What usually separates a good bodybuilder from a great one is that sought after, but often elusive V-Taper, the perfect melding of broad shoulders, small waist and flaring lat muscles, a look synonymous with perfect symmetry and proportion.
Bottom line: a blocky waist with narrow shoulders and underdeveloped lat muscles - the opposite of a good V-Taper - will detract from a bodybuilder's physique.
When bodybuilders hear the term V-Taper they often associate it with greats such as Steve Reeves and Arnold Schwarzenegger, two men who represented the best of both worlds: mass and shape. Back when these men were in their prime - in the '50 and '70s respectively - the emphasis swung toward attaining shape over all-out size.
Today, many bodybuilders power train their way to massive size while overlooking the necessity of perfect balance. Their V-Taper can be compromised as a result.
When faced with the prospect of a wide waist and narrow shoulders, bodybuilders will often cite bad genetics, a very limiting way to view this particular problem. The truth is, with a targeted training program and a well-structured diet anyone can improve his or her V-Taper and reap the rewards of an extremely well balanced physique.
By focusing on what can be done rather than what genetics has bestowed on you and through training 'old school' with an emphasis on shape over pure size - with basic movements that target all muscle groupings - a stunning V-Taper can be yours.
One man who holds true to the classic ideals demonstrated by bodybuilders of yesteryear is Anthony Catanzaro. As a natural champion with the old-school work ethic and mindset necessary to overcome the odds, Tony has transformed his physique from blocky and narrow to a near perfectly sculptured, symmetrical and flowing masterpiece.
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The reason his physique is so popular? A phenomenal V-Taper! In the following interview he explains how you too can develop yours to perfection.
What are the bodybuilding benefits to having a great V-Taper?
Hi David. To me bodybuilding is all about achieving a symmetrical, well balanced and defined body. So having that most sought after V-Taper is at the top of my list. And it should also be at the top of the list for anyone wanting to achieve an awesome physique.
Whether you're a man or a woman, there's nothing sexier than an awesome V-taper. I'm asked all the time at the gym, "Tony how do I get bigger to have that V-Taper like you?" But they do not even stop to think that their waistline is the key factor.
I consider myself an ice sculptor, with my body being the ice. I'm looking to carve and sculpt every body part to perfection. Remember, it's not about size, it's about shape and shape creates the illusion of greater size.
It is said one's V-Taper is largely genetic. Would you agree with this? Why or why not?
Yes, genetics plays a huge part in shape and structure, but the bottom line is this: I wasn't born with the shape I have now. I had to earn it! So never think its all genetics. Sometimes in life you have to create your own genetics.
What is most important in developing a V-Taper: the waist, shoulders or the lat muscles?
You have to focus on getting your waistline as small as possible, while at the same time building your deltoids, especially your lateral deltoids as well as your lateral triceps.
Also, let's not forget lat muscles wide enough to fly. So it's not just one particular muscle, it is all of the above. But I feel it's more so the waistline.
My goal in my fitness and bodybuilding career was to always have an extremely small waist, as small as I could get it. You have to understand we all have small waist underneath all the fat and water we hold. Our waists are very small.
The thing is: how many layers of fat do we have around our midsection? Think of it as sleeping with 50 sheets over you, now try and determine if anyone would even be able to notice you're under there. In order to see your definition, you must lower your body fat "sheets."
How does one flare those lat muscles out to create the illusion of smaller waist size? What exercises are best and how would you structure a training plan to target them?
Two words: Pull-Ups! Hang and bang, as I like to call it. Pull-ups, done correctly, are the greatest for building and stretching those lats. I found doing them twice a week with five sets to failure would do the trick.
Another great exercise for width is pullovers. This exercise really increases the size and structure of the rib cage while at the same time shaping those serratus muscles.
5 sets to failure
- Wide-Grip Lat Pulldown
4 sets of 6-12 reps
- Bent Over Barbell Row
4 sets of 6-12 reps
- One-Arm Dumbbell Row
4 sets of 6-12 reps
If one has a larger waist genetically what are some ways to create the illusion of a tighter midsection?
I truly feel that anyone, and I do mean anyone, can get his or her waist down to where it is supposed to be: let's say 32" for the average man. There's no reason to have a 36, 37, 38 inch waist. That's not genetic, that's over eating and under training of the mid-section.
Most people often believe their waist is also smaller than it really is. I challenge you today to get a tape measure, and measure your waist to the center of your naval "belly button". I can almost guarantee you your waist will be larger than your pants size.
