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  • Writer's pictureJulian Molteno

COMPLETE PHYSIQUE — The Million Rep Body

There is an unofficial “muscle hierarchy” in the gym world — the more “showy” the body-part, the more important it is. Some muscles are obvious, they are larger, and more clearly visible, while some are more subtle, usually smaller and less in-your-face.

The chest is “up front” and always on display, and is therefore superior to back, quadriceps are a big meaty muscle, way better than hamstrings, and biceps, the most worshipped and legendary of all muscles, are more important than the lowly and forgotten triceps.

When we first start to train we focus on the main muscles. The muscles that are in the forefront of most young men’s psyches, the manly muscles, such as chest, shoulders, abs and arms — I call these the Hero Muscles!! Most young men who want to get into bodybuilding, or just hard training, are interested in these types of body-parts. What motivates the average young guy to start lifting weights? The desire to build a chest like a fortress, or the burning need to develop an amazing set of brachialis? Uuuh . . . it’s the fortress-like chest dummy!!

I was very interested in developing my own set of Hero Muscles!

So we concentrate on the big, basic movements; bench presses, squats, deadlifts and heavy curls, etc., in an effort to develop the big basic body-parts. Only once we have developed a fair amount of mass do we start looking at our physiques with a more critical and mature eye. My first year of training, aged 13, was pretty much all chest and arms. It took a while for me to realise that a good physique consisted of more than a few over-developed, showy body-parts. Gyms the world over are of that sort of body, the tank-top bodybuilders — guys who look good in a pair of tracksuit bottoms and a vest — with all the “showy” Hero Muscles on display and the subtle “completion” one’s totally ignored.

To know the difference between a tank-top gym-goer and a bodybuilder with a more thought-out and complete physique, we need to establish exactly what a good physique consists of. To understand that, let’s look at how the competitive bodybuilding physique is assessed.

The amazing Samir Bannout! Samir’s perfect combination of size, symmetry, shape and definition won him the ultimate bodybuilding prize — Mr Olympia!

Basically there are 5 criteria that must all be met to qualify for having at least a shot at a decent body. They are; muscle mass, symmetry, shape, definition and proportion. Bodybuilders can affect all of these, to a greater or lesser degree, bar shape. While all 5 criteria are ultimately governed by your genetics, the shape of your muscles cannot be altered.

Of the 5 criteria, muscle mass is the primary goal of every bodybuilder, and most of a bodybuilder’s time, effort and energy is spent in pursuit of this main goal. Even without shape, symmetry, definition or proportion — pure muscle mass alone will mark you out as a bodybuilder. Perhaps not a very good one, but as a bodybuilder nonetheless. As I alluded to earlier, only once a reasonable amount of muscle has been built, will most bodybuilders begin to look to the finer points of building a good physique.

When it comes to bodybuilding, symmetry would seem like a no-brainer to the uninitiated, but it is not an easy quality to attain. You would think that both sides of your body would grow at a similar rate but this is often not the case. Depending on whether you are right or left-handed, that side is often the one which grows more easily. You will have more coordination on that side and your mind-to-muscle connection will be stronger. Arnold’s right bicep was far superior to his left for instance and you often see bodybuilders favouring one side of their bodies to the other when posing. Symmetry is a vital ingredient when aspiring to build a complete physique, requiring a plan and a focus to achieve. Very often dumbbells can be the answer as they force each side of the body to work independently, hopefully bringing the lagging side up to par with the more developed one. Furthermore, connecting your mind with the targeted muscle also helps with growth. My left arm is smaller than my right, so whenever I barbell curl I look only at my left bicep in the mirror to link my mind to that specific muscle and therefore promote extra growth. It does seem to help.

Arnold’s right and left bicep have radically different shapes. He made the most of that by always showing his right arm whenever possible.

Your muscular shape is predetermined. You can enhance the shape of your muscles, but cannot change their shape. If you have high lats, then you have high lats, however, you can detract from their short muscle-bellies by making them insanely wide, so the width becomes the focus, not their shortness. Muscular shape is a question of aesthetics — generally, good shape consists of full muscle-bellies, sweeping lines and a full, round look. You could get two bodybuilders who are the same height, both have good proportions and symmetry and the same amount of muscle mass, yet they can look totally different from one another. This difference is all down to the shape of their muscles. For this reason, a bodybuilder with less size but better shape, can beat a monster.

