The Ideal Muscular Body
Part 1: Structure and Form
What are the ideal characteristics of a bodybuilder’s body?
People go into bodybuilding for different reasons. Some engage in weightlifting exercises to lose weight and build muscle mass to improve their looks.
Others engage in bodybuilding to strengthen weak muscles and joints, as in the case of older males who are suffering from a lifetime of sedentary living. And still some engage in the sport because they want to compete in amateur and/or professional bodybuilding competitions.
If you’re interested in competing or if you’re simply interested in what the industry considers the sterling characteristics of a strong and ideal bodybuilder, you’re in luck!
Our current series will cover all of the essential traits to develop as you proceed with your bodybuilding journey.
Note that many of these traits were derived from classical bodybuilders like Arnold Schwarzenegger who were able to develop their fantastic physiques without the information and pharmacological edge that young bodybuilders have now.
What are these traits?
- General Physical Structure
Classical bodybuilding champions the gradual development of the “X-frame.” The “X-frame” can be observed quite easily during professional bodybuilding competitions.
Contestants have very wide shoulders, large guns, tapered muscular waists and flaring hips. The narrowest point in the “X-frame” is always the waistline.
Though the waistline is narrow, the abdominal area is consistently built, and this region leads to a wide and massive chest supporting equally large shoulders.
The lower region of the bodybuilder is defined by massive, well-defined hips and quads that are as wide and solidly built as the chest and shoulders. A single double bicep pose should be able to show the “X-frame” in a well-built bodybuilder.
- Muscular Dimension and Form
Obviously, a professional bodybuilder will be evaluated and judged based on the aesthetic merits of his physique. Like a sculpture, a professional bodybuilder will be examined closely by the judges. It’s never enough to simply have big muscles.
Mr. Olympia winners often have large muscles with high crests. A double bicep post should show biceps that easily “peek out” from the rest of the arm. The core muscles or the “six pack” should be symmetrical and there should be as little distance as possible between the two columns of abdominal muscle.
The lat muscles on the other hand should be positioned low with heavy build. The wideness of the lat muscles will also be noted. Contrary to common belief, your triceps shouldn’t be rounded and wide. They should actually be narrow and more tapered, indicating muscle splitting and excellent development.
The ideal shoulder can be quite difficult to attain. Amateur bodybuilders often have a tough time measuring up to their professional counterparts because it’s difficult to develop the shoulders to the point that it becomes a “three-headed” shoulder with all regions emerging easily during a flex.
Professional bodybuilders typically press 200+ pounds to bring out the extended musculature of the shoulders. It’s not an easy task, but if you have what it takes to lift 200+ pounds later in your journey, you should be able to achieve the “three-headed” shoulder form.
What about the legs?
Legwork is grueling for professional bodybuilders because they all aim to produce extreme muscular prominence in their hips and calves. If you’ve tried a heavy day on your legs, you know how painful it can be during the first few months.
Human legs are designed for walking, climbing and running. Anything beyond these three activities requires major re-engineering from within… But the results are often fantastic and worth your time!
- Muscle-Joint Ratio and Form
In a previous blog post we talked about the relationship between bone size and muscle size. If you have big bones, it would also be easier for you to develop large muscles. However, this genetic reality does not actually conform to the ideal appearance of joints in competition.
What judges are often looking for is large muscles held together by narrow-looking joints. So if you have large joints to begin with, you will have to exert extra effort to ensure that your muscles look larger compared to your joint size.
Of course, shorter competitors would also have to work hard to ensure that they have a good muscle-joint ratio. However, the struggle is less strenuous because their joint sizes are smaller than their taller counterparts.
The obvious problem areas for many competitors are the shoulders, arms and legs. There is no shortcut: you have to ensure that the muscles wrapped around these joints are worked out thoroughly to gain sufficient size to dwarf the supporting joints.
The Ideal Muscular Body
Part 2: Muscle Size and Distinction
What makes a bodybuilder worthy of being crowned a champion?
In the first part of our series, we discussed the primary traits that competition judges are looking for in professional and amateur bodybuilders.
We discovered the importance of developing the “X-form” as well as building enough mass around the joints to dwarf your joints to the point that they seem small in comparison to the muscle fibers attached to them.
Today’s article covers the second set of ideal traits of competition-ready bodybuilders.
The Second Set
- The Mass Factor
Seeing veteran Mr. Olympias in peak shape during competition season can be a breathtaking experience.
Typically, professional bodybuilders gain as much as 40 pounds of muscle mass during their competition-season training sessions. Mr. Olympias are often heavyweights, too: the majority weigh at least 200 pounds but have extremely low body fat ratios.
When you’re “cutting” or removing fat from your system, you end up with your “dry weight” or “competition weight.”
A bodybuilder’s dry weight can also be taken as an indicator of his success in gaining muscle mass. If a bodybuilder is able to bring his weight up by 30 pounds while cutting fat, that means he was able to gain 30 pounds of lean muscle mass!
Size really does matter in professional and amateur bodybuilding competitions. Aim to reach the following girths and widths and you should be ready to start competing soon:
Arm girth – 51 cm.
Chest width – 127 cm.
Calf girth – 51 cm.
Thigh girth – 72 cm.
Take note that size is a big factor but the overall aesthetics of your muscles matter, too.
Some international strongmen have these muscular dimensions but they also have a much higher body fat ratio compared to bodybuilders who compete.
What I’m saying is your muscles need to have a “ripped and shredded” appearance that judges love. You can accomplish this by bringing your body fat ratio as low as you can while increasing your protein intake and maintaining a high degree of discipline while working out.
Also, depending on your body type you may also want to increase or decrease your sets to ensure that catabolism doesn’t get in the way of hard gains.
