How To Build An Aesthetic Physique: The Complete Guide

how-to-build-an-aesthetic-physique

To me building my physique is all about achieving physical excellence in aesthetics, strength and fitness. When I say aesthetics I’m not referring to the bulky, puffy and round physique of bodybuilders.

Rather I’m talking about the dense, hard and angular looking natural physique with broad thick shoulders and upper back muscles, square masculine chest, rock hard arms, slim waist and athletic legs.

*This guide is created in partnership with Kinobody and Think Eat Lift.

This is a meaty guide, so feel free to use the table of content below if you want to jump to a certain part of the guide:

Why I Wrote This Guide

The goal with this guide is to be a road map for you towards building an aesthetic physique, a physique that’ll turn heads around on the street! You’ll learn about the three levels of aesthetics and how to reach YOUR goal physique depending on your starting point.

So, without further ado, let’s get started!

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    What Does The Ideal Male Body Look Like?

    One question that’s been asked for thousands of years is this one: “What makes one physique look better than another?”

    If your mission was to create the ideal male physique, how would you make him look? Well, classical sculptures give us evidence that the Greek ideal of a male body was one that was muscular, well-defined (lean) and had great symmetrical proportions.

    Recent studies and surveys has shown that the Greek ideal of a male body is still the same ideal when it comes to attractiveness today as well. In fact, it’s believed to be more attractive than the overall size or height of a male. It’s believed that it’s the proportions that makes the difference, as stated in one of the research papers:

    “For males, the most important proportions are that between the shoulders and waist. A near-universal sexually attractive feature of a man is a V-shaped torso: a relatively small waist offset with broad shoulders.”

    Again, the absolute size of the shoulders, chest or waist did not matter as long as certain ratios were there. The ratios that got the highest score for physical attractiveness were:

    The Golden Ratio

    • Waist – 43-47% of heights
    • Shoudlers – waist x 1.6
    • Chest – 10-12″ (25-30 cm) greater than waist
    • Arms – waist x 0.5

    The-Golden-Ratio-aesthetic-physique

    For example, a 5’10 (177 cm) tall man would ideally have a 31-inch (79 cm) waist, 50-inch (127 cm) shoulders, 41-inch (105 cm) chest, and 15.5-inch (39 cm) arms:

    In theory, the closer a man comes to these proportions, the more attractive he becomes.

    To achieve this ratio, or one close to it, a man must be at a low body fat percentage, around 8-12 % body fat (in order to have a slim waist) and have great muscular development (in order to have wide shoulders and back). Here are a few examples:

    aesthetic-looking-physiques

    Slim Waist + Solid Muscle Development = Great Looking Aesthetic Physique

    The good news is that in order to reach a physique similar to the ones in the picture above, you don’t have to spend years and years of training. The only difference that more training experience brings to the table, will be the overall size of your body. And as recently discussed, ratios are, at least to a point, more important than overall size.

    This means that if you’re a beginner to early intermediate trainee (around 0-2 years of training), then enough muscle mass can be built to reach the first level of aesthetics rather quickly, and often at the same time as you cut down to get lean – which is the most important part when it comes to building an aesthetic physique.

    The Three Levels of Aesthetics

    So now we’ve established that an aesthetic male physique has a slim waist, thick shoulders and upper back, masculine square chest, well developed arms and athletic legs.

    Now, what’s cool is that even this detailed description allows room for different levels of aesthetics. Greg over at Kinobody call these three levels the Warrior, Greek God and Superhero physiques. Which I think is just a perfect categorization of the three level of developments.

    With each physique there is an emphasis on aesthetic proportions, leanness and functional strength – the true difference between the levels is muscular development.

    With a solid nutrition plan and strength training program, you can achieve any of these physiques. Developing these physiques is not about getting huge; it’s about staying lean and developing proportion to get that aesthetic physique!

    Let’s take a look at each level individually so you can get an idea of what kind of physique you want to build:

    Level 1: The Warrior Physique

    The-warrior-physique1

    • Exceptionally lean, toned and wiry
    • Ripped abs
    • Appears slim in clothes
    • ~8% body fat

    To reach the warrior physique you need to have a solid base level of muscle development combined with a very low body fat percentage. With this physique you may appear slim in clothes but once you take of your shirt jaws will drop.

    The warrior physique is also a a great starting point for the next level – the Greek God Physique.

    Level 2: The Greek God Physique

    The-greek-god-physique

    • Great muscular definition and proportion
    • Looks great in clothes
    • 8-10% body fat

    This is a true “Godlike” physique. It has the perfect balance between size and definition and it sure attracts more female attention, as long as you wear well-fitted clothes.

    This bigger and more muscular physique makes you appear more dominant and imposing. The physique is a true girl magnet with its great muscular proportions. Another key factor for female attention is that the Greek God, even though it’s lean and defined, is not quite as ripped and wiry as the Warrior physique, which women seem to like more.

    Furthermore, this physique comes with great strength and power and it’s also the starting point for the Superhero physique.

    Level 3: The Superhero Physique

    The-superhero-physique

    • Amazing muscle development
    • Looks like a real life superhero
    • Rock hard muscles and ripped abs
    • 8-10% body fat

    This physique is similar to the Greek God Physique, the difference is that the Superhero Physique has an extra 5-8 lbs (2.2-3.6 kg) of “pretty muscles”. This additional muscle growth creates a big visual difference.

    This type of physique is achieved by adding in high volume pump training into your training program to add sarcoplasmic hypertrophy to make your muscles stand out more.

    This type of training should be reserved for those who have surpassed the intermediate levels of strength.

    Beginners and intermediates should focus on laying the muscular foundation with heavy lifting before focusing on pump training, if not your rate of progress will suffer. So, focus on building the Greek God physique before you go for Superhero status!

    How to Reach Your Goal Physique

    Okay, so you’ve decided which type of physique you want to go for? Cool, now let’s see how you can get it!

    There are three steps that you need to work through to reach your goal physique, and they are:

    1. Knowing your starting point
    2. Reaching the Base Level
    3. Moving towards your goal physique

    Let’s break down these steps one by one so you can be sure that you’re doing the right things to reach your goal physique, starting with:

    Knowing Your Starting Point

    To achieve your goal physique you must first know your current condition.

    Your current condition or starting point is very important to assess as the different starting points all requires somewhat different nutritional approaches. For example, a skinny guy at 130 lbs won’t have the same diet as a fat guy at 230 lbs.

    So, with that said let’s look at the different starting points and how you should reach the Base Level:

    The Fat Physique

    The-fat-physique

    There are two types of “fat physiques”, you have the muscular fat physique (to the left) and the non-muscular fat physique (to the right). The only difference between these physiques is that the muscular fat physique obviously has more muscles and strength built up already, so they’re at somewhat of a head start when it comes to muscular development.

    Other than that they both have to take the same initial step in order to reach either the Warrior or Greek God physique.


    The Base Level

    Greg have something he calls the Kinobody Base Level. You have reached this level once you’re at 10-12 % body fat (your waist is 45-47% of your height), and you can do 8 body weight pull-ups and incline bench press 90% of your body weight for 5 reps.

    The base level is where you’re fairly lean with decent strength levels. From this point you can choose whether you want to be leaner and get the Warrior physique (around 8% body fat) or if you want to gain more size and muscle by moving towards the Greek God physique.

    *The time it will take a person to reach the Base Level depends mostly on their starting point.


    How to Reach The Base Level Starting Out With The Fat Physique

    Your first step when starting with the fat physique is to jump on a cutting plan and stay on it until you lose all your belly fat. Your goal should be to reach a waist that’s around 45-47% of your height, this usually means that you’re around 10-13 % body fat.

    Now, depending on how much fat you carry as you get started, the cutting period might take a long time, but your transformation will be insane!

    Also, when starting out with the fat physique you actually have two major advantages going for you, and these are:

    1. You have decent muscle development from the start – Most guys starting with the fat physique only need to focus on fat loss and they’ll achieve the Warrior, or even Greek God physique once they’re lean.
    2. You can build muscle while losing body fat – For the first 3-6 months fat guys can build muscle and lose body fat rather effectively at the same time.

    Here’s a great quote from Lyle McDonald on starting out with a high body fat:

    Lyle McDonald reps for muscle growth“In over-fat beginners we have a situation where fat cells are very insulin resistant and essentially try to push calories away. When we throw training on that, we’re not only sending a muscle building stimulus via training but increasing nutrient uptake into skeletal muscle through effects on skeletal muscle nutrient uptake/insulin sensitivity. Under these circumstances the body appears to take calories out of fat cells and use them to build muscle.”

    What You Need to do

    1. Nutrition:

    In order to lose body fat you must consistently take in fewer calories than what your body burns throughout your days. In other words, you must be in a prolonged calorie deficit. To succeed with this you should be able to enjoy yourself so you can stick to the fat loss plan as well.

