A key requirement for bodybuilding success is the development of as much muscle-size as possible on a continuing basis, while keeping body-fat levels as low as reasonably possible. While these goals are fundamentally important, the real key to bodybuilding success (from both competitive and health standpoints), however, is the development of evenly distributed muscle-mass—a symmetrically pleasing physique.
Developing a symmetrical physique entails focusing on all muscle groups equally through the employment of a variety of exercises. The Collins English Dictionary defines symmetry as "Similarity, correspondence, or balance among systems or parts of a system". In bodybuilding, the emphasis should be placed on developing a balanced physique. When this is done, symmetry is achieved.
Why Become Symmetrical?
The rationale for developing a symmetrical body is simple: a body with evenly developed muscle groups looks better, as it has no apparent weak points. A common criticism leveled at poorly placed bodybuilders is the lack of symmetry these bodybuilders possess.
A lack of balance between as little as two muscle-groups (say the arms and shoulders) could mean the difference between winning and losing, all other factors considered equal.
Professional bodybuilding, for example, is full of massive bodybuilders who weigh over 250 pounds and possess outstanding individual body-parts. However, the few who perennially place highest are those blessed with incomparable symmetry. Dexter Jackson, Jay Cutler and Ronnie Coleman are three such athletes currently competing in the professional arena.
Lee Labrada, Flex Wheeler and Shawn Ray are examples of previous professional competitors with great symmetry.
The truth is, the best physiques, past and present, are, and have been, the most symmetrically superior. I mentioned that one is "blessed" with symmetry. This is usually the case, as symmetry attainment generally involves being the first in line when the favorable genetics are passed out.
This, however, does not necessarily mean that one cannot work hard to bring all muscle groups into line. This can, and is, done, as will be explained later in this article.
In addition to its aesthetic value, a symmetrical body is also less prone to injury. A particular muscle group will be less likely to compensate for a weaker muscle group, thus overburdening that muscle group while further weakening, and potentially injuring, the under-developed muscle group, if the weaker muscle group is balanced with the stronger grouping.
The appropriate ratio of both strength and flexibility in opposing muscle groups is of vital importance for a bodybuilder, or any athlete.
Without the appropriate ratio, selected sets of muscles can become strong and their opposing muscles disproportionately weak. Well-balanced muscle pairs working in concert allows for more effective and efficient movement of all your muscle groups.
How To Develop Symmetry
A symmetrical body would, as mentioned, ideally showcases muscle-mass distributed evenly. However, as paradoxical as it may sound, four groupings should generally be given preferential treatment. The calves, forearms, abs, shoulders and outer back are key muscle groupings, which require complete development if overall symmetry is desired. This is not to say that the upper leg and arm as well as the back and chest should be neglected. They shouldn't.
What can be assumed though is these muscle groupings are usually over-emphasized at the expense of the calves forearms abs, outer-back and all three deltoid-heads which comprise the shoulder complex. Furthermore, the abs, forearms, calves, shoulders and outer-back are visually important from a symmetrical standpoint.
A small, tight, abdominal region with wide, fully developed shoulders and wide, flaring, calves, forearms and back, are visible from the front, side and back, and, convey the illusion of immense size and complete development.
I have found that the key to complete development generally involves training as one would normally train (with a focus on the major muscle groups and the inclusion of squats, bench-presses, rows, curls and press-downs; and variations of) with the addition of a good percentage of ones time focused on zeroing in on deltoid (all three heads), outer back, calve (particularly width), forearm, and abdominal development.
Also, by changing exercises and the ways in which muscles are used on a regular basis, you are more likely to develop greater muscle symmetry
Other factors to bear in mind, when working toward symmetry, are diet, aerobic work and body-fat percentage (the three being inextricably linked), and soma-type. Great symmetry is obscured when a layer of fat covers the body. A tight abdominal region is generally the product of a low body-fat percentage, and the sharp lines etched into all muscle groups which result from successful fat loss, enhance established symmetry.
Furthermore, human body types can be classified as being one of the following three according to the dictates of Soma-typing:
- Endomorph (pear-shaped, overweight and large-boned)
- Mesomorph (narrow-waisted, broad-shouldered and muscular)
- Ectomorph (Slim with small bones and long arms).
Humans are genetically predisposed to having characteristics of either type, according to originator of Soma-typing and American psychologist William Sheldon.
Knowing ones soma-type can help when training for symmetry. An endomorphic type physique will require a greater focus on diet and weight loss, and abdominal work. An ectomorphic type will need to really focus on arm size as this seems be a problematical area for the ectomorph.
They will also need to focus on overall weight gain. The ectomorph does, however, have somewhat of an advantage, in that, once an appreciable amount of weight is gained, their small bone structure will greatly enhance symmetry by creating an illusion of greater size.
Flex Wheeler could be looked upon as one bodybuilder with ectomorphic tendencies, and beautiful muscle symmetry as a result. The mesomorph type is tailer-made for bodybuilding with tremendous muscle size and relatively low body-fat levels.
However, attention to symmetry still needs to be considered, as the mesomorph could still become over-developed in a particular area. The ideal combination would be meso/ecto (small bones with the potential for huge increases in muscle mass).
The ideal time to undertake this routine would be during an off-season phase when weak-point development is a major requirement. Weak-point identification needs to take place before beginning this program. When major weak-points are ascertained, prioritizing will need to be emphasized in this program.
For example, if, upon completing a self-assessment, or even better, assessment by a third party, one finds they are deficient in the shoulder and calve areas, they will need to train these first in the workout.
Training these first will ensure they are optimally stimulated as the body and mind will be energized to a greater extent at this time. Thus, the exercises that follow will be set out in no particular order. They can, instead, be chosen in order of priority.
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Saturday and Sunday: Rest
Aerobics (45 minute walk): on morning of Tuesday and Thursday sessions.
A long, successful, bodybuilding career hinges, to a large extent, on the attainment of a symmetrical physique. Muscle symmetry gives the body a balanced, more pleasing, look, not to mention the benefit of stronger opposing muscle groups.
Symmetry is, to a great extent, the product of a good genetic foundation, but improvements can be made regardless of ones genetic predisposition.
The program outlined will help one achieve muscle symmetry as it provides a good, solid, regime of tried and tested overall mass-building exercises, in addition to specialist symmetry attainment exercises. The key to maximizing symmetry with this program is to determine exactly what ones weak points are, and select exercises to target these at the beginning of the work-out.