performing the crunch (the rope or Swiss ball versions) it is necessary to eliminate any excess upper and lower body movement: focus solely on abdominal recruitment. Whenever additional muscles are employed, stress is removed from the abs (as they are a smaller muscle grouping this is easy to do, thus extreme focus must be maintained at all times).

-Limit rest time between sets. With all other body parts, rest periods can range from one to two minutes depending on the intensity of the set and the size of the muscle group trained (legs, for example, typically require longer rest periods due to the intensity required to train them with full force). With abs I have found it best to limit rest times to no more than 30-45 seconds; this increases intensity and will not unduly overtax the abs and related muscles due to their ability to undergo a higher sustained workload.

12 week program for developing an awe-inspiring V-Taper

Note: this is a specialized program geared specifically toward developing the V-Taper. Mass building movements that work multiple muscle groups will be included every third workout to assist size maintenance.

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