You have a freakishly small waist. How were you able to bring your waist down to its current state?
I've never had a large waist only because of the fact I've been doing this forever. I started working out while I still had baby fat at the age of 15. So basically, I had an early start.
But I can speak for what I have today, and what I have helped thousands of people to accomplish. To get your waistline down you have to do two things:
- Consume fewer calories that your body burns off.
- Train your midsection.
Ok, so let's start with consuming fewer calories. First you need to find out how many calories you're eating now to maintain your weight and body fat.
Now all you need to do is eat 300-500 calories less per day and that alone will have your body fat dropping. Now add 30 minutes of walking on the treadmill 7 days a week and I will guarantee you that after a couple of weeks, your pants will feel like they are falling off you.
- Seated Barbell Twist
- Decline Crunch
4 sets of 25 reps
- Decline Reverse Crunch
4 sets of 25 reps
- Dumbbell Side Bend
4 sets of 25 reps
How were you able to create your great shoulder width? What exercises are best and how would you structure a training plan to target them?
When I first stared out, my shoulders were very narrow. I knew right off the bat I had to make them wider and fuller. To do so, I tried many exercises but what really worked for me was:
These two exercises are great for developing the side lateral head of the shoulders. But I didn't stop there. I also incorporated barbell rows and the seated rear delt machine and finished off with shrugs.
- Arnold Dumbbell Press
5 sets of 6-15 reps
- Seated Side Lateral Raise
5 sets of 6-15 reps
- Upright Barbell Row
3 sets of 8-12 reps
- Seated Bent-Over Rear Delt Raise
5 sets of 6-15 reps
- Dumbbell Shrug
3 sets of 10-15 reps
- Barbell Shrug Behind The Back
3 sets of 10-15 reps
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What are best ways to work the lower lat muscles, those that attach near the waist area?
That's a very important area. I have noticed that every bodybuilder that has or had a classic physique has lower lats. I do a lot of V-Bar Pulldowns for this, as well as One-Arm Dumbbell Rows at a time applying a deep stretch.
To display a V-Taper to its best advantage body fat levels will obviously need to be kept low. What are some of the best tips for doing just that?
Everyone always wants to lose weight, but weight isn't what we want to lose, it's inches and body fat! Weight is just a number so we really need to go by how we look.
When I want to drop body fat, I look to eat 6-7 small meals a day, around 300 calories per meal max! The same food at the same time: day after day. It may sound very boring but the end results are priceless!
Don't make excuses. Your body fat isn't going anywhere unless you make a change. Don't be one of those people looking for a short cut.
Just today, a guy from the gym asked me about a fat burner. He said, "I need a quick fix and want to lose some weight fast." I told him to walk on the treadmill for 30 minutes a day every day and cut back on his calories. He said, "I can't do that!" I asked him why not? And he just looked at me.
It is said that building the abs can actually detract from the physique as in doing so can thicken the waist. Would you agree with this?
This is true if you were to do heavy abs training, let's say with weights or heavy resistance. But if you are training abs 3 times a week with crunches, barbell twists and bicycles, your abdominals would never be thick and bulky. Another reason would be over eating: no matter how clean you eat a calorie is still a calorie.
I always look at it like this: if you have a 20-gallon fuel tank in your car, you wouldn't fill it will 25 gallons. Too many bodybuilders overeat thinking more food, more muscle. But what they wind up with is unwanted body fat and a bloated stomach.
It is said that the side deltoids are of primary importance when developing a V-Taper. How important are the front and rear deltoids?
Yes the side deltoids are key for that wide appearance. But the front and rear deltoids are important too because they round off the shoulders. So when you look at a person from the side, the shoulder is still round and full.
I've learned through training over the years, that when your front and rear delts get bigger, they push out the side head even more. This is because the side head gets squeezed in between.
It's like you're in the center seat of a plane and there's two huge people sitting on both sides of you. There's nowhere for you to go but forward.
What would you say to people who use their genetics as an excuse for becoming overweight or not working hard enough to develop their physique?
Anyone that blames other people for their misfortune or for not achieving what they want is a coward! You're the one that's in the driver seat of your life.
So many people blame others for everything, "Well it's because of her why I'm not where I want to be, or I was born like this because my parents were like this".
When I was eight years old, I remember telling my father in the kitchen I was going to be famous one day for something special. I didn't know for what, but I knew it would happen as sure as I was standing there.