- Balanced Muscular Physique
Bodybuilding competitions are highly visual events and every aesthetic element is often used to judge the overall impact of a bodybuilder. In the previous section, you learned that muscle mass plays a role in building the overall appearance of a bodybuilder. You can’t develop the “X-frame” without large muscles.
When you finally achieve the “X-frame,” it’s time to zoom into specific proportions of your body. The upper and lower regions of your body must be balanced.
The same principle applies to the left and right sides of your body. While it is not realistic to see completely identical biceps, there must be notable similarity between the left-side muscles and right-side muscles.
If you want an ideal model for proportion, try studying the classical statues from Ancient Greece. These muscular statues are considered the baseline models for the “X-frame” in modern bodybuilding.
- Muscle Appearance and Projection
The surface appearance of muscles are also analyzed during competitions.
Here are some essential guidelines to get you started on the right track:
- Muscle length – Aim to develop musculature that extends from joint to joint. This is actually more challenging than it sounds because the insertion of specific muscles are determined by a person’s DNA.
If you have short muscle fibers and there are noticeable spaces in between muscles, the most that you can do is gain more mass to compensate for these gaps.
- Blood vessels – This may sound crazy to non-bodybuilders but vasculature actually enhances the appearance of prominent muscle fibers. Professional bodybuilders do their best to make their natural vasculature emerge whenever they flex.
Apart from the aesthetic merits of having fully engorged blood vessels when flexing, judges also consider surface vasculature as a clear sign that the bodybuilder has achieved an ideal body fat and muscle ratio.
iii. Muscle distinctness – As I have mentioned earlier, your body fat ratio matters. Judges in bodybuilding competitions won’t be approaching you with measuring caliper – they will be basing their analysis purely on what is observable.
Body fat naturally covers muscle definition so striations are very important. Striations are the distinct formation markers or patterns of each muscle group. The deeper and more recognizable the striations of your muscles, the better off you will be in a competition.
The Ideal Muscular Body, Part 3: Power and Ability
What separates powerful bodybuilders from average ones?
In the first two parts of our current series, we explored the minute details of the competing bodybuilder’s ideal physical form. We learned that apart from the general size of a bodybuilder, judges are often looking for detailed musculature and clear distinctions among the different muscle groups.
The big question now is how can you achieve the ideal musculature of a professional bodybuilder? What traits must you possess or develop in order to pound your body into an “X-frame” worthy of Mr. Olympia?
- Develop Your Energy, Stamina and Endurance – One of the biggest obstacles to developing a freakishly good physique is lack of energy to sustain heavy weightlifting day in and day out for at least a few years. Yes, it takes many years of consistent work to produce sterling results.
It would be wrong to assume that bodybuilding is easy because of human growth hormones or anabolic steroids. Professional bodybuilders would laugh if you told them these are the only things you will need to craft the perfect physique.
In order to understand the endurance level you will need for formal training, take a peek at a sample training system used by a pro bodybuilder:
- Training is 4/6 days a week, alternating schedule
- 1 hour very heavy training or 2 hours light-moderate training
- 4-6 sessions of high intensity cardiorespiratory workouts lasting 20-30 minutes per session
- Muscular Power and Vigor – There is zero possibility of surviving a formal training session if you don’t push your body to bring out its natural muscular power and vigor. You will be lifting, pulling, pushing and explosively swinging (in some cases) increasingly heavy weights.
If you think you are physically weak, then bodybuilding is definitely not the ideal activity for you. After the initial conditioning phase, you will be slowly exposed to more brutal sets and reps. This difficult path has been treaded countless times by passionate bodybuilders from all over the world.
Do genes affect a person’s strength, too?
Some bodybuilders have been blessed with natural power and strength – these guys often amaze older bodybuilders because they are able to curl, press or squat weights that took regular bodybuilders years to master.
If you can easily match the strength of gym veterans in your area and you actually feel good after squatting hundreds of pounds of metal, there is a huge possibility that you will be able to make massive muscular gains later on in your journey. Just keep assaulting those barbells and dumbbells!
- Insanely High Metabolism – Unless you have a medical condition that directly affects the regulation of your metabolism, developing an insanely high metabolism shouldn’t be a problem.
You need a progressive and well-developed metabolism so you can consume more calories for intense workouts without building visible fat deposits. An efficient metabolism usually develops after a few months of working out. A seasoned bodybuilder can consume more than 4,000 calories per day and maintain a well-defined musculature. Conversely, people with low metabolisms can build visible fat stores even if they’re on a 2,500 calorie diet.
If you’re a complete beginner, you can improve your metabolism by increasing your meal count and by improving your selection of foods. Lean cuts of meat, fresh fruits, vegetables and complex carbohydrates will support your transition from low metabolism to high metabolism.
Always combine excellent nutrition with an increase in physical activity! Your body needs constant and meaningful exercises to improve its ability to burn off excess calories. And, always consult your physician before beginning any new diet or exercise program.
- High Pain Tolerance – To say that weightlifting is painful is an understatement. Professional bodybuilders who are training hard in the weeks that lead to a major competition experience pain beyond your wildest dreams. If you think that accidentally knocking your head on a wall is painful, professional training will surprise you at the very least!
There is also no shortcut when it comes to dealing with pain. Bodybuilders tend to develop their own ways of adapting and bearing the pain that comes with training with heavy weights.
Every training system worth its name is painful, because that’s how you will develop: through pain and overcoming your present physical limitations.
Training-related pain isn’t limited to bodybuilding. Have you ever tried watching professional ballet dancers? I can assure you that those poses and movements can make grown men cry. Be prepared for pain. Embrace it like it’s your bodybuilding birthright!