    Also, in order to support muscle growth, hormonal balance, well being and gym performance you must take in the right amount of macros (protein, carbs and fat).

    How many calories to eat:

    Starting out with the fat physique you can use a larger calorie deficit in the beginning without bumping into any negatives. You should be able to lose around 2-3 lbs (1-1.5 kg) of fat per week in the start, and 1-1.5 lbs (0.4-0.7 kg) as you get leaner. As long as you make strength gains in the gym, you’ll build muscle during this time, while your weight goes down fast.

    To achieve these numbers I recommend the following calorie intake:

    • 25-30% below maintenance calories in the beginning
    • 20-25% below maintenance calories as you start to get leaner

    Use this formula to find out your maintenance calories:

    • 15 x lbs of body weight // 33 x kg of body weight

    How to set up your macros:

    In order to lose body fat while feeling good and building muscle in the process I recommend that you eat the following macronutrients:

    • PROTEIN: 0.8-1 gram per pound of body weight
    • Fat: 20-30% of total calories
    • CARBS: the remaining calories left

    You don’t have to be perfect with your fat and carb intake, those macros can vary from day to day. However, I do recommend that you stick to 0.8-1 gram of protein per pound of body weight. This is becuase protein is highly satiating and the macro that will help you build muscle as you get lean.

    Now, there are a lot more that goes into setting up a successful fat loss plan. For one, you need strategies that’ll make your fat loss journey enjoyable, because if it’s not you will have a hard time sticking to your plan. For this I recommend checking out Radu’s ShredSmart Program for an exact nutrition plan and the best strategies to ensure success.

    *NOTE: Training is going to be the same for all starting points, so we’ll cover that later.

    The Average Physique (13-17% body fat with little muscle)

    the-average-physique

    This is the most common starting point and if you belong in this category chances are that you’re unhappy with both your size and definition and would like to get lean and muscular at the same time, right?

    If so, you’re definitely not alone. In fact, the famous question “should I cut or bulk first?” is asked mostly by people starting with this physique.


    The Base Level

    Greg have something he calls the Kinobody Base Level. You have reached this level once you’re at 10-12 % body fat (your waist is 45-47% of your height), and you can do 8 body weight pull-ups and incline bench press 90% of your body weight for 5 reps.

    The base level is where you’re fairly lean with decent strength levels. From this point you can choose whether you want to be leaner and get the Warrior physique (around 8% body fat) or if you want to gain more size and muscle by moving towards the Greek God physique.

    *The time it will take a person to reach the Base Level depends mostly on their starting point.


    How to Reach The Base Level Starting Out With The Average Physique

    In most situations the best first step is to start with a quick cutting phase. Some people will freak out when they hear this as they believe that they’re way to small to lose weight.

    And they’d be right, they will become smaller starting with a cutting phase, but only for a very short time. And starting with a cutting phase strongly outweighs the temporary loss in size. Here’s a list of why this is:

    1. As a beginner to novice (0-1 year of training) you can gain muscle in a calorie deficit
    2. You’ll look lean and aesthetic while you focus on building muscle
    3. Being lean allows for a long and sustained lean-bulk
    4. You’ll put on more muscle and less fat during your upcoming lean-bulk
    5. Staying lean is healthy, especially when bulking

    I go much more in depth into each of the benefits of starting out lean in this post.

    But for the sake of this post; if I for a had to choose to be either too fat or too small but lean, just for a while, I’d choose being lean. So, that’s my advice for you as well.

    Avoid The Purgatory

    In this post, Radu talks about the biggest struggle that guys starting from the average and skinny fat physique have, which is being in the psychological purgatory. This is where they can’t decide if they’re too slim to diet or too fat to bulk.

    The Purgatory is the point where an individual is equally unhappy with their level of definition and muscle development and therefore cannot decide which goal to pursue. They’re afraid of losing weight because that’ll make them look too small and they’re also afraid of eating too much because that can lead to fat gain.

    Because of this they end up eating around maintenance in an effort to simultaneously build muscle and lose fat, but actually what they do is achieve little to no progress for months on end.

    Often their biggest mistake is changing their calorie intake and workout program very often. Even if the nutrition plan and workout program they follow are right for them, they do not stick to them long enough to see results.

    And I just need to say this now:

    You can’t achieve an aesthetic physique being stuck in the Purgatory!

    If you realize that you’re in this situation, you must get yourself out of it. You must make a decision: lose fat or gain more size, that’s it! It doesn’t matter what you choose, what’s important is that you make a decision and stick with it for at least 2 to 3 months.

