Trans men, trans masculine individuals and cisgender men alike often strive for a particular body type that enhances the visual appearance of masculinity. If you’re in this boat, then this post is for you.
Masculine bodies come in all shapes and sizes – and there is no single ‘right’ body type. Your body is right exactly how it is (no, really). That being said, many of us strive to display certain aesthetics for all sorts of reasons (some good, some not so great). In my case, having control over the aesthetic shape of my body helps with my dysphoria.
This article will cover the classic V-Taper masculine body type, and the things you need to work on to achieve it. Remember: Re-designing your body shape should be fun.
The V-Taper is the single most requested workout I get asked for, next to abs.
One of the most famous stereotypically masculine body shapes has broad shoulders and narrow hips – also known as a V-Taper. Ideally, you’d also have big hands and feet, and a well-developed chest. We can’t do anything about our hands and feet, and your chest development is probably one that you’re already overworking. I see you, eyeing up the barbells. Eyes forwards.
The V-Taper is the shape of an upside-down Dorito (other brands are available). It happens when you focus your muscle development on broadening the top of your body. Some people are gifted with slim hips and broad shoulders naturally, but most of us aren’t, despite what the media would have us all believe. For us, we need a specific workout routine to pack on muscle in specific areas. Once we broaden the top of our bodies, our hips naturally look smaller anyway. It’s a bit of an optical illusion. Which is great, because hips are made of bone and we can’t make them narrower in the gym!
The V-Taper silhouette is enhanced by working on your shoulders, arms and back, but the single most important thing to work on is your back.
Your back develops in two ways – width and thickness
Width is what starts to give you the V-Taper and is created by the lats. Lats are the ‘wings’ of the back. They’re the muscle that flares out when you see bodybuilders pose. Once you get your lats to develop, the top half of your back will be wider than the rest. You can enhance this later by also packing muscle onto the shoulders and traps. Many people make the error of under-working the full sweep on lat exercises, and so miss out on the development of the bottom section of the lats. This impedes the V-Tapering effect. (A 'full sweep' means you ensure you do the total range of movement needed to activate the whole muscle for any given exercise.)
Thickness is what makes your back look developed. It provides the image of strength and power that demonstrates dedication to your craft. People often refer to back ‘pillars’ – The muscles running up your back, packed thicker to really pop out and give you that 3d definition. Thickness takes time – on any part of the body. Your body can only build so much muscle. You’ll be lucky if you get a half a pound a week, and only if you’re eating right and putting in the work. So this is a waiting game. Keep lifting, progressing, and you’ll get there with thickness.
Some exercises to work on and why they are good for V-Tapering:
As a general rule, any exercise where you keep your elbow close to your body and pull it back behind you, will activate your lats. Make sure you have either a neutral or under-hand grip so that your elbow doesn’t flare out. Try out:
- Underhand barbell Rows/single hand dumbbell rows
- Close grip pull-ups (pull ups are awesome, but watch your wrists. If you have small wrists like me, too many pull-ups can ignite a nasty bout of tendonitis quite easily)
- Wide grip underhand lat pull-down (This position forces your elbows to come inwards)
- One arm high cable row (this is a diagonal movement)
For thickness, add in:
- Face-pulls (these are really good for your rotator cuffs too, and help prevent injury)
- Wide grip pull ups
- Wide grip overhand lat pull-down
- Seated cable rows
- Kettlebell swings
To go the extra mile, add in some shoulder presses, lateral raises and delt-flys.
What Did We Learn?
You can't change your hips, so you need to pack on muscle to create an optical illusion.
The lats are the key muscle to create the V-Taper effect.
Keep your elbows close to your body and bring them behind you, to get the most lat activation.