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Resistance training guidelines for health and aesthetics

The vast majority of men who begin resistance training (lifting weights) do so in order to enhance their physical attractiveness (aesthetics). Other benefits include:

- Increased strength

- Augmented confidence

- Health optimization*

*Increased bone density, improved body composition, improved blood glucose regulation, sarcopenia attenuation, increased testosterone, decreased stress, decreased anxiety, decreased risk of depression and improvements in sleep quality are just some of the many health benefits obtained via resistance training.

It's not necessary to design a resistance training program specifically for the purpose of health optimization, almost any form of structured resistance training will confer the related health benefits.

Training for aesthetics vs training for performance

Unless you're trying to improve performance during sport or trying to pass some kind of physical ability test then it's not necessary to utilize a resistance training program specifically designed for such purposes.

The following people may need to utilize specifically designed resistance training programs:

- Professional athletes

- Powerlifters

- Strongman competitors

- Prospective recruits to certain professions

- Physiotherapy patients

For everyone else it can be assumed that simply wanting to look great and be healthy in general are the primary considerations that influence resistance training program design.

The vast majority of people would be best served by following a bodybuilding-focused program designed specifically to enhance aesthetics.

What are the principles of bodybuilding?

Bodybuilding focuses on muscle hypertrophy and maintaining a low body fat percentage, typically between 8-12% for recreational bodybuilders. Competitive bodybuilders will strive to lower their body fat percentage even further when approaching a competition but this is not relevant to the current discussion.

Basically, bodybuilders aim to have as much muscle mass as possible while simultaneously carrying a low amount of body fat. The net effect is often referred to as being jacked.

Although we will use bodybuilding training as a guideline, we will deviate from standard procedure in some regards. For example, we don't need to build our legs to the same relative size a competitive bodybuilder would need to as they have a judging criterion to worry about whereas we do not.

Should you focus on building all muscles equally or should you prioritize certain muscles while neglecting others?

This is an important question. Most people incorrectly assume that bodybuilders should strive to increase the size of all their visible muscles. In truth, bodybuilding is more about the size ratios between different muscles, their sizes relative to each other.

Some muscles you want to grow as large as possible, some muscles you want to keep as small as possible, some muscles you want to be just big enough but no bigger. It all comes down to your own personal ideal of an aesthetic physique.

The advice given in this article aligns with my ideal of what constitutes an aesthetic physique.

Which muscles should be prioritized?

- Side delts

- Lats

- Mid back (rhomboids, middle/lower trapezius)

- Pecs*

- Front and rear delts

- Triceps

- Elbow flexors (biceps, brachialis)

- Forearms (brachioradialis, wrist flexors, wrist extensors)

*You do not want the lower pecs to be overdeveloped relative to the upper pecs, this will cause your chest to appear droopy.

It's very common to see massively overdeveloped front delts relative to the rear delts, this looks very silly and will harm your posture. You should also make sure that you're performing an adequate amount of mid back work to balance your chest work or again your posture will suffer.

Which muscles should be just big enough but not too big?

- Quadriceps

- Hamstrings

- Calves

- Glutes

- Adductors

- Abs*

- Lower back (erector spinae)*

- Neck

*Overdeveloped abs make the lower torso appear thicker when viewed from the side. An overdeveloped lower back also makes the lower torso appear thicker when viewed from the side.

It's important to have enough muscle mass in the lower body to avoid looking like you have chicken legs, but you don't want overdeveloped legs either. Your legs should appear strong and athletic.

You also want to have adequate glute development but direct glute training is usually not needed for most men if they're squatting deep enough. If necessary a direct glute exercise such as hip thrusts can be employed.

I generally do not recommend deadlifts (or variations) for aesthetics-focused training as they cause the upper trapezius and lower back to overdevelop.

Which muscles should be kept as small as possible?

- Obliques*

- Upper trapezius*

*Overdeveloped obliques make the lower torso appear wider when viewed from the front. If the upper trapezius is overdeveloped it creates an illusion that makes your shoulders appear narrower.

What does it look like when put together?

The ideal physique should have:

- Largest side delts possible

- Balanced front and rear delt development

- Largest lats possible

- Largest pecs possible

- Balanced upper and lower pec development

- Smallest obliques possible

- Smallest upper trapezius possible

- Largest upper arms possible

- Largest forearms possible

- Just enough abs but not overdeveloped

- Just enough lower back but not overdeveloped

- Enough neck development to avoid being a pencil-neck

- Enough leg development to avoid chicken legs and to look great in shorts

Above all else the most important consideration is to accentuate your shoulder to waist ratio, or more specifically your upper torso to lower torso ratio.

Most people are already aware of the importance of making their shoulders as wide as possible while keeping their obliques as small as possible in order to improve their upper torso to lower torso ratio. This ensures you look great from the front or from the back.

However, most people are unaware of the importance of not overdeveloping their abs and lower back. If you overdevelop your abs and lower back then your lower torso will appear thicker when viewed from the side.

Ideally you want your lower torso to be as small as possible when viewed from all angles and your upper torso to be as large as possible when viewed from all angles.

Your abs, obliques, lower back and upper traps will still grow enough through indirect training to help prevent injuries, there's no need to train them directly. If you personally love the look of huge upper traps or chunky obliques etc. then by all means train them directly, it's up to you to decide for yourself what the ideal physique looks like.

Further reading

In future articles I will explain how to train for maximal muscle hypertrophy, how to design your own training programs and how to measure and track progression so that you know when adjustments are needed. Topics covered will include:

- Exercise selection

- Volume/frequency/intensity

- Force-velocity relationship

- Length-tension relationship

- Range of motion

- Motor unit recruitment patterns

- Proximity to failure

- Force vectors

- Moment arms

- Reps per set

- Rest between sets

- Rep tempo

- Overuse injuries

- Periodization

- Overreaching

- Deloading

- Overtraining

And lots more...

Watch the video below to hear Jason speak about how applying the information in this article has helped him transform his physique:


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