Body Conquest Articles | Symmetry

on Tuesday, 16 April 2013. Posted in Training


A well proportioned physique with lots of muscle should be the overall concern of a bodybuilder. As a judge I look for the development of evenly distributed muscle mass as that will usually mean a symmetrically pleasing physique. It shouldn't matter whether you are training to compete, training to have a beach body or training for fun, either way your program should complement and enhance your weak points, exacerbate your good points and create the illusion of a perfectly symmetrical body.

Everyone knows somebody who is "enormous". Every gym has its resident big boy who is going to be the next Mr Olympia because he is soooo mammoth. But the reality is that big boys are a dime a dozen. What is hard to find is a big boy with magnificent shape and symmetry. Now that is like looking for a needle in a haystack! It is rare to have size with splendid shape and proportion to complement the mass.

It is important to understand that the human body is not normally a symmetrical structure. To have one arm longer or bigger than the other, a calf shaped differently from the other, or one bicep with a developed peak and one that doesn't is not uncommon. Bodybuilding focuses on achieving perfect symmetry and any asymmetries that do exist usually create problems, especially in the pro-ranks.


For the purpose of this article symmetry refers to the qualities of balance, proportion, shape and classical aesthetics. Leonardo da Vinci's Vitruvian Man is a familiar representation of symmetry in the human body and by extension, the natural universe. This illustration depicts a man with his arms outstretched within a circle and a square. Although, in its strictest definition symmetry denotes equal development of muscularity on both right and left sides of the physique. Proportion is a component of symmetry that implies an even balance of muscular development in comparison to each muscle group. Theoretically then, a 'strong body part' can be as detrimental as a 'weak body part'. Bodybuilders should strive for equal development between all muscle groups. Otherwise the bitter result can be a collection of body parts thrown haphazardly into some black and blue gym gear that more closely resembling a futuristic cloning experiment gone wrong than the pinnacle of bodybuilding achievement and human art.

Bodybuilding shows are judged on the overall quality of competitors' muscular development. Judging is based upon the presentation of mass, definition, proportion, symmetry and stage presence. I have watched many bodybuilding competitions and often there will be tons of guys with huge arms or massive thighs for example. Having one or two awesome body parts though, can disrupt the flow of one muscle group into another and proportion is sacrificed. For example, if you have boulder shoulders and golf ball calves you are going to look a bit odd and it totally spoils the overall look of the said physique. You cannot just be a collection of body parts. All bodybuilders competitive or not should strive to achieve the classical "x" shape. That is, the broad shoulders, the small, tapered waistline, the broad thigh sweep and the diamond calves. Really great symmetry means equal development of muscularity on both the right and the left sides, from upper body to lower body and from front view to back view. From all angles everything is well balanced.

In evaluating symmetry, judges are concerned with harmony and proportion. This evaluation begins with the skeletal structure itself. Although a competitor may be limited by his genetic structure, judges have to honestly examine this characteristic to make the necessary distinctions between bodybuilders. The ideal structure should include a near equal ratio of torso to leg length, broad shoulders and narrow hips for a man with similar proportions for a woman. Furthermore, skeletal deformations must be judged as imperfections despite the athlete's ability to change them. This may seem unfair, to be penalised for something that you cannot change, but life is not fair and you just have to work with what you have genetically been blessed with.

Symmetry also includes judgement of muscle development and the muscles themselves. Within the muscles balance must be existent pertaining to the quality of muscle peak, height, development, length, shape and proportion.

A final aspect involves definition and hardness. There should be evenness between hardness in the upper and lower body, between extremities and the torso and between corresponding sides of muscle groups or the entire body. Judging symmetry involves finding defects within the physique by careful evaluation which are separate from defects found in the area of muscularity. One of the things I notice when judging is the subtleties of proportion that is closely allied, or incorporated within symmetry. I can't just be seduced by mass alone. If a competition is close I will look for superior symmetry.


What can be done to achieve the kind of classic physique that looks great whether on stage or in public? How can one attain flowing muscle groups that are in perfect proportion? The first step is to determine exactly where you are at before planning for your assault. The best method to accurately determine where your individual body parts fall in terms of symmetry and proportion is the good old fashioned tape measure. Measuring the circumference of each body part will give you an idea of where improvements needs to be made provided you are in reasonable shape and the individual muscles can be discerned. Make sure that you refrain from exercising before you take your measurements or else your results will be distorted. Also, make sure that you take them in a relaxed state, not flexed to give a realistic measurement. Finally write down your results in your training diary so that you can monitor your improvements and re-correct anything that may require it.

Another option is to use a measurement chart. Steve Reeves, the 1940's and 50's bodybuilding legend was one of the most perfectly proportioned bodybuilders of all time. Many feel his body represents what a bodybuilding physique should look like-flawless and beautiful. His measurement (18.5 inch arms, calves and neck) were regarded as a benchmark for symmetry and proportion, and his philosophy was to keep the body balanced through the adherence to a couple of methods. The first is as follows:

Height to Weight Chart for Building a Classic Physique:

Reeves believed that one's height represented the limit to which they could pack on muscle mass. This was his basic premise. His main philosophy proposed keeping muscular bodyweight within acceptable limits to prevