That's the most elusive quality in bodybuilders' physiques today? If you said size, you'd be wrong. It's shape. Or more precisely, size with
shape. There are plenty of huge guys walking around local gyms, but most of them won't or don't do very well in contests, even if they want
to, and although they keep training to get bigger - or perhaps occasionally more defined - what they need to do is improve the shape of each
muscle group. This is not to say many bodybuilders don't include some attempt at training for shape. Most competitors and other serious
bodybuilders pay at least some attention to this aspect of training. The problem is that good shape on a bodybuilder often proves hard to
attain. Like most goals in bodybuilding, however, there's no sense making it more difficult a task than it already is.
How are you training for shape in the often-ignored rear delts? (Upper chest is another sadly neglected though admittedly slow-to-grow area which has an intriguing potential for mass gains.) If you are doing a few bent-over laterals at the end of your shoulder routine after you've pounded the front delts with presses and bench presses, and then worked your medial delts with heavy lateral raises, no wonder you have no rear delts. Many muscle areas - the posterior deltoid being one of them, upper chest often another, inside part of the calf, quads over the knees - almost never grow as easily as, for example, the front delts, middle and lower chest, and upper/middle quads and thighs. This fact is widely known, although many bodybuilders who know this bit of info seem unable to do much about it, even when they try. (We won't dwell on those bodybuilders who, when confronted with that reality, just never think about the problem and don't even bother to work those areas.)
But back to the main target: shape. Part of the problem, possibly a solvable part, is that you can find loads of mass-building exercises (a very imprecise though partially helpful term) for the front delts - front presses, dumbbell presses, behind-the-neck presses. Arnold presses, Scott presses - and this list doesn't include the many varieties of bench presses such as flat, incline, decline, dumbbell and every imaginable variation thereof. For your middle delts you can do heavy laterals, and though many dispute this theory, there is some spillover effect from shoulder presses to the medial delt. But what mass exercise can you find for your rear delts? How many of us exult when we set a personal record in bent-over lateral raises? The poundages are hardly noteworthy. And while no strict, linear relationship exists between heavy poundages and mass growth (despite what the heavy-weights-only crowd insists), heavy poundages have their place in training.
You need to find an exercise that lets you employ at least some moderate poundages that can get at the rear delts. Behind-the-necks, done seated, strictly, with the weight maintained on a plane behind the head and not brought forward over the side centerline of the skull (difficult) will have some effect on the rear delts. Much better are shoulder-width upright rows (Gironda style, great for the medial delts). Better yet are back exercises, strict bent-over rows pulled high toward the chest, not pulled to the waist, and various cable rows pulled in higher on the torso. Many bodybuilders with relatively well-developed rear delts group them with their back work, as they feel that's the best way to get at them.
Isolation or "shaping" exercises (another very imprecise, though somewhat helpful term) are often necessary and can help enhance shape. But there's nothing to say an exercise that achieves partial isolation - such as bent-over laterals - has to be a poorly leveraged relatively ineffective one. With the back mass-shape combination approach on rear delts, you should get better shape along with more mass. You can fulfill two important objectives at once. To target the upper chest, if you can use even moderate poundages with good enough form to get you growing, you'll achieve size increase with a far better appearing chest.
We can build an entire routine based on these principles, so you'll be better able to use it and understand how it can work. We'll contrast this program with standard-type routines to let you see the differences along the way. For the sake of simplicity we focus on the minimum number of exercises needed to deliver what we're after, which is both mass and shape. Let's see what we can do with one exercise per muscle group:
Chest: incline bench press
Back: bent-over rows
Delts: shoulder-width upright rows
Biceps: dumbbell curls
Triceps: close-grip bench presses
Thighs: front squats
Calves: donkey calf raises
At first glance this program looks a lot like a standard one-exercise beginner's mass routine. Upon closer inspection the differences become more telling. Use good, strict form and feel the weight, but you need not exaggerate the form or do slow-motion reps. Good form, however, is one key element for shape.
Chest: The incline press done with moderate to heavy weight will build upper chest without overdeveloping the lower and middle portion as 90 percent of bodybuilders do. Many include inclines as a secondary, variant or substitute exercise, but few give up benches. And that is often the decisive strategy - to give up flat benches and concentrate on inclines. You will get size where you need it and much better shape with inclines if you do them solely, as you'll have the strength and energy to work them properly.
Back: For the back bent-over rows are fairly standard, but again you should pull them to the bottom of the chest. This method will give you much wider lats across the top of your back than the way most bodybuilders do them - i.e. a heaving motion into the waist. Arch your back and squeeze at the top and you'll get better rear delts, too.