    If you’re on the higher end of body fat percentage, like 15-17%, then I recommend that you choose to lose fat first!

    What You Need to do

    1. Nutrition

    Since I recommend that you start with a cut here’s what you should do regarding your diet:

    In order to lose body fat you must consistently take in fewer calories than what your body burns throughout your days. In other words, you must be in a prolonged calorie deficit. To succeed with this you should be able to enjoy yourself so you can stick to the fat loss plan as well.

    Also, in order to support muscle growth, hormonal balance, well being and gym performance you must take in the right amount of macros (protein, carbs and fat).

    How many calories to eat:

    Starting out with the average physique you should use a moderate calorie deficit throughout your fat loss phase. You should be able to lose around 1-1.5 lbs (0.4-0.7 kg) per week, and you should slow it down as you get closer to 8-10% body fat.

    As long as you make strength gains in the gym, you should be able to build at least a bit of muscle, especially in the beginning of your cut.

    To achieve this I recommend the following calorie intake:

    • 20% below maintenance calories

    Use this formula to find out your maintenance calories:

    • 15 x lbs of body weight // 33 x kg of body weight

    How to set up your macros:

    In order to lose body fat while feeling good and building muscle in the process I recommend that you eat the following macronutrients:

    • PROTEIN: 0.8-1 gram per pound of body weight
    • Fat: 20-30% of total calories
    • CARBS: the remaining calories left

    You don’t have to be perfect with your fat and carb intake, as those macros can vary from day to day. However, I do recommend that you stick to 0.8-1 gram of protein per pound of body weight. This is because protein is highly satiating and it’s also the macro that will help you build/maintain muscle as you get leaner overtime.

    Now, there are a lot more that goes into setting up a successful fat loss plan. For one, you need strategies that’ll make your fat loss journey enjoyable, because if it’s not you will have a hard time sticking to your plan.

    If you start of with the average physique and want further guidance, I definitely recommend checking out Radu’s ShredSmart Program for an exact nutrition and training plan to get the best strategies that will ensure success.

    *NOTE: Training is going to be the same for all starting points, so we’ll cover that later.

    The Skinny Fat Physique

     the skinny-fat-physique

    Skinny fat is best described as the physique where you look skinny/average with a shirt on but fat with the shirt off. This is the physique that I started my journey with (you can see me in the right picture. I was 19 in that picture, around 2 years before I stepped my foot in the gym).

    A skinny fat individual usually have a low-to-moderate body fat percentage (around 13-17%) but still looks soft because they have very little muscle mass. The reason they get this appearance is because they tend to accumulate fat easily around the waist area but very little on the legs and arms.

    This is mostly caused by genetics. Our skeleton is usually wide around the hips but thin everywhere else. Because of thinner bones, our bodies naturally carry less muscle mass in these areas.

    skinny-fat-genetics skeleton

    Now, this does NOT mean that you can’t look great starting out with the skinny fat physique. It’s still very possible for us skinny fat guys to get an outstanding physique even though we may not have the greatest proportions. Just look at Ryan Gosling for example:

    Ryan-gosling-skinny-fat

    Ryan naturally has a wide waist and narrow shoulders and he might have even looked skinny fat growing up. But that did not stop him from becoming one of the biggest Hollywood sex symbols and also appear shirtless on the big screen.

    If he can do it so can you!


    The Base Level

    Greg have something he calls the Kinobody Base Level. You have reached this level once you’re at 10-12 % body fat (your waist is 45-47% of your height), and you can do 8 body weight pull-ups and incline bench press 90% of your body weight for 5 reps.

    The base level is where you’re fairly lean with decent strength levels. From this point you can choose whether you want to be leaner and get the Warrior physique (around 8% body fat) or if you want to gain more size and muscle by moving towards the Greek God physique.

    *The time it will take a person to reach the Base Level depends mostly on their starting point.


    How to Reach The Base Level Starting Out With The Skinny Fat Physique

    The biggest problem that someone with the skinny fat physique has is figuring out what to do first.

    lose-fat-or-build-muscle-first-what to do

    Just like Ted in How I met your mother the question is: Should I lose fat or build muscle first?

    What You Need to do

    The way you decide what to do depends on the amount of body fat you currently have:

    Ted-mosby-skinny-fat1. “Skinny” Skinny Fat

    If you’re very skinny but look soft on certain areas then you should definitely start gaining weight and muscle right away.

    Don’t worry about getting a 6 pack right now. Your overall muscle mass is not developed enough for you to have visible abs even at a very low body fat percentage. Getting leaner at this point could make you look anorexic.

    Okay, so in order to build muscle you must eat at a slight calorie surplus while getting stronger in the gym. Your weight and strength levels needs to go up every month.

    I recommend that you read The Complete Dieting Guide that I’ve written on this site. Or follow the lean-bulking nutrition strategies outlined in Greg’s Greek God Program.

    equally-skinny-fat2. Equally Skinny and Fat

    The best choice in this situation is to go for the recomp strategy. This is where you’ll build muscle and lose fat simultaneously over a long period of time.

    To do this you could either eat at maintenance every day, or preferably cycle calories and macros throughout the week. This is done by eating in a calorie surplus on training days and a calorie deficit on rest days.

    Cycling calories is a lot quicker and will lead to better results than just eating at maintenance, however it requires a bit more hassle. For this reason I can’t recommend Greg’s Greek God Program enough. In the course he has a whole section around setting up a successful recomp protocol.

    Furthermore, you must also follow a strength based training routine and make sure you’re lifting heavier weights over time using big compound exercises. This will stimulate muscle growth like noting else! A great workout plan for your entire journey is also included in the program.

    3. “Fatter” Skinny Fat

    This is the starting point that I started my journey with. I was a bit on the fatter side and choose to start cutting first, and I’m extremely glad that I did!

    By getting lean first you improve your body’s insulin sensitivity which will lead to better nutrient partitioning and help you gain more muscle with less fat.

    Also, by getting lean first you’ll look better throughout your upcoming lean-bulk. But not only that, as a beginner to novice trainee you’ll also be able to build decent amounts of muscle during your cutting phase. I did so myself:

    my-skinny-fat-progress

    As you can see, I reached the Warrior Physique after 6 months. I don’t want to toot my own horn here (heck people reach the Warrior Physique after 3 months lol), I just want to show you that it’s definitely possible to get rid of the skinny fat physique, if you focus on a well set up diet and training plan.

    I recommend setting a 20% calorie deficit and cycle calories throughout the week. On training days eat 150-200 calories more than on rest days, while still keeping the weekly average calorie intake 20% below maintenance.

    To get these strategies set up correctly I recommend Radu’s ShredSmart Program. It’s the same program that I used to get lean while building muscle and feeling like a million bucks at the same time. Simply said, it works!

    *NOTE: Training is going to be the same for all starting points, so we’ll cover that later.

    The Skinny Physique (very little muscle mass and body fat)

    the-skinny-physique

    Most guys in this category are naturally skinny, meaning they’ve been thin ever since they were young and never got fat no matter how much they ate.

    If this is your physique, then in order to reach Warrior or Greek God status you’re going to need to gain weight and muscle.

    There’s great news though, which is that you’ll have a hard time storing excess calories as fat and you’ll find it much easier to gain muscle with minimal fat gain.

    In fact, according to Lyle McDonald, during the first weeks of eating at a moderate calorie surplus, naturally skinny guys can store as much as 60-70% of those surplus calories as lean mass even without training! Now isn’t that awesome?


    The Base Level

    Greg have something he calls the Kinobody Base Level. You have reached this level once you’re at 10-12 % body fat (your waist is 45-47% of your height), and you can do 8 body weight pull-ups and incline bench press 90% of your body weight for 5 reps.

    The base level is where you’re fairly lean with decent strength levels. From this point you can choose whether you want to be leaner and get the Warrior physique (around 8% body fat) or if you want to gain more size and muscle by moving towards the Greek God physique.

    *The time it will take a person to reach the Base Level depends mostly on their starting point.


    How to Reach The Base Level Starting Out With The Skinny Physique

    Okay, so your main goal regarding nutrition should be to eat enough food. In order to gain muscle and size you must eat slightly more calories than what your body burns.

    What You Need to do

    Nutrition:

    The calorie intake I recommend when bulking is this:

    • 10-15% above maintenance calories

    Use this formula to find out your maintenance calories:

    • 15 x lbs of body weight // 33 x kg of body weight

    By eating 10-15 % above maintenance most guys in this category will be able to gain 2 to 3 lbs of lean mass per month at the beginning of the bulking phase and then about 1.5 to 2 lbs per month for the remainder of the first year.

    As long as you make strength gains in the gym and eat enough, you WILL gain muscle and size.

    Here’s How Fast You Can Gain Muscle:

    Training StatusExperience LevelLean muscle growth per month (% of BW)
    Beginner

     

    Intermediate

    Advanced

    One year or less of proper training

     

    2-4 years of proper training

    More than 4 years of proper training

    1 – 1.5%

     

    0.5 – 1%

    0.25-0.5%

    *This table was created by Alan Aragon, one of the most knowledgeable fitness author in the science based fitness community.

