Creating The Illusion Of Size: Maximizing Width

Increase your shoulder width to appear several inches wider. Below you will find routines and exercises that will help you build the appearance of width.

For the average hardcore bodybuilder, size is the most important. Oh, sure, you need good proportion among all the muscle groups, complete development and all, but really, most of us care about size first. One way to enhance how big you look is to enhance your width.

By this I mean increasing your shoulder width, increasing your lat width, decreasing your waist size, and increasing your thigh/calf size. Of course, thickness, or how you look from the side, is very important also, but increased width will really enhance your appearance of size.

Larry Scott, the first Mr. Olympia, worked very hard to enhance his width, being naturally narrow in the shoulders. Width, especially in the delts and lats, along with a smaller waist will bring out the coveted V taper. By increasing your shoulder width and decreasing your waist size, you can appear several inches wider.

Bring out the lat width and you have that wide "cobra" look to your back. Let's not forget the legs with the dramatic thigh sweep and bulging calves. What bodybuilder wouldn't want that?

If you plan to compete, this is critical, even if all you want is a beach body. For the smaller framed bodybuilders out there, creating the illusion of size allows you to compete against a bigger guy on more equal terms.

Areas Of Concern

The areas to be concerned with, then, are the delts (primarily the side delts), the lats, abs, thighs and calves, while not neglecting any other areas. We'll look at exercises that enhance width, which you can add to your current workouts (I would not suggest replacing any of the key mass builders that also enhance thickness, like squats and deadlifts. These two exercises are too important to neglect) or use the suggested routines that appear later in this article.

Delts

The main exercise to enhance delt width are side laterals, these can be done with dumbbells or cables. You can do this exercise one arm at a time, or with both arms.

Upright Barbell Row

Power partials are a good variation on regular dumbbell laterals; with these you warm-up, go to a heavy weight and do partial range side laterals.

Upright rows are one of my favorite exercises for the side delts; they also hit the front delts and traps. To ensure balance among the three delt heads, and as a mass builder, I'd include a pressing movement - I like behind the neck presses despite all the negative press about them; I've been doing them since the early 80's with no problems at all. If they bother you, do military presses and include rear laterals for the often neglected rear delts.

Lats

Lat width is built by chins or pulldowns. There are actually several types of chins although the terms chin-up and pullup are often used interchangeably - the chin-up can be performed with the palms facing towards the body (i.e., with a supinated grip), with the palms facing away from the body (pronated grip), or gripping parallel bars (semi-supinated grip).

The term pullup is traditionally used when the exercise is performed with a pronated grip.

Beginners who are not strong enough to perform a chin-up may make use of an assisted chin-up machine where you stand on a bar with a counterweight to reduce the weight that you pull up. Another useful exercise for beginners is the negative chin-up, where you are assisted to the top position and execute a slow, controlled descent.

I personally prefer these; you are much stronger in the negative phase of any exercise. I like to use these on exercises for all body parts as a means of increasing intensity and strength.

Wide-Grip Lat Pulldown

An alternative to the chin-up is, of course, lat pull downs. With this machine, it is far easier to increase the resistance above body-weight than with the chin-up. What I like about pulldowns are the numerous handle attachments you can use: a straight handle, parallel grip handle, V handle and rope attachment.

In both cases, it's important to start the pull with your lats, never with your biceps. Think of your arms as hooks, pull with your lats, and let the arms follow.

Abs

Crunches are the order of the day here. Some oblique work is necessary, but you don't want to over-develop them. What with today's trend toward pot bellies with ab muscles, that gross "GH Gut," a well developed but tight mid-section can really stand out.

Thighs

Narrow Stance Squats

I would never neglect squats, they are to important of an exercises, but for the purpose of this article, I would add outer sweep exercises, such as narrow stance squats (or smith machine squats), narrow stance hack squats and narrow stance leg presses.

Calves

Critical for a complete, balanced physique. Exercises are primarily seated and standing calf raises, leg press calf raises and donkey calf raises.

Other Areas

I didn't mention chest, hamstrings or arms, but these areas should obviously not be neglected. With the chest, balance is important, meaning you should focus on the upper chest to avoid that sagging look, the outer chest for a nice flare and I would always include the flat bench press (sometimes called the upper body squat) for overall mass.

With arms, you have everybody hitting set after endless set of curls in hopes of building "big guns." What they don't realize is that the triceps accounts for 2/3 of your upper arm size; you should emphasize the lateral, or side head of the triceps without neglecting the other heads.

Barbell Curl

Even though curls are the main mass builder for biceps, there's more to biceps training than just the basic barbell curl, meaning intensity techniques as much as other exercises. With hamstrings, the idea is more one of balance than anything else, since they don't really contribute to width.

Routines

Here are two routines utilizing these exercises and two split options. One of my favorite splits is a 4 day, set up like this:

Day 1 - Back, Biceps, Forearms, Abs
Day 2 - Chest, triceps, Abs
Day 3 - Rest
Day 4 - Legs, Abs
Day 5 - Delts, Abs
Day 6 - Rest
Day 7 - Rest

If you can use this, it's a great choice because it allows a good balance of workout volume per workout day and it allows for good recovery.

Otherwise, if a 4 day does not work with your schedule, try this 3 day:

Day 1 - Chest, Back, Abs
Day 2 - Rest
Day 3 - Legs, Abs
Day 4 - Rest
Day 5 - Delts, Arms, Abs
Day 6 - Rest
Day 7 - Rest

In all my 25 years, I've never combined chest and back on the same day, and I've seldom combined arms on the same day, but I have to say, it's a great split.

Even though we're training for width, you should never neglect the core mass movements, they are included in the routines.

Routine 1 - 4 Day Split

Note: Even though I suggest warming up with 50% of your 1rm for 15 reps for most exercises, and then suggest adding weight for each remaining warm-up set, I'm not suggesting a definite "pyramid" type progression. Do as many reps as you can for each warm-up set, up to a max of 15 reps and then go right into your heaviest weight for your first working set.

This type of approach is sometimes called a reverse pyramid, although my version is not as strict in terms of performing an exact number of reps for each set.

The advantage of doing your first working set with your top weight for reps, as opposed to the standard "pyramid up" in weight finally hitting your top weight for the last set, is that you will be stronger for your first working set - you will lift more weight and will be able to train with more intensity - no way can you do this if you do 3 or 4 progressively tougher sets first.

Day 1 - Back, Biceps, Forearms, Abs


Day 2 - Chest, Triceps, Abs


Day 3 - Rest
Day 4 - Legs, Abs


Day 5 - Deltoids, Abs


Day 6 - Rest
Day 7 - Rest

This routine will build width while also using basic movements to help add overall size and, yes, thickness.

Routine 2 - 3 Day Split

Day 1 - Chest, Back, Abs


Day 2 - Rest
Day 3 - Legs, Abs


Day 4 - Rest
Day 5 - Delts, Arms, Abs


Day 6 - Rest
Day 7 - Rest

Conclusion

This is a great routine for those with less time. In both routines, I would suggest training to a point of positive failure. I can't see the point of stopping at a pre-determined number of reps if you can do more. Having said that, I do believe in cycling intensity - you should change your routine around every 4-6 weeks anyway.

One way to do this, besides changing a few exercises, is to add intensity techniques, such as supersets, drop sets, rest pause, negatives, to name just a few. I would add one or two techniques at a time, and then change to some different ones, you want to progressively increase your work over time and promote variety.

So there you have it, give this routine a try and see if you have problems getting through any doorways!