The Ultimate Width - How To Build A Classic V-Taper


The classic v-taper truly does increase the illusion of a wide-shoulder to waist ratio

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The wide upper body is the sign of a strength athlete. While huge arms catch attention at any public happening, they are often hidden under today's loose-fitting shirts and jackets. A wide upper body, however, always stands out.

Men who were born with wide shoulder structures are fortunate. They are thought of as "well built" by the average person. When these gifted people pursue bodybuilding, they have a big advantage. Their upper bodies appear heavier and more massive. Their waists are comparatively smaller. Look at the amazing shoulder-waist differentials of Ron Love, Bob Paris or Paul Jean-Guillaume.

The same holds true for hardcore women bodybuilders. While many still reject shoulder width as masculine, how can you deny the beauty of Hannie van Aken, Joanne McCartney or Anja Langer? Shoulder and lat development combined with full hip muscularity create the small-waisted hourglass figure that separates the gals from the boys.

Width - the combination of shoulder and upper-back development - is a prime goal for all competitive bodybuilders. Here is a complete program guaranteed to make you wide.

Shoulder Width

After three decades in the body-building game I've seen many spectacular shoulders. About half of these people had wide shoulders before bodybuilding. The rest developed them through years of hard work. At least 75 percent of those who began with wide shoulders were gymnasts, swimmers or did some kind of activity that stretched their scapulas during adolescence.

Bodybuilding great John Grimek told me years ago that it's possible to widen the shoulders even after reaching maturity by stretching the scapula. His method: hanging from a chinning bar with a very wide grip, using wrist straps to reinforce the grip. You should always use straps for this hanging exercise, or your grip will give out long before you get a benefit from the stretch.

Begin with two or three hanging sessions of 30 seconds each. Progressively lengthen your hanging time until you can perform five minutes at the end of each upper-body workout. Hanging provides the added benefit of stretching the spine and decompressing the intervertebral disks. Instant chiropractic!

If you lack the advantage of skeletal width, you must approach bodybuilding as an artist, sculpting the visual illusion of width.

Eliminate direct trapezius work, including shrugs, high pulls and power cleans. Huge traps create prominent diagonal lines, presenting a sloped-shoulder look. Once your deltoids are thick and round, a proportionate set of traps will complete the look. Meanwhile the deltoid specialization presented here will maintain enough trap development.

The deltoid is composed of three muscle heads. Each has a specific function. In a shoulder-widening program you focus on the medial (or lateral) deltoid head-the muscle that raises your arms out to the sides. Isolating and developing this area will pack muscle on the outside of your shoulders.

The technique we will use to accomplish this widening is called uni-angular descending sets. Descending sets are a series of maximum efforts. Rather than working up to heavier poundages, you begin with your heaviest weight after one or two warmup sets. Do as many reps as possible using a weight you can do eight reps with. Rest only 10 to 15 seconds between sets. You will have to decrease poundage with each set to keep your reps constant.

It's vital for ultimate results that you continue uninterrupted until you are finished. Remember, maximum intensity in a short time is the secret of optimal growth.

The Delt Program

Your delt-widening routine will consist of three exercises: dumbbell medial rows, standing laterals and be-hind-the-neck presses.

Start with a light set of 15 reps in the overhead dumbbell press to warm up. Rest 30 seconds, then take a pair of dumbbells and begin. Remember to set up the dumbbells along the rack in the order you will use them as not to waste time on a weight hunt. Begin with a weight that you can do for six strict reps.

Hold the dumbbells in front of you with your palms facing your thighs and the inner plates of the dumbbells touching each other. Pull the dumbbells up by raising your elbows high and out to your sides. The dumbbells should hang downward. Pull until your elbows are on the same plane as your shoulders, then lower the dumbbells, touching them in front of you. Always try for an extra rep. Rack the weight, count to 10, then repeat with a lighter weight. After completing four or five sets, you should be down to a poundage you can do laterals with.

For laterals hold both dumbbells in front of you, palms facing each other, all four dumbbell plates touching. Keep your elbows just slightly bent.

Raise the dumbbells out to your sides until they are slightly above parallel to the floor. Keep your palms toward the floor throughout the movement, and don't turn your thumbs up. Lower slowly. Do four sets.