Years later, I remember showing my father the first magazine layout I was in for Guess Watches. I was almost in the exact place in the kitchen where I told him I would be famous one day as an eight year old boy. My father looked at me and said you're going to make it Anthony, I won't be around to see it, but you're going to make it.
So to all of you who blame others for everything and anything, look at yourself and point your finger before you point your finger at others. When you have confidence in yourself, anything is possible.
Very good story Tony. Back to the specifics of back training: To fully accentuate the V-Taper how proportionate do the arms need to be?
It's hard to say, but speaking for myself, I have always tried to target the measurements my body as close to Arnold Schwarzenegger, even though Arnold is 6'2" and I'm only 5'10".
You can still achieve the same look no matter what your measurements are. For instance, as you look at these photos of Arnold, myself, and my friend Jonathan Scialpi, you can clearly see that even though our weight, height and measurements are all different. It doesn't mean we can't achieve the same type of shape and V-Taper.
Arnold's Top Form Measurements
- Arms: 22"
- Chest: 57"
- Waist: 34"
- Thighs: 28.5"
- Calves: 20"
- Weight: 235 lbs
- Height: 6'2"
Anthony's Top Form Measurements
- Arms: 18"
- Chest: 48"
- Waist: 31"
- Thighs: 24"
- Calves: 16"
- Weight: 185 lbs
- Height: 5'10"
Jonathan's Top Form Measurements
- Arms: 14.5"
- Chest: 37"
- Waist: 28"
- Thighs: 22.5"
- Calves: 14"
- Weight: 152 lbs
- Height: 5'7"
What, in your view is the symmetrical ideal? It's said that Steve Reeves had 18-inch arms, calves and neck. Is this the right way to go?
Steve Reeves had an excellent shape. Yes his arms, calves, and neck all measured the same. But I wouldn't say that rule applies to achieving one's proper shape because let's say you have wide lat muscles, but don't have a large chest and middle back. Your chest measurements wouldn't be that impressive.
The best way to achieve that V-taper is to look at yourself in the mirror from all angles and write down what you think you need to build up or tone down. This is how I've been doing it for years.
A lot of people will think I'm extremely vain because I look at myself and pay so much attention to myself. But it's no different compared to if I was a guy who had a '57 Chevy show car and paid very close attention to that.
So there's nothing wrong with looking at yourself and taking care of what God gave you. The words modesty and conservative never applied to me, and I hope they never will.
Are you a believer in actually de-emphasizing a particular body part to bring it into proportion with the rest of your physique? How have you done this in the past?
When I first started out my waist was a little wide, and I had no shoulder width at all. So I emphasized building up my deltoids, and de-emphasized my arms at the time because they were too big for my shoulders.
So yes, it's totally fine to bring up and bring down muscle parts to perfection. Obviously, to bring up a body part you need intense training and to lower a part, very little light weight training.
If somebody has a naturally thick waist structurally speaking, what can they do to enhance their V-Taper?
I find that when your waist is thick, the only way to get it down is with cardio or a dance type exercise that trims the fat off the waistline. So it's not about using those high tech ab machines at the gym, (those machines make me laugh by the way) it's about doing more cardio.
If someone is what you would describe as "blocky" how would you create better balance in their physique to convey the illusion of greater symmetry and proportion, a better flow?
One word: Diet! Underneath all the fat and bloat lies a symmetrical skeleton. When your body is low in fat you can clearly see your muscles without the layers of body fat that throw off the whole physique.
Who would you consider the best example of a perfect V-Taper and why? What qualities do they have that separate them from other bodybuilders?
I have to say in my own opinion one guy who had the best V-taper and balance of all muscles was Flex Wheeler. Flex had incredible deltoids, traps, arms, and chest and lat muscles. And, of course, one of the nicest shaped sets of abs in the business.
Flex, in my opinion, was a walking muscle figure doll. Yes, he didn't have that muscle freakiness size to win the Olympia, but in my opinion he was and will always be the most perfectly proportioned bodybuilder in his prime.
Do you believe it is best to work for shape and the mass will come or do you think it is best to work for pure mass and whatever shape you have will be revealed as a result?
When you work for shape you're looking at what you need to do to build or bring down. Always look at your physique as a sculptor would look at a piece of clay. You have to sculpt yourself into what you feel is your best physique.
I truly feel that every champion bodybuilder or person who ever had a fantastic, muscular physique is really an artist in disguise because like I always say, "First you have to see it in order to achieve it."
Nothing is impossible in life if you believe it can happen. But in order for it to happen, you have to make it happen.