    In order to support gym performance and muscle growth you also need to take in the right amounts of macronutrients (protein, fat and carbs).

    How to set up your macros:

    I recommend that you eat the following macro ratios to boost muscle growth:

    • PROTEIN: 0.8-1 gram per pound of body weight
    • Fat: 20-30% of total calories
    • CARBS: the remaining calories left

    The skinny physique is the one I know the least about. So, if you find it hard to gain muscle and want further guidance I definitely recommend Greg’s Greek God course. It has a TON of skinny to lean and muscular transformations on it’s back.

    *NOTE: Training is going to be the same for all starting points, so we’ll cover that later.

    How to Start Moving Towards Your Goal Physique

    Okay, so you’ve reached the Base Line, that’s awesome!

    You’re now ready to start moving towards your goal physique. So, let’s look at how you do that:

    The Warrior Physique:

    If you want to build the wiry Warrior Physique then all you have to do from the Base Line is to lean down until you reach around 8% body fat while increasing strength in the meantime. This should only take you around 6-8 weeks.

    If however you feel skinny at 10% body fat and would like a larger warrior physique, then I recommend you shift focus on gaining muscle instead.

    To do so you will start eating at a slight calorie surplus and continue to make progress in strength (which will go faster with more calories).

    Now, as you’re gaining weight you’ll probably gain a little bit of fat as well, it’s close to inevitable. But that’s okay because once you get up to 13-15% body fat you can cut back down to 8% again, and in this way never lose your definition completely for more than 2 to 3 months.

    The Greek God & Superhero Physiques

    If you want to build the muscular Greek God or Superhero Physique then you’ll need to shift focus on gaining muscle directly once you reach the Base Line.

    The reason we’re addressing the Greek God and Superhero levels together is because you must first achieve the Greek God physique to get to the Superhero physique. So, let’s look at how you do that.

    To maximize muscle growth while keeping fat gain in check, you should eat at a slight calorie surplus (5-10% above maintenance) for a long period of time. Your goal is to increase strength on key exercises during this time as that’ll lead to tons of new muscle and size.

    Ideally, as you’re gaining size your goal should be to never go above 15% body fat again. Your bulk and cut cycles will be kept in the range of 8-15% body fat.

    In this range you’ll gain more muscle as opposed to fat (because of improved insulin sensitivity and hormonal balance) and of course look good year around!

    Inevitably you’ll gain a bit of fat as you’re bulking. So, once you’re up to 15% body fat it’s time to cut back to 8-12% again. Then it’s just a matter of repeating this process until you reach the Greek God Physique.

    Once you’re done with that, if you want to you can start to use a strength periodization and include more volume in your workouts and head towards the Superhero level.

    How to Set up Your Training to Reach The Different Physiques

    The general rule for training will be the same no matter what your starting point is. If you start out with the fat physique and your first mission is to get lean, then you’ll have the same program as someone starting out skinny with the first mission to gain size.

    In other words, no matter if you’re cutting or bulking, the way you train will be the same.

    The reason for this is that training for strength builds muscle no matter if you’re in a calorie surplus or deficit. The only difference is that your body is more effective at building muscle when in a surplus as opposed to a deficit.

    For beginners I recommend using a high frequency training program focused on progressive overload on only a few compound lifts. A full body workout 3 times per week or an A/B split 3 times per week allow beginners to practice great form and get through the initial neural adaptations phase quicker.

    What’s the neural adaptations phase?

    Nearly all the gains made in strength during the first couple months are neurological, meaning your nervous system learns how to recruit muscle fibers to lift heavy weight. For this reason your goal should be to move pass this stage as quickly as possible, so that you can get to the point where your muscle fibers have to increase in size to contribute to strength.

    Here’s a great quote on this topic by bodybuilder, powerlifter, coach and doctor Eric Helms:

    Eric helms reps for muscle growth“Once you’ve made your neurological strength gains, your bone density has increased, collagen has aligned itself towards the forces you are putting on your body, ligament and tendon strength has improved and your form is efficient, the ONLY way for you to get stronger is by increasing the size of your muscle fibers. That’s it. So if you are getting stronger, and you’re not a beginner anymore…you are by default getting bigger. You have to be.”

