In the spirit of summer, today’s question is commonly asked by young men while they stand in the mirror in their bathing suit before the first big beach trip.
But at that point, it’s too late.
And it’s not just guys. Both men and women can be found at the gym crunching themselves into oblivion in the hopes of “trimming” their waist down and developing that v-taper or hourglass figure that society has identified as optimal.
If you’re unsure of what I’m referring to, a v-taper is a classic aesthetic goal where the shoulders of a man are wider than his hips and waist, thus creating a “V” shape.
Furthermore, bodybuilding lore maintains that the shoulders and waist should have a Golden Ratio of 1.61:1 to create an “ideal” physique.
In women, the v-taper is only part of the hourglass figure, where the woman’s hips and shoulders are both wider than the waist.
The fact that a small waist has been deemed attractive could be considered largely cultural, but measurements like hip-to-waist ratio and waist-to-height ratio are both commonly used as standards of health. Presumably, this is because a larger waist circumference could be an indicator of an increase in the visceral fat stores (which are found in the abdominal cavity in and around the organs, separate from subcutaneous fat).
In males, the attractiveness of a small waist could actually be related to the attractiveness of big, broad shoulders and traps and large, muscular legs.
But enough about why the v-taper will cause the opposite sex to perform double-takes when passing you on the beach, let’s just figure out how to get one.
1. You need to be lean.
If you aren’t lean (probably at least 15% in men and 25% in women), your chances of having any sort of a v-taper or hourglass figure are greatly diminshed.
In men, subcutaneous fat is often stored through the abdominal region and even a little extra fluff could ruin your physique completely. Couple that with small legs and a less-than-stellar upper body and your “V” shape will probably look more like an “O.”
To remedy this, let’s start by creating an energy deficit. You need to either eat less or exercise more, or some combination of the two. If you’re wondering how strict you’ll need to be to get a v-taper, check out this infographic from Precision Nutrition.
To achieve that small waist, you’ll probably need to increase your protein, water, & vegetable intake, reduce your caloric beverage & dessert intake, and exercise almost every day (even if you only have 1-2 really intense days).
As for exercise, you’ll need to make sure you’re weight lifting (else the caloric deficit elves steal your gainz). Without some lifting, you’ll probably lose muscle.
2. You might need to build up your shoulders and lats.
You can only make your waist so small. After that, your v-taper is going to be all about the relationship between your shoulders and waist.
Let’s take the Golden Ratio (1.61:1). According to this rule, if you have a 30 inch waist, you’ll need at least 48.3 inch shoulders to create that “V” look.
For this, you’re going to want to pay attention to both overhead press and side raise variations, as well as some rear delt flys and band pullaparts. The rotation of the arm matters, so play with different variations to get all three parts of the deltoid muscle.
But wide shoulders are only half of the equation. To get that actual “V” shape, you’ll need the lats to create the tapering effect. The lats run from the shoulders, down the back, and connect at the lower spine. In bodybuilding, the “Most Muscular” pose includes a flare of the lats and a subsequent cobra look.
For the lats, you’ll want to hammer chin-up and row variations, as well as deadlifts and maybe even some pullovers.
3. Growing the traps and legs wouldn’t hurt either.
Now that your shoulders look like bowling balls, you’ll probably want to pack a little bit of meat onto your neck so you don’t look like a box. This can be achieved by growing the traps, but do not take this journey lightly.
Growing the traps is not as easy as going to town on barbell shrugs. They may help, yes, but the real growth is going to come from time-under-tension with some heavy weight.
Deadlifts (especially RDL variations), farmer’s walks, rowing, and overhead pressing will allow you to pack some extra meat on your traps.
Don’t forget, the traps do more than just shrug. In fact, shrugging is probably low on their priority list when you consider that they also adduct and upwardly rotate the scaps and just in general keep your shoulder blades attached to your spine when you have a heavy load in your hands.
Growing your legs a bit will help with your overall appearance too when you consider that a larger set of glutes and quads will make your waist look smaller by comparison.
If I know you, reader, then I already know that you’re skipping leg day every week in favor of the “Bro Split” (chest, shoulders, arms, repeat). Just do some legs. Any type of legs. Leg press, even. Anything. Just do something!
4. Don’t hypertrophy your abs and obliques.
Making your abs and obliques grow will only make your waist larger.
Crunching yourself into oblivion with extreme reps and extreme volume? Bad idea. This is exactly the mechanism by which muscles grow. Instead, focus on a mix of endurance and strength work through a moderate volume.
Being lean will keep your waist small so your only job is to keep your abs hard. You don’t need 100 reps a day to do this. Just a few good sets of 5-8 reps, the same way you would train any other muscle.
The V-Taper Program
Start with a standard upper/lower split.
Keep max effort work the same. Rotate movements every 1-3 weeks depending on your preferences and keep pushing hard. Same with dynamic effort work. No need to change.
Each day should include some type of accessory work. This is for building muscle, not testing your strength, and we’ll be choosing exercises according to the guidelines I just laid out.
For lower body days, we’ll use one RDL variation, a farmer’s carry, and one low-rep abdominal/oblique movement. For upper body days, we’ll include one overhead press variation, one heavy rowing variation, and chinups.
Don’t forget, your bone structure may ultimately limit your ability to achieve a v-taper. Your waist is only going to get so small. And your shoulders can only grow so large in natural conditions.
Try this program for 4-8 weeks and track your progress. With chinups and overhead pressing, you should build plenty of muscle in the upper body. Plus, the RDLs and farmer’s carries will allow you to build the traps and legs necessary to fill out the rest of you.
If you’re a female, not to worry, this program will work for women too! Due to your lack of testosterone (no offense), your muscles won’t grow to the extent that a man’s would. But you will end up with lean shoulders, a carved back, and shaped legs from all this lifting.
Lastly, don’t forget that you won’t build muscle in a caloric deficit. So pick one. Either build the muscle or strip the fat off. You should know which one you need to do first.
When all is said and done, you’ll have a v-taper that will leave members of the opposite sex fainting each and every time you take your shirt off, guaranteed. (Probably not, but you’ll never know if you don’t try.)