Sit on a bench under a Smith (pressing) machine. Start with the bar across your shoulders, behind your neck. Take a wide grip on the bar. Push the bar to arm's length overhead. Don't lean back because this lean will shift the resistance to your anterior (front) deltoids and upper pectorals. Use a weight you can do 12 reps with. Rep out, rest 15 seconds, then do a second set with the same weight. Do as many reps as possible. If you can't get eight reps on this second set, lower the poundage for the final set. Otherwise use the same weight. Rep out once again. Have someone help you with forced reps if necessary to complete six reps.

After your shoulder-widening exercises, it's time to complete the illusion of width with elbow-to-elbow lat development-your wings.

Widening Your Upper Back

When you first started working out, you learned that wide-grip pull-downs widen your back, while bent-over rows build thickness. This simplistic explanation holds true in the beginning, but as you advance, you'll need specialization to perfect a classic V-taper. The following program of specific exercises isolates each muscle group that contributes to width.

Your back is made up of different muscle groups that perform many functions. Two functions contribute to outside development (width) of the upper back: movement of the upper arms from an overhead position down to the sides and movement from overhead downward in front of you. You will use three exercises to apply maximum intensity throughout each of these movements.

The first exercise is the wide-grip lat pulldown. How wide a grip? Early in my bodybuilding career I was taught the myth, "The wider the grip, the wider your lats will become." As I learned more about the kinesiology of my body, I realized that there is a point of diminishing returns in hand spacing. Take a grip on the bar, spacing your hands about 12 inches be-yond each shoulder. The closer your grip on the bar, the more the movement changes to a frontal pull. The wider the grip beyond the recommended width, the shorter the movement. Notice that the farther out you stretch your arms, the lower your elbows come. An ultra-wide grip would be a partial movement starting from shoulder height.

You may have noticed in your workout that your lats are very strong from the overhead position to where the elbows are just below shoulder level. The bar would come to your nose at this point. Pulling the bar the rest of the way to your chest is much harder. You must use considerably less weight. With less weight, however, you sacrifice the growth of the stronger muscles. The solution is to use two exercises for maximum lat development.

The first movement works the top two-thirds of the pulldown's range of motion. Load the lat machine with a weight you can do eight reps with. Keep from leaning back. Pull the bar down until your thumbs are parallel to your nose. Try to do extra reps. When you've reached your limit, lower the weight a few increments, and after a short 10-to-20-second rest do another set of as many as possible. Repeat this for four or five sets. Use increments that allow you to keep your reps between six and 10. Increase your poundage whenever possible, but avoid using your body momentum to yank the weight down. Concentrate on the downward movement of your elbows.

Complete this lat-developing movement with cross-pulley pullins. Stand between the overhead cross-pulleys. Hold a handle in each hand. Step forward so your shoulders are in front of the pulleys. Hold your thumbs up, as this is more natural and you can handle more weight this way. Pull your elbows in until your upper arms are down at your sides. Begin with a weight you can do eight reps with and descend in poundage as you did with the pulldowns. Do three to four sets, with maximum effort on each. After concluding this exercise, you will feel a pump in the sweep of your outer latissimus dorsi.

Although only the lats are usually mentioned when discussing back width, the teres major muscles under the arms are a large contributor to this look. To work this sometimes neglected muscle, use the 45-degree row. This is a pulley located about four feet above your seat. When your arms are outstretched in the beginning of the exercise, they should be at a 45-degree angle to your upright body. Put a handle on the pulley that will allow a close grip, hands six inches apart. Bend slightly forward as you begin the pull. Sit up straight, but don't bend back as you bring your elbows back. Pull the bar to your upper abdominals. Do a set of as many as possible using a weight you can do around eight reps with. Step down in poundage as you did for the previous exercises, completing four to five sets of as many as possible.

Unfortunately, many gyms don't have a 45-degree pulley. In this situation you can substitute Nautilus pullovers or close-grip lat pulldowns leaning back 45 degrees.

Putting It All Together

I found it best to combine the shoulder - and back-widening programs, training chest, arms, midsection and legs on the other days. This program still works if you divide it up by working shoulders with chest and triceps, then doing back the next day with biceps. It's up to you.

Shoulder width:

Dumbbell upright rows / 4-5 x 6

Standing dumbbell lateral raises / 4 x 8-6

Behind-the-neck presses / 4 x 12-6

Back width:

Wide-grip lat pulldowns / 4-5 x 10-6

Cross-pulley pullins / 3-4 x 10-6

45-degree rows/ 3-4 x 10-6

Follow these programs twice a week for at least two months, and your physique will transform into a new look-an impressive, powerful, w-i-d-e look. Just promise you won't get upset when you have to turn sideways to walk through doorways.

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