Shoulders: As for shoulder width and medial delts, Vince Gironda-style upright rowing with a shoulder width and pulling away from the body will give you both mass (you can use some decent poundages on this exercise) and shape - deltoid width - which is what you want. It's a tough exercise if you do it with proper form, but unless you are a super presser, it will give you far more delt results. Only Gironda followers seem to do this great exercise. That's why they have superior shoulder development. It's a major departure from the standard, traditional routine.
Arms: As for arm work, dumbbell curls done strictly - and that's the difference, as j List about everyone does some type of cheat curl for mass - will give you a balance of mass and some development in all areas of the biceps. Close-grip benches with the hands inside the plane of the elbows only about six to eight inches apart, forcing you to use moderate poundages and strict form, will likewise give a balance of triceps development with an accent on the outer head. The strict movement and moderate poundages, as opposed to a wider grip with the heaving, bouncing style of close-grips so many use, which only produces a look of undifferentiated size without much shape, is the difference here. Arm mass with shape is what we want. We're using some of the same exercises as the standards, but we do them much differently and usually more strictly.
Thighs: Bodybuilders don't do front squats anymore. They should. Time was when Olympic lifters had complete quad size without overdeveloping their hips, and they acquired it with front squats. Use a two-by-four block of wood under your feet with a shoulder-width stance and descend all the way. If you have a tendency to overdevelop your hips, go only to parallel. Use slow, steady movements. We're not after explosive lifting. We're after full development. You should develop almost as much mass as from the back squat (you won't believe this until you do them) and a much better sweep to the thighs. The strict movement will also help somewhat in separating the quads.
Calves: The donkey raise can give you a good chance at bigger calf development because of its long stretch at the beginning and high contraction at the end of the exercise. If you can't find a suitable partner, try to purchase either a plate-loading machine or a belt to which you can add weight. The combination of moderate or heavy poundages with the complete, strict movement should give you superior calves.
Abs: For abs work mainly the upper areas. Don't do oblique exercises, for you risk adding width. Crunches are the main upper-ab exercise. They are fairly standard. Work upper abs, which show more, at about a two- or three-to-one ratio to any lower-ab work. Do ab work slowly and strictly with no cheating. Don't overwork the abs. They respond far more to diet than to exercise in terms of eventual appearance.
Now you have a complete workout that will give you a good combination of both mass and shape. You can adjust the sets, reps and poundages to whatever your level of ability is. You can split your workouts up any way you want. The main principle is to get as much shape and mass together as you can. The critical differences, particularly in the delts, chest and thighs, will vastly enhance your shape if you've been concentrating on benches, presses and back squats. By doing lots of isolation exercises such as flys, lateral raises, leg extensions and leg curls, you will notice the mass you develop on the mass-shape routine far exceeds the mass from the "small" isolation exercises, and the shape therefore may be superior also. Everyone responds differently, but the above workout may give you the best combination of mass and shape you've had.
Alternative Workout: You can alter and modify the workout with other levels of mass-shape approaches. Exercises for less mass but greater shape include bench press to the neck (a Vince Gironda favorite) for the upper chest, lat pulldowns to the front for back, midrange lateral raises for delts, incline dumbbell curls for biceps, dumbbell extensions for triceps, hack squats (moderate to heavy weight) for thighs, standing calf raises for calves, especially the inside head. This workout will still give far better shape with more mass more efficiently than, for example, combining back squats and leg extensions and leg curls for thighs. You can do hack squats heavily without a machine, holding a barbell behind you while standing on a block. Work up to very respectable weights and get tremendous shape and quad separation, all from one exercise - not three or four or however many you're doing.
This approach is great for drug-free bodybuilders as you are able to thoroughly work the whole physique in two critical dimensions, mass and shape, at the same time, without overtraining or adding dozens of other exercises. If you are really lagging in shape, do the second workout and add one isolation exercise - for example, hacks and lie-back leg extensions for extreme upper thighs and apportion your sets accordingly. If you are well advanced, perhaps a frequent competitor, you may want to try the supermass and shape workout, which combines the first two. You would use inclines and neck press for chest, upright rows and midrange lateral raises for delts, and so on. Keep within the bounds of recovery and don't overtrain. If you are a bodybuilder who right now does only mass exercises - i.e., you are forever bulking or planning to work someday additionally on shape - shame on you. You have no excuses. There is no need to sacrifice mass to get shape. You can have both great shape and size. Get after it.