    So, here’s an example of a good beginner routine:

    Workout A – Upper Body

    • Incline Bench Press – 5 sets of 4-6 reps
    • Weighted Chins – 5 sets of 4-6 reps
    • Dips 3 sets of 6-8 reps
    • Cable Rows – 3 sets of 6-8 reps
    • Bicep Curls – 3 sets of 10-12 reps

    Workout B – Lower Body

    • Barbell Squats – 5 sets of 4-6 reps
    • Romanian Deadlift – 3 sets of 4-6 reps
    • Leg Press – 5 sets of 6-8 reps
    • Seated Calf Raises – 3 sets of 12-15 reps
    • Hanging Knee Raises  3 sets of 12-15 reps

    And here are the workout notes for this routine:

    • Train 3 times per week on non-consecutive days. For example:
      • Monday – Workout A
      • Wednesday – Workout B
      • Friday – Workout A
      • Monday – Workout B
    • Rest 3 minutes between sets. Except calf raises and knee raises where you rest 1-2 minutes.
    • When you hit the required reps for all sets, increase the weight with 2.5 kg (5 lbs) on all sets the following workout. If you lose a few reps on the upcoming workout, no worries. Your goal for the following workout is to add back the reps in those last sets so you can increase the weight once again.
    • Use a lifting app or paper to track your progress.

    After 3-6 months on this training routine you can most likely upgrade to a more advanced routine.

    Which could be this novice to early intermediate routine (which will usually work for another 1-2 years on average):

    Monday – Upper Body – Chest Emphasis

    • Incline Bench Press – 4 sets of 4-6 reps
    • Cable Rows – 4 sets of 4-6 reps
    • Flat Dumbbell Bench Press – 3 sets of 6-8 reps
    • Seated Shoulder Press – 3 sets of 6-8 reps
    • Rear Delt Dumbbell Flyes – 3 sets of 12-15 reps
    • Skullcrushers – 5 sets of 12-15 reps

    Wednesday – Lower Body

    • Barbell Squats – 5 sets of 4-6 reps
    • Romanian Deadlift – 3 sets of 4-6 reps
    • Leg Press – 5 sets of 6-8 reps
    • Seated Calf Raises – 5 sets of 12-15 reps
    • Hanging Knee/Leg Raises – 5 sets max

    Friday – Upper Body – Back & Shoulder Emphasis

    • Weighted Pull Ups – 4 sets of 4-6 reps
    • Standing Barbell Shoulder Press – 4 sets of 4-6 reps
    • Barbell Rows  – 4 sets of 6-8 reps
    • Incline Dumbbell Bench Press – 3 sets of 6-8 reps
    • Lateral Raises – 4 sets of 12-15 reps
    • Spider Curls – 5 sets of 12-15 reps

    And here’s how to progress and get stronger over time with this routine:

    • Rest 3 minutes between sets for the compound exercises and 1-2 minutes for the isolation exercises.
    • When you hit the required reps for all sets, increase the weight with 2.5 kg (5 lbs) on all sets the following workout. If you lose a few reps on the upcoming workout, no worries. Your goal for the following workout is to add back the reps in those last sets so you can increase the weight once again.
    • Use a lifting app or paper to track your progress.

    This routine has more volume (amount of work) which is often required as you get more advanced. At this point, most of your strength gains will lead to muscle growth as well.

    The Goal of Training is to Improve Your Relative Strength!

    The best indicator of how well your physique looks is relative strength. Your relative strength simply means your absolute strength compared to your body weight.

    The stronger you are compared to your body weight, the better you’ll look!

    In fact, who do you think will look better? A 165 lbs guy bench pressing 225 for multiple sets of 6 reps or a 220 lbs guy bench pressing 250 lbs for sets of 6 reps?

    The guy at 165 lbs will definitely look better even if he has less overall muscle mass. The reason for this is that the 165 lbs guy has a much better muscle to fat ratio.

    So basically, the better your relative strength is, the better you’re going to look. This is the reason why you should focus everything you got on improving your relative strength!

    Now, there are two ways to improve your relative strength:

    1. Get stronger on your lifts; or
    2. Lose body weight without losing strength

    Or a combination of both.

    If your goal is to gain weight it’s important that your lifts are going up in a much quicker rate than your body weight. Each pound you gain in body weight should result in a 3-4 lbs increase on your bench press and weighted pull ups, 1-1.5 lbs on shoulder press and 5-6 lbs on squats/deadlifts. This way you’ll be sure that most of the body weight you gained was lean mass.

    If your goal is to lose weight (body fat) then once you’ve passed the beginner stage you want to maintain your strength. With each pound you lose, you’re improving your relative strength by maintaining muscle mass while shedding of the fat.

