What do you think of when you hear the names Flex Wheeler, Dexter Jackson, Shaun Rhodan, Shawn Ray, Dennis Wolf, Shanti Mitchell, Vusi Niisane and Michael Adonis? Symmetry, right?
Symmetry is one of the most important, if not the most important aspect of bodybuilding, alongside muscle size and condition. What these athletes all have in common is a great understanding of the importance of having a symmetrical or aesthetically-pleasing physique and, of course, a great work ethic and superior genetics.
In my opinion perfect bodybuilding symmetry entails traps, delts, biceps, triceps, lats, glutes quads, hamstrings and calves that are the same shape and size on both sides of your body. Your upper body must also be in perfect balance with your lower body in the front, back and side poses. The calves, biceps and neck have to be pretty much the same size (give or take a centimetre or two). The shoulders and back have to be very wide to create the illusion of a small waist, and the waist has to be almost the same size as one quad (give or take an inch or so). If an athlete can achieve this then he will be close to symmetrically perfect (by my standards at least).
ACHIEVING PERFECT SYMMETRY
First of all you need to be honest with yourself and assess whether or not you currently have an overpowering muscle group. If you do you need to reduce the amount of training you do on that group if it’s throwing the balance of your physique off. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes it looks great when an athlete has a freaky muscle group. But it is symmetry, not freaky muscle groups that win bodybuilding shows.
Secondly, once you have identified your weak areas you need to train them more often than your other body parts. The only way to identify your strong and weak points is to seek the guidance of a mentor. Chris Scott has been my mentor for 10 years and I could always count on him to be honest with me. If you don’t have a mentor, the owners of the hardcore gyms usually take great interest in their clients, especially youngsters. If you train at a big club find the biggest and friendliest bodybuilder and ask him for 10 minutes of his time. Otherwise ask one of the top personal trainers, which ‘s worth paying for as honesty is crucial. In fact I always used to listen to what my critics had to say about me. While they were trying to break me down I used their criticism to actually improve my weak points.
Next you need to break down your weak areas. Muscle groups are comprised of numerous muscles, for instance legs consist of the hamstrings and the quads. So, first off, the athlete needs to identify what leg muscles are his weakest. l, for instance, had strong, round hamstrings, but my quads weren’t where I wanted them to be. I would then break down my quads even further. Chris and I assessed my quads and we realised that my outer quads inserted far above the knee, making the area around my knee look skinny. This is my genetic structure and there was nothing could do to lower the insertion. As such the game plan was to build my outer sweeps so that it didn’t matter that I had high insertions. Therefore quads were the only muscle group trained twice a week.
Your weak areas can change. When you’ve spent enough time training them more than the rest of your other body parts the weak area may catch up and, in some instants, start to overpower the other body parts. The lesson here is that you must always keep an eye on your progress and a ear open to criticism. However, standing alone by yourself is not the best way to assess your flaws. A line-up against other superior bodybuilders will expose every weak part you have. Note that I said “a lineup against other superior bodybuilders”? So photos and video footage of your big shows are vital for your progress while seeking perfect symmetry.
BREAK DOWN YOUR WEAK AREAS
- Identify what muscle group is the problem.
- Break the muscle group down even further.
- Allocate specific exercises to build that part of the muscle group (sometimes it could be the entire muscle group, not just a part of the muscle group that is lacking) and make that your primary focus in the week.
- Always train the weak body part first in the workout and at the beginning of the week when you are fresh or after a day or two of rest, depending on how you structure your training split. Then train it again a few days later when it’s fully recovered.
“I always listened to what my critics had to say about me. While they were trying to break me down I used their criticism to actually improve my weak points”
COMMON HURDLES AND HOW TO OVERCOME THEM
If you have a wide waist and thin legs it is crucial that you start focusing more on leg size. This is probably the worst genetic flaw to have and the hardest of all the symmetrical hurdles to overcome. Thankfully bodybuilders thrive on hard work so this will be a challenge you are ready for. My advice is to split the quads into two muscle groups, namely inner and outer quads.
GREAT EXERCISES FOR THE INNER QUADS INCLUDE
- Wide squat (toes out, emphasis on the inner part of your foot, pressing evenly on the heel and the toes),
- Wide leg press (feet at the very top of the plate, toes out, emphasis on the inner part of the foot, pressing evenly from the heel and the toes)
- Wide hack squat
- Adductor machine
GREAT EXERCISES FOR THE OUTER QUADS INCLUDE
- Squats (toes slightly in, emphasis on the outer part of the foot, pressing from the top of the feet)
- Leg press (toes slightly in, emphasis on the outer part of the feet, pressing from the top of the feet)
- Hack squats.
- Warm up and end on leg extensions and choose from the above exercises as your core muscle builders.
You can alter between having outer quad workouts on one day and inner quad workouts on the other day, or do a mixture of both for both days.
BIG LEGS, WIDE WAIST
If you have big legs and a wide waist you need to focus on shoulder and back width. Side raises are the king of shoulder width and nothing beats wide lat pull downs for width in the back. My advice is don’t be conservative. Go for volume with your sets on these two exercises – if you normally do four sets of side raises, do 10-12 sets per workout, over and above the rest of your shoulder workout. Do the same with lat pull downs on back workouts.
SMALL CALVES, BIG QUADS
If you have small calves and big quads you are lucky in a way. This is probably the only symmetrical imbalance that gets overlooked at shows, to an extent. Look at Dennis Wolf for instance. On the other hand, if it’s really tight between you and another athlete he could win because of your imbalance. So my advice is to train calves more frequently and more intensely than before. To build my calves I trained them three times a week at the beginning of the workout. I also made sure that I hit them hard from all angles by doing a lot of seated and standing calf raises so that both the soleus and the gastrocnemius muscles were stimulated. Again, don’t be afraid of doing a lot of sets. When it comes to calves you need to do high reps as well or a mixture of high reps and low reps with heavy weight. Drop sets are also great for calves.
SMALL HAMSTRINGS, BIG QUADS
If you have small hamstrings compared to your quads, it’s advisable to change your way of thinking. Start training ‘hammies’ before quads. Do more exercises for hamstrings than you do for quads until the balance is restored and perfect symmetry is achieved. There after do an equal amount of quad and hamstring exercises.
If you have a small back compared to the rest of your body I find that nine times out of ten it’s a mind-muscle connection problem. My advice is to practise visualising the back working and contracting while you train. So close your eyes when you row and focus your thoughts on the part of your back that you’re training. Create a picture in your mind of your back contracting and see it grow. If you have a training partner let him also touch the area you are training to help spur the image in your mind and connect your mind to that muscle group (don’t let him touch your back too much though, as that’s just weird). Continue with this until you establish a strong mind-muscle connection. This is also sometimes advised for weak hamstrings. I find that some athletes struggle with the mind-muscle connection on the muscle groups positioned at the back of the body, mostly because they can’t see themselves training them in the mirror.
So if you have a symmetrical hurdle or an imbalance, training for symmetry can be hard. It also takes a serious change in mindset because we are often set in our ways. At the end of the day you have a choice. Do you want to keep training the way you have been and achieve the same results, or are you willing to change your way of training and achieve what you never could before?