We all dream of having the perfect body. It's what we spend so many sweat-drenched, pain-wracked hours in the gym for, it's why we eat out of Igloo coolers six or more times a day, it's why we're willing to shell out our money on various powders, capsules and bars that may just give us an extra edge. But for all this, who among us has a perfect body? Names like Flex Wheeler, Shawn Ray, Lee Labrada, or Ronnie Coleman may come to mind. From any angle, in any pose, it's hard to find a single flaw, not unlike a rare diamond. Each muscle is perfectly shaped, seamlessly tying into the next with grace and magnificence. Sadly, it's unrealistic for the majority of us to aspire to this ideal of supreme development. Hundreds of generations of fortunate DNA crossing paths and passing on rare traits such as round muscle shape, extraordinary amounts of muscle cells, broad-shouldered, narrow-waisted, small-jointed skeletal structures, thin skin, and a scarcity of adipose tissue cells have all led up to these wondrous specimens.
So what do we do? Sit and cry about how we were all shafted when God handed out bodybuilding genetics? Of course not! While it's true that there will never be many truly "flawless" physiques, each and every one of us can get a great physique if we set to work on reducing or eliminating the flaws we do have that detract from the potential quality of our bodies. In this article I will address the most common flaws witnessed among bodybuilders, and how we can remedy them. I guarantee you that if you put your ego aside and read this objectively, you will come away with at least several ideas on how to improve your physique. Remember, all we really are as bodybuilders are sculptors, with our bodies serving as the clay. Analyze your own "sculpture" according to these suggestions and your work (in this case, training), as they say, will be cut out for you.
Flaw: Droopy Chest
Blame this most common imperfection on our obsession with the flat bench press. Since many men associate their strength from teenage years on with how much weight they can bench, too many of us devote too much attention to bench pressing as part of chest training. The result is the typical over-development of the lower chest that makes the pecs look droopy. God forbid you ever stop training, because when those big lower pecs lose their muscle tone, they inevitably hang and look just like a hag's breasts. You may have seen pictures of some of the old-timers sporting this repugnant look. But we're concerned with the present, not the future. Droopy pecs take away from a physique, end of story.
The solution to droopy pecs is simple but radical: never do anything on a flat or decline bench again. From here on in, everything you do for chest must be performed on an incline. There are still many different exercises to do: incline presses with a barbell, dumbbells, on a Smith or Hammer Strength machine, incline flyes, and cable crossovers. For further variety, you can play with the degree of incline, anything from a slight 10 degrees up to a severe 45 degrees. Don't worry that your lower chest is going to shrivel up to nothing, since it will still receive ample stimulation from all the incline exercises to maintain its size. More importantly, you will build a full chest with that high shelf that is so much more impressive, in and out of clothes. Once you have a thick upper chest to match the middle and lower, your chest will be a completely developed masterpiece.
Flaw: Flat Hamstrings
The problem of underdeveloped hamstrings is so pervasive that I devoted a recent MMI article, "Balancing Act," to fixing it. Just as most people equate big arms with having big biceps, quadriceps take all the glory when it comes to legs. People love to train quads, as there are many pressing exercises to choose from, and the ability to handle stupefying poundages is very common in advanced trainers. Posing them is easy and fun, with the added visual excitement of veins and cross-striations when you're in shape. Hamstrings are not as fun to train, as there are less exercises to choose from, and they are certainly not as glamorous. Nobody cares whether you can use half the stack or the full stack on leg curls, or how much you can stiff-leg deadlift. Plus, most people train hamstrings after quads, when they're far too fatigued to give them justice. This leads to what you see in most bodybuilders, which is good legs from the front, horrible legs from the side. Can you imagine how much less impressive Flex Wheeler or Kevin Levrone's legs would be without those full, sweeping hams? Now imagine how much more impressive yours would be with them. Good. Hold that picture in your mind, for it will serve as fuel for intense ham training very soon.
If you're one of those people that needs better hamstrings, and the odds are that you do, don't despair. The key is to do the same things you've done to make your quads grow: work them first, and work them hard. If you must work quads fresh to keep all of your poundages intact and satiate your ego, split quads and hams up on separate days. Focus on working the hamstrings through a full range of motion slowly, squeezing them at the top of the rep and lowering for a full stretch. Use a variety of leg curl machines; lying, seated, and standing, and always do either stiff-leg deadlifts or good mornings. You'll find that with the proper attention and dedication, your hamstrings will grow quite nicely once you give them the chance.
