Nothing gives a man the aura of masculinity like a well defined “v-taper”. However, before we go any further, it is imperative first to describe what one actually is.
The v-taper constitutes primarily of 3 main components:
1. A Wide Upper Back
2. Round, Broad Shoulders.
3. A Small Waistline.
When all these are developed in tandem, your physique’s silhouette will take on an accentuated v-shape, brought about by being wide in specific areas; the upper back & shoulders, and being as narrow as possible in others; the waistline. This combination of attributes will make you look bigger & more muscular than you actually are, as well as more aesthetic.
It is all about creating the illusion of size. And nothing does this better than a well developed v-taper. All that being said, how exactly do we go about building one for ourselves? Well I’m glad you asked. First, let us begin with the Upper Back.
1. A Wide Upper Back: The Foundation.
It is impossible to maximize your upper bodies’ width if your upper back is narrow. The primary muscles responsible for your back width are the latismuss dorsi, or more commonly known as, the Lats. These muscles are situated on either side of the back, beginning right underneath the scapulae, running all the way down to the hips.
They are responsible for shoulder extension; getting the arms behind the body, and lateral adduction of the arms; bringing the arms toward the midline of the body.
One of the best exercises for targeting the Lats are the pull-up & chin-up. Both exercises are excellent upper back exercises guaranteed to build bigger, wider Lats. More so, as you become proficient with each, you have the option of adding weight to them. And believe you me, by the time you start doing heavy weighted pull/chin-ups, it is not a matter of if, but when you start walking through doors sideways (narrow ones’ lol, don’t sue me)!
As for what repetition range to use, aim for about 3-4 sets of 5-12 reps per set when just starting out using solely your bodyweight. As you become stronger over time & are able to add some extra weight, use 5-8 reps instead as your repetition scheme.
For the very best results, train your back at least 2 times per week. This frequency has been shown to favour muscle growth better than training a body part only once per week.
2. Round, Broad Shoulders: All Cap.
Capped deltoids are a non-negotiable necessity when it comes to sculpting the perfect V-Taper. Reason being is that they significantly pronounce your upper bodies’ width when viewed from the front. Needless to say, there is no other muscle that will make a light and day difference to your physique than well developed shoulders.
The shoulders are comprised of 3 heads. Namely, the anterior, medial & posterior heads. The two that are responsible for making your deltoids look round & capped from the side & rear, are the medial & posterior heads respectively. As such, if the goal is to maximize shoulder width, then these two heads must be our primary target of focus in our training.
It is most optimal to use a combination of both compound & isolation exercises when training the shoulders. Compound movements here refer to exercises that utilize multiple joints to execute a given lift. A great example here being the Overhead Barbell Press which involves both the shoulder & elbow joints. Isolation movements on the other hand refer to exercises that allow only one joint to be worked at a time. An example here being the Dumbbell Lateral Raise, which only utilizes the shoulder joint.
For most lifters, the anterior head, located at the front of the shoulder, tends to be by far the most developed of the three. This is to be expected knowing that many gym-goers perform bench presses and many other chest focused exercises like it is a religion. And these exercises, aside from stimulating the chest, also heavily target the anterior deltoids.
Therefore, to grow rounder shoulders, my suggestion is that we instead focus more on developing the medial & posterior heads. Two of my favourite exercises for each are the Seated Paused DB Lateral Raise (medial head focused), & the Incline Bench Paused DB Rear Deltoid Raises (posterior head focused).
By adding a 2 second pause at the top of every repetition, you are forced to engage the specific head being targeted a lot better. Furthermore, doing the exercises seated takes any momentum out of the lift, which again lends itself to a much stronger mind-muscle connection, resulting in better stimulation and thus growth in the delts.
Lastly, include the Overhead Press, which targets the anterior & medial heads primarily, to fully exhaust the deltoids . Because this is a compound movement, you will also be able handle heavier loads. And heavy loads lend themselves well to cannonball sized shoulders.
Just like the back, train your shoulders using the exercises listed above at least twice per week for the best results. Perform 3-4 sets of 8-15 reps per exercise.
Particularly for the isolation exercises, ensure that you are using good form & focusing intently on moving the weight solely using the muscles that you are trying to target.
3. A Small Waistline: The Perfect Corset.
The width of your waist is largely determined by two things:
1. Your genetic bone structure.
2. Your body fat percentage.
Some people have narrow waists, and others have broad midsections. These are natural genetic traits that cannot be changed. Unless for some odd reason you decide to file down your pelvis (which I would highly advise against for obvious reasons), you are stuck with the cards you have been dealt.
That being said, what we can change & alter significantly, is our body fat percentage. Many a time you might think that you have a large waistline, whilst in reality, all you really have is an excessive amount of body fat around your love handle area. The ONLY way, to get rid of said body fat, is to eat in a calorie deficit (consume less calories than it takes to maintain your current bodyweight) over time, until your waistline is as trim as possible. However, that is beyond the scope of this article but you can get more information on that here.
One overlooked aspect of shrinking one’s waistline is training the core to give the illusion of a slimmer trunk. The obliques are the muscles that run alongside the rectus abdominis (the 6 pack) in a striated manner. The obliques serve to taper the waistline giving it a natural “corset-like” effect, making it appear smaller than it actually is. Their primary functions are: rotation of the torso, resisting rotation of the torso & lateral flexion of the trunk (bending sideways at the hips).
Our goal is to develop sharp, defined obliques, as opposed to growing wider, thicker ones. Oversized obliques will create the opposite effect to what we are looking for; they will thicken your waistline. An easy way to avoid this is simply to avoid exercises that involve lateral flexion of the trunk e.g. Dumbbell Side Bends.
Instead we want to include exercises that involve rotation of the torso, as well as those that actively resist it. The Swiss Ball Twisting Crunch is an excellent example of an exercise that involves both spinal flexion (the bending forward/crunching of the spine) and rotation of the torso simultaneously. More so, when lying on the Swiss Ball your abdominals & obliques are placed in a stretched position, which allows them to contract harder at the top of every repetition. The more a muscle is stretched, the harder it can contract. And more intense contractions will results in better muscle growth. This is called the stretch-shortening cycle.
The second exercise that we will implement into our core routine is the standing Pallof Press. This exercise actively engages the obliques by resisting trunk rotation. Beginners should do this exercise standing, with a wide foot stance; about hip distance apart. As you get stronger however, you can increase the difficulty over time by bringing your feet together. This reduces your base of support making it a little harder. To increase the difficulty even further you can perform the exercise kneeling, which takes the legs out of the equation altogether, which will thoroughly tax your obliques.
As for what repetition range to use, anywhere between 6-15 reps of 3-4 sets per exercise is ideal. There is a misconception that the abs should only be trained using light weight/your bodyweight. This is WRONG. The abdominals can & should be trained just like any other muscle; using a wide spectrum of reps, both high & low, if the goal is to maximize their development.
For the very best results, train them at least 2 times per week. This frequency has been shown to favour muscle growth better than training a body part only once per week.
One final caveat before concluding, your obliques will only be visible if your body fat percentage is low (about 8-12%). And like I said in the beginning, the only way to shed fat off your midsection is by eating in a calorie deficit for an extended period of time. There are no exercises that will magically melt belly fat.
Only your diet will do that.