What a mess!! Despite out-weighing Frank Zane by about 40lbs, Dennis Wolf has an infinitely inferior physique. High lats, over-developed quads and very poor calves are just the start! Zane’s perfect proportions and superior shape would carry the day every time.

Definition, or leanness, is the quality least affected by your genetic potential. Of course some individuals have a faster metabolism than others and can therefore achieve low levels of body fat more easily, but no matter how slow your metabolism, with the correct dietary and training regime, anyone can get ripped.

Our fifth quality is proportion, and of the 5, it is the main indicator of a thoughtful physique. Some gym bodies look as though they were built with a shovel, lumps of muscle just plonked all willy-nilly all over them. No thought, no plan — muscle just piled on indiscriminately. These are the tank-top guys, who think they have awesome bodies, (and even more worryingly many other people in the gym think so too!) but they don’t. There is no appreciation of the beauty of the muscular male body, no respect for an understanding of the aesthetic ideals of Ancient Greek or Roman athletes. A badly proportioned body results in a very unappealing look.

One of the ways to identify a well-proportioned body, is when looking at the physique in question, your eyes are restless and keep moving from body-part to body-part, looking (in vain!) for an over or under-developed body-part.

Now we have established exactly what a complete physique should look like, the question needs to be asked; how do we go about achieving one?

As we have now established, building mass is the first goal of the aspiring bodybuilder, and to achieve that, we do the basic exercises. Once we have realised a reasonable amount of mass we begin to think about refining and polishing our physiques. It is no longer enough to focus on loads of super-heavy shoulder presses (for example) and then chuck in some side raises as an afterthought and hope for the best. While those basic shoulder builders were the correct exercise choices to gain your initial mass, those same exercises are now causing an imbalance. To achieve the complete physique we have to change focus and develop the smaller, more subtle “forgotten” muscles. Big front delts are all good and well, but without equally big rear delts to compliment them, you will end up with an unbalanced and unappealing look. Bent-over raises do not have the same “show off” quality as heavy shoulder presses, but doing these sorts of less-glamorous exercises, are what separate the tank-top guys from the men and women who have complete physiques.

So start your leg workouts with boring hamstrings, then get on to quads, work your “forgotten” triceps harder than your biceps and spinal erectors more than abs. And if you want a Complete Physique, forearms are just as important as chest and back!

This post’s sub-heading is The Million Rep Body. The implication being that the Complete Physique takes a fair bit of time to accomplish — workout after workout, set after set, rep after rep. Often, bodybuilders who have a love of — and a knowledge of — the history and origins of bodybuilding, like to refer to the statues of Ancient Greek and Roman athletes as their inspirational ideal. Although they are comparing themselves to how the statues look, I also like to compare how the bodybuilders and the statues are actually created!

The sculptor starts off with a chunk of rough-hewn stone, similar to the blank canvass that is the aspiring bodybuilder, and from this initial slab of rock he starts to form a shape. At first the sculptor/bodybuilder is interested in getting a rough form, an appropriate idea of the finished product and big bold strokes are the order of the day. The sculptor would use his most basic tools, a 2lb hammer and basic chisel just as the bodybuilder would use his basic heavy-duty squats and presses. Once the general shape begins to emerge the bodybuilder will progress to more specific exercises to target the muscles more precisely, as will the sculptor, using a claw chisel and then a rasp. Finally, when a bodybuilder is preparing for competition, he will do masses of cardiovascular work and fine-tune his diet to extreme levels, revealing each and every individual strand of muscle, the sculptor will make use of a riffler and then painstakingly rub away every imperfection with several different grades of sandpaper. A final polish with boric acid completes the statue, just as a bodybuilder will rub his body with oil just before going on stage to show his finished physique.

When we first start lifting weights, our muscles seem separate, not really connected, just a loose collection of individual body-parts. After a period of time — years usually — if you have trained diligently and intelligently, there comes a magic moment when all of a sudden these disconnected muscle groups connect together. I liken it to a jigsaw puzzle. You start with a confusing jumble-up of pieces, you begin by putting some connecting pieces together, but still you cannot see the “whole”. Then there is this special moment when, all of a sudden, it clicks, and for the first time, very satisfyingly, the image is revealed. And so it is with the Million Rep Body, that loose connection of separate body-parts all of a sudden fit together as one and become a connected, flowing and harmonious whole. Years of hard training and diligent dieting suddenly come to fruition. And in the gym mirror, looking back at you, is a body that would be instantly recognised by the Ancient Greeks, an ideal that has been admired for five thousand years — and still is today.

And that is a beautiful sight indeed.

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