Flaw - No Back
Luckily, the popularity of 90's bodybuilding superstars like Dorian Yates, Flex Wheeler, and Ronnie Coleman seems to have spawned a new interest in back training, as all three of these men have back development that defies the imagination. Unfortunately, this interest has not spilled over to everyone. In fact, a good back is as rare in most gyms as someone who trains in the Mentzer Heavy Duty style for more than a week. What a disappointment to see someone who seemingly has it all - big chest, great arms, round delts, only to turn around and reveal a flat wasteland where a rugged mountain range of lats, traps, rhomboids, teres major and minor, and erectors should be. To me it looks lazy, like someone was building a house and just gave up before it was done. Because we can't see our backs, it's only natural that they might not receive top priority. Yet this is a huge mistake. A wide, thickly-muscled back is a sight to see, a commanding presence that indicates its owner is truly a powerful man and not just a "beach bodybuilder."
The back needs a lot of work, as it is comprised of several large muscle groups. Most trainers get the best results by training back all by itself. A variety of exercises need to be done, not just a few sets of jerky pulldowns to the neck. A good routine that will work all aspects of the back should include deadlifts, chins, rows, shrugs, and hyperextensions. Heavy weights must be used, as the back is potentially a very strong bodypart. Some men have deadlifted over 900 pounds, rowed barbells of 500 pounds, and shrugged nearly half a ton. Form is critical in back training as in no other bodypart. Strive to develop a distinct "feel" of the muscle being worked, and to get a pump in the target muscle. Heaving and jerking will not deliver results. With a great back, you will have a three-dimensional torso, not one that looks like a piece of paper from the back.
Flaw - Skinny Calves and/or Forearms
Few things are as pathetic-looking as huge quads and hams leading down to stick-like calves that call to mind the peg-legs of pirates of yore, or big peaked biceps and hamhock triceps capped off by scrawny forearms that look like they belong on a ten-year-old girl. It looks like something is dreadfully wrong, perhaps some sort of muscular dystrophy or withering has ravaged the afflicted area. It's true that some of the best calves and forearms, like those of Mike Matarazzo and Steve Brisbois, belong to men who do not train them directly whatsoever. Unfortunately, a whole generation of bodybuilders, having heard this, has decided that trying to improve calves and forearms is a fruitless, hopeless venture to undertake. Thus, they settle for limbs that cease to show development at the knee and elbow, making for highly unappealing arms and legs.
The solution is so simple, it is to laugh - work the calves and forearms! While the muscle's insertions ultimately determine the level of development that can be attained, I've yet to meet anybody who couldn't make their calves and forearms grow with regular training. Calves need to be worked through a full range of motion, with both high and low reps, always aiming for full stretches, contractions, and painful pumps. Forearms pump up very easily with wrist curls and reverse wrist curls, and will show improvement almost overnight. Developed to the utmost of your body's potential, calves and forearms will greatly enhance the overall symmetry of your physique.
Flaw - Too Much Bodyfat
A fact that is sad but true is that there are a lot of very good physiques out there buried under soft, flabby blankets of bodyfat. You can have a beautifully-proportioned body with shapely, thick muscle in all the right places, but if your bodyfat is much higher than twelve percent (male) or eighteen percent (female), you will just look like a fat slob. All the wonderful lines of the muscles are totally obscured by adipose tissue. You may as well be some high school football linebacker who lives on Burger King and weight-gainer 10,000 shakes. Many people are under the false impression that being "smooth" (a kind term for most off-season bodybuilders) is conducive and even necessary to making muscular gains. I shamefully admit I believed this for years, and I still have pants with 36-inch waists in my closet to prove it. The reality is that you can make gains and still stay in shape. If you're a bodybuilder, your appearance is extremely important to you, so why not look good all the time instead of having to hide under giant sweatshirts most of the year?
Getting in shape and staying that way seems like a pain in the ass, but it's really not that tough once you make it a routine. First of all, analyze your diet. If you're eating junk, then you know why you're fat. However, a lot of bodybuilders eat clean yet still have love handles. The reason is that either they're eating too many carbs, or too many calories. Start keeping track of your meals with a journal, and slowly decrease your daily carbohydrate and caloric intake until you find a balance where you still have energy, but start losing fat. Also, you will need to start doing cardio if you currently do not. Although the best times to perform cardio for fat-burning effects are upon waking and before retiring, you can also do your cardio right after your weight training. At that point you are in a similarly glycogen-depleted state, and fat-burning will be near optimal. Once you start seeing how much better you look leaner, you'll have all the incentive you need to remain that way.
To summarize, a flawless physique isn't such a pipe dream after all. If we can objectively assess our own bodies and find what needs to be improved, all of us can have impressive physiques with balanced development in each bodypart. Though there are only a handful of men and women who can hope to ever look like Flex Wheeler or Kim Chizevsky, millions of weight trainers have the potential for excellent physiques with no weak points. So, take a good hard look in the mirror, and start working on your flawless physique today!