by Jim Cordova

The greatest champions in history viewed bodybuilding as much more of an art form than a sport. Granted, the intense training, discipline, and pain they endured speak of nothing less than athleticism, to be sure, but they went about building and carving their physiques like any sculptor. They were very mindful of their exercise selection, viewing each movement as specific tool, while choosing only those that were best suited to fashion their physiques into something exquisite. And at the heart of it all, they had a vision!

Judges evaluate a physique based on standards such as muscularity, symmetry, and conditioning. You will find that the ideal combination of these qualities is embodied in a single aesthetically-pleasing model. Whether you realize it or not, whenever you speak of weaknesses, seek to attain a specific goal, or look upon a champion bodybuilder or figure competitor in awe, you have the basic archetype of their sport in mind.

The bodybuilders and figure competitors who have the greatest influence over their physiques go about construction by making this image the underlying factor of every single exercise and strategy in their routine. They don’t just hammer away in the weight room and hope for the best. Rather, they are conscious of the fact that every exercise and combination of principles therein will have a unique effect. Their regimen consists of movements that form their bodies into something that will win titles, while avoiding those that are counter-productive to this goal. Whenever I share this perspective with my fellow bodybuilding and figure competitors, I find that it often leads them to make considerable changes to both their presentation and training approach!

I know I am going to shock the vast majority of aspiring champion bodybuilders when I state that it is disadvantageous to maximize the growth potential of every muscle in your body! By doing so, your physique will never take on the polished look where every muscle flows together with aesthetic balance. After all, what is the point of blasting your forearms to Popeye proportions if it ultimately does nothing more than tarnish your front and rear-double-biceps poses by making your upper arms and delts look smaller?

Your exercise selection should consist of movements that fashion your physique according to the bodybuilding archetype. If a particular muscle group possesses outstanding development compared to others, you would be wise to avoid making them any larger until the others catch up. This will demand that you make modifications to your training that will probably cause you to feel uneasy, but increasing the size of your best bodyparts will indeed spoil your symmetry!

When training them, overall mass building should take a back seat to other objectives such as region-specific accentuation, with your structuring the exercise selection, principles, and strategies accordingly. At the very least, this will increase your motivation to prioritize weakpoints, which is best achieved when working a muscle group or even a particular region at the beginning of workout while organizing your regimen so that you are fresh when doing so. All the while, the overall appearance of your physique will in fact be improving according to the only standards that matter: the judges!

Using myself as an example, I am currently easing off of upper-trap development. If they become any larger, they will make my shoulders look narrower. Additionally, my arms are able to grow beyond their current state of development quite easily. Yet, improving my physique will entail that I avoid increasing their overall girth so that they do not make my chest look smaller, particularly during my side-chest and front-double-biceps poses. On a practical level, this means that I structure my exercises, sets, reps, cadence, volume, and training frequency around maintenance, refinement, and separation of the bellies. I will continue to train this way until I improve the growth and development of my chest, with the primary goal being to match them with the champions I have chosen to emulate.

If you look at the prototype of figure competition, you will note that she does not have bulging pectorals, arched traps, wide soleus muscles, and lower lats flaring out like rainbows under her arms. This is relevant to you as a figure competitor since there are some muscles that you do not want to enlarge. With very few exceptions, your training protocol should be very distinct from that of a bodybuilder and linked directly to the figure archetype. Obviously, when you take into account body types and genetic potential, this will mean that some figure competitors have different workouts than others. Nevertheless, each should be tailored around attaining the physique of a champion figure competitor.

Generally speaking, every exercise will cause a certain region to develop more than others. If you find that you have dense fiber in the upper traps, you should be taking precaution to minimize growth in this area. Oftentimes this does present a challenge, such as in the case where you might need to add significant size to your side delt region, which usually involves incorporating exercises such as the upright row. Although some of the most effective versions inevitably bring the traps into play, you could apply extra focus toward depressing the shoulders and take a wider grip when performing them. Most certainly, you should avoid shrugs like the plague! The same idea applies if you have low lat insertions but are integrating variables into your back routine that will cause hypertrophy in this region. These are but two of many such examples. Again, every single component of your training should revolve around molding your physique according to the figure archetype.

Along these lines, I must cover two basic concerns that some of you may have in mind. The first involves the fact that sound training is an ongoing science, of which your knowledge should continually progress. As it stands, many of us consider certain muscle groups to be genetically inferior since we blast them with incredible intensity and yet they do not seem to respond like our super-star bodyparts. I speak from experience when I state that, in many cases, the actual training technique is responsible for sub-par development in these regions. With the right changes, they too will grow to a respectable level. I only say this so that you keep in mind that this article refers to the development of your physique at this very moment and with your current level of training knowledge.

Second, your skeletal structure and genetic capacity will dictate your potential to build a top-level physique. In this sense, you must make the best of what you have been given and let the cards fall where they may with respect to contest placing. It is imperative that you thoroughly assess your physique and training protocol before concluding that you are unable to attain the quality of development in a given muscle group required for top placement in a contest. Assuming that you have judiciously analyzed the relevant components, I do not believe that you should stop overall progression to match one or two genetically inferior bodyparts. Rather, I find that the visualization strategy is best suited to focus on your super-star bodyparts so that they do not get out of hand and mar the overall appearance of your physique. The point is simply to do your best to achieve the optimal degree of balance to present yourself as best as you can from every angle and during each pose relative to the ideal model of your sport!

If any of my readers admire my physique, I must admit that I am honored! If you seek to become the best you can be, maybe you will benefit if I fill you in as to how my mind has worked throughout the years as I sought the same. In my own personal quest to find the ideal physical image to emulate, I have chosen bodybuilders from the 70’s era, particularly Arnold Schwarzenegger, Frank Zane, and Mike Mentzer. I selected these individuals because they had similar insertions, muscle bellies, and skeletal structures similar to mine. Accordingly, I delved deep into their training strategies, since these champions had surpassed the trial and error phase and had found what worked best to maximize their development.

Likewise, if I found a pose that matched my physique, I twisted, turned, and tweaked every tiny detail of my body to match it as best as I knew how. Aside from incorporating and personalizing the wide-array of breathtaking free-style poses that they were known for, I even paid close attention to the minor adjustments that they made while hitting their mandatory shots. I took pictures and measured my progress against specific poses. Once I identified where I fell short, I immediately adapted my training to “fill in the gaps,” so to speak. On and on this went, and it still does today, as I seek nothing less than to do everything in my power to present a masterpiece, and one that blows the crowd away from the moment I step onstage! I have yet to reach this and it is reasonable to assume that my genetics might prevent it from ever happening. Even so, at the very least, I have no doubt that I will squeeze a few jaw-dropping shots out of my body before all is said and done – I give it no choice!

In all seriousness, looking back at where I started, I can admit that I may have been a bit naïve to believe I could attain such a physique reminiscent of the 70’s era of bodybuilding, but I am glad I did. I have set nothing but extremely high standards for myself since the day I touched a weight. This manifests itself through meticulous examination, comparison, and research to ensure that I incorporate only the best exercise, nutrition, supplementation, and presentation components as I progress throughout my bodybuilding career. Although I have often stressed myself out to the max, the end result of maintaining this mindset has served me well! If you are willing to put in the same amount of effort, as in much more than any other bodybuilder or figure competitor that you will ever meet, I can state with certainty that the same will apply to you!