    The bottom line is that all the great looking guys who’re natural (not using steroids) are very strong for their body weight. That’s the secret to their amazing definition and proportions.

    So, don’t just track your body weight changes; also track your relative strength on a few key exercises. Once you reach a certain relative strength standard you will automatically reach a certain kind of physique.

    The 3 Levels of Aesthetics: Strength Standards

    The Warrior Physique

    • Incline Bench Press
      5 reps – 1.1 x body weight
    • Weighted Pull-ups
      5 reps – 30% of your body weight attached
    • Standing Shoulder Press
      5 reps – 0.7 x body weight
    • Bicep Curls
      5 reps – 0.55 x body weight
    • Waist
      43-44% of height (7-9% body fat)

    Once you’re able to hit these strength and waist standards you can expect to look something like this:

    warrior-physique-strength-standards

    The Greek God Physique

    • Incline Bench Press
      5 reps – 1.25 x body weight
    • Weighted Pull-ups
      5 reps – 50% of your body weight attached
    • Standing Shoulder Press
      5 reps – 0.85 x body weight
    • Bicep Curls
      5 reps – 0.65 x body weight
    • Waist
      45-46% of height (8-10% body fat)

    Once you’re able to hit these strength and waist standards you can expect to look something like this:

    the-greek-god-physique-strength-standards

    The Superhero Physique

    • Incline Bench Press
      5 reps – 1.4 x body weight
    • Weighted Pull-ups
      5 reps – 70% of your body weight attached
    • Standing Shoulder Press
      5 reps with body weight
    • Bicep Curls
      5 reps – 0.75 x body weight
    • Waist
      45-46% of height (8-10% body fat)

    Once you’re able to hit these strength and waist standards you can expect to look something like this:

    The-superhero-physique-strength-standards

    Usually, to reach the Superhero physique you also need to add a bit of pump training on top of your strength training. This will cause sarcoplasmic hypertrophy in your muscles which will give them a fuller look.

    What’s Next

    I hope you’ve found this guide helpful and that you now have a better understanding of what needs to be done to reach the physique of your goals!

    Now, to go beyond the first step and completely transform your physique I recommend strongly that you start reading some articles on this site. If you’re willing to spend a few days researching and putting the information together, you can create a great nutrition and training program for yourself.

    Here are a couple of great resources to start with:

    Should You Jump on The Transformation Fast Track?

    If you want all the information structured in stages and an exact training and nutrition program that’s been proven to work over and over again, then I highly recommend Radu’s and Greg’s fitness programs:


    warrior-physique-strength-standards

    The ShredSmart Program

    This program has produced a ton of Success Stories. Radu has created, what’s in my opinion, the best fitness course on the planet.

    This is the definitive program for dropping body fat while building hard, dense muscles while at the same time allowing you to keep an enjoyable lifestyle. The program includes a full workout protocol, nutrition plan, sample meals plans, a bonus lean-bulking guide, exclusive Facebook group, and a workout app. Click Here to Check it Out


    the-greek-god-physique-strength-standards

    The GREEK GOD Lean-Bulking Program

    This is a workout and nutrition plan geared towards building muscle strategically while staying lean for the aesthetic look of a Greek God. Tons of testimonials and case studies prove the effectiveness of this program.

    This is the program I used most of the time to add lean muscle throughout over the years and I used Warrior Shredding to get ripped in between. This approach worked very well, and I don’t think I could have built my physique up any quicker. Click Here to Check it Out


    The-superhero-physique-strength-standards

    The Superhero Bulking Program

    This is the complete guide to maximize proportionate muscle growth. In this program you’ll get strategic lifting protocols combined with nutrition strategies that will support muscle growth with minimal fat gain.

    This program includes the main course with supplemental courses and resources. It also contains bonus podcasts and interviews on dating, sex, style, and living the “Superhero” lifestyle. Click Here to Check it Out


    aggressive-fat-loss

    The Aggressive Fat Loss Program

    This is a nutrition strategy designed to drop body fat as quickly as possible without leaving you feeling miserable and starved in the meantime.

    Some people have achieved up to 2 lbs of body fat loss per week, while eating stuff they like and maintaining their strength in the gym. Included in this program is the main course, audio guides and other highly valuable supplemental courses and resources. Click Here to Check it Out


    Niklas Lampi

    My name is Niklas Lampi and I work as a fitness writer, nutritional consultant and personal trainer. My favourite exercise is the bench press and my favourite food is pizza!

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