Building The X-Frame: Time To Get Wide!

In the beginning, all any of us ever want is to get big and strong. Once you have built up a solid foundation of muscle, however, it's time to start looking objectively at your physique and determine what needs to improve to reach your ideal potential.

In the beginning, all any of us ever want is to get big and strong. Once you have built up a solid foundation of muscle, however, it's time to start looking objectively at your physique and determine what needs to improve to reach your ideal potential. To do this, back away about ten or twenty feet from a large mirror and assess the overall shape of your body from head to toe. Be honest and ask yourself, what am I lacking?

In this case, don't get caught up in scrutinizing individual body parts. Rather, attempt to see the big picture in terms of a silhouette. For many bodybuilders, the missing ingredient is width.

It's common to see bodies that have plenty of size and thickness, but still appear quite narrow. The standard that we should all strive for is what Team Universe champion and IFBB professional Ron "Alcatraz" Coleman calls the "X-Frame." No, this has nothing to do with last summer's blockbuster movie about mutant superheroes, or ESPN 2's extreme sports extravaganza of inline skating and mountain bikes. The "X" in this instance refers to having wide shoulders and back tapering into a tiny waist, then flaring again out to sweeping thighs. Some of the best X-frames in the business have belonged to Milos Sarcev, Lee Haney, Lenda Murray, Chris Cormier, and Bob Paris.

If you read my MMI article "Dem Bones," then you know that all of these aforementioned individuals have ideal bone structures for bodybuilding, possessing less pronounced embodiments of the X-frame even before they commenced weight training. Yet even with a less-than-ideal structure, anyone can come closer to an X-frame with the right training modifications. If you have ever been told that your physique is narrow or blocky, then you should definitely start working specifically for an X-frame. There are four components that contribute to this physical model; a wide back, wide delts, sweeping outer thighs, and a small waistline. All four attributes can be achieved with a little intelligent strategy in the gym.

Wide Back

      How can you focus on width any more than you already do? I used to believe that all

back exercises

      were created equal; that you could develop your lats to their maximum potential and that was that. The chips would fall where they would as far as how broad your wingspan ultimately was. Now, however, I believe that by directly targeting the fibers of the outer lats, you can indeed focus quite selectively on their development and create a wider back.

This can be accomplished somewhat through wide-grip chin-ups, or to a greater extent with an even more extreme variation of the chin-up. This was taught to me very recently by Dr. Gene Orlowsky, DC., who has trained with Arnold and Rory Leidelmeyer, among others. To perform this ultra-wide chin-up, set the long safety pins in a power rack to their highest slots. Now, try to do chins with your arms outstretched and gripping the pins. The starting position calls to mind Jesus on the cross.

      Granted, the range of motion isn't nearly as complete as with standard chin-ups, but you should feel a very pronounced stretching in the area around your shoulder blades. These are probably the toughest form of chin-ups in the world, so don't be discouraged if you can only manage one or two reps at first. The shorter your arms, the more difficult this exercise will be. To reach the desired 8 to 10 reps, have a spotter help you up into the contracted position, hold for a second, and get the negative yourself. If you don't have a spotter, set the pins lower so that you can help push yourself up with one leg if needed.

Do not relax your shoulders at the bottom of the rep or at any point, as they are in a slightly compromised position with this ultra-wide grip. Also do at least half your rowing movements with a wide grip, either barbell rows or cable rows with a long bar. Picture your back getting ever wider. Why, if an ant started walking across your back, it would take him three days to get to the other side!

Wide Delts

      The X-frame also calls for big, round

side delts

      . You may think you are already doing all you can to have these, but in all likelihood you are not. Most of us spend so much time performing heavy presses for chest and shoulders that our front deltoids unintentionally become overpowering in relation to the side deltoids. We've all seen guys that have shoulders that look huge while standing sideways, yet when they face you the width is less than stunning. This may even describe you.
      To create wider delts, the majority of your shoulder training should stress the side delts. Start with a variation of

dumbbell side laterals

      . A good one that I picked up from

Mike Francois

      several years back is the

one-arm side lateral

      . Support the non-working arm on something sturdy, so that your body is rooted in place. Splay your legs out fairly wide for additional support.

Lean slightly forward and start with the dumbbell in front of your waist. You can use a little swing and heave to get the big 'bell up, as long as you are able to pause it at the top and control it down. I saw Francois do these with a 120-pound dumbbell in contest shape, and his shoulders looked so wide that I don't know how he fit through most doorways! Follow three sets of this up with three sets on either a cable or a side lateral machine, getting a good pre-stretch in the beginning and really squeezing hard at the contraction. Finish with three sets of machine presses with a fairly wide grip. Your side delts should be screaming and well on their way to expanding outward.

Outer Thigh Sweep

      Musclemag columnist John Parrillo has preached for two decades about how it is possible to selectively target different parts of the quadriceps by changing your foot position while leg-pressing. To create a sweeping outer thigh that contributes to our X-frame, the vastus lateralis is purely what we want to hit. From now on, whenever you squat, or use a leg-press or hack squat machine, you must keep your feet completely together. If using a leg press or hack squat, it would also be advantageous to place your feet lower than normal on the platform to minimize involvement of the glutes. Another trick that forces the quads to do more work is to push from the balls of the feet rather than the heels.
      You can have gigantic thighs, but without that sweep, they're not going to be very pretty. Thighs that resemble telephone poles will do nothing for the illusion we wish to compose. Keep your feet together and watch their shape start to improve.

Trim Waistline

      Finally, you need to stay as lean as possible to maintain a small waist. Obviously, this is largely a


      factor, as some men and women have much more diminutive hips and waistlines than others. If you have large hips, that's even more reason to keep your waistline as small and tight as possible. This doesn't mean you have to stay in contest shape all the time. That would be very unrealistic and not very healthy for most people.

If you can stay lean enough year-round so that your abs are clearly visible, this will go a long way toward making your V-taper (the top half of the X-frame) more dramatic. Your diet must be clean 90 % of the time. Refer to my course "Getting Ripped" available on my web site if you are unsure of the proper way to eat to minimize body fat. Do not neglect your cardio. All it really takes to keep the waistline under control for most people is thirty minutes, four times a week. That's a fairly small price to pay to look wider.


Are you ready to get wider and exemplify the X-frame ideal? If you implement the above guidelines into your training program immediately, you should soon be on your way to having an X-frame all your own. Remember, bodybuilding is a purely visual sport. Height and weight don't mean much, and neither do measurements. You can be a three-hundred pound giant, yet still get less attention and recognition than a two-hundred pound man with more aesthetic proportions.

If you can create a work of art with your physique, it will always stand out more than those who just haphazardly slapped together whatever muscle they could. Don't be just another big lump of muscle. Be the most perfect muscular specimen you can be. Be a standout!