Q: What’s your take on “muscle shaping”? Can a person alter the shape of a muscle at all, or are we simply stuck with what we have? What are some good muscle-shaping exercises if they do indeed exist?
A: That’s a difficult, complex, highly debated query, and depending on which “expert” you ask, you are bound to get a number of different answers.
There are some trainers/gurus/coaches/science geeks who say that you cannot do a damn thing about the shape of your muscles, as it’s 100 percent genetically determined. Others believe that by “targeting” certain areas of a muscle, you can, in fact, change its shape. Well, I fall somewhere between those two far-apart thought processes.
While I do not believe we can change the actual genetic “map” we have been provided for each of our bodyparts, I do believe that we can use specific exercises, angles and grips to bring out the full potential of each muscle. In other words, when trainees lack upper-chest development, I don’t necessarily assume that it’s due to genetics but, rather, that their upper pectorals aren’t receiving the right stimulation to reach their maximum potential. While some insist that an incline press targets the entire chest, not just the upper chest, I disagree. Yes, it is true that you cannot completely isolate one area of a muscle from another no matter what exercise you use; however, you can affect certain groups of motor units more than others in a single muscle by using specific grips and/or planes of motion, as EMG studies have proven. That can lead to accelerated growth in a particular “head” or section of a complex muscle.
It’s interesting to note that certain common “flaws” seem to appear in so many trainees. I do not feel it’s always a result of a genetic limitation but, rather, a function of unbalanced training. I have altered greatly the basic shape of several muscle groups on my own physique over the years and have also helped countless clients do it. So the genetics may be there (“in waiting”), but many simply fail to actualize the potential of each section of each muscle group.
The take-home message here is, before you take the easy way out and blame faulty genetics for your disproportionate physique or lousy muscle shapes, make sure you are doing everything possible in the gym to address the problem.
Upper chest: incline presses, incline flyes, DB pullovers, low-cable crossovers, bench presses to neck, reverse-grip bench presses
Biceps peak: hammer curls, reverse curls, lying and seated overhead cable curls, 90 degree preacher (spider) curls, concentration curls
Vastus medialis (the “teardrop”): leg extensions with feet angled outward
Rectus femoris (“thigh rods”): sissy squats, lean-back leg extensions
Long head of the triceps (“triceps hang”): seated and incline overhead extensions, bent overhead cable extensions, one-arm overhead dumbbell extensions, Smith-machine elbows-flared bench presses
Lateral deltoids: dumbbell, cable and machine laterals; just-wider-than-shoulder-width-grip barbell upright rows; partial wide-grip behind-the-neck presses
Editor’s note: Eric Broser’s new DVD “Power/Rep Range/Shock Max-Mass Training System” is available at Home-Gym.com. His e-books, Power/Rep Range/Shock Workout and The FD/FS Mass-Shock Workout, which include complete printable workout templates and Q&A sections, are available at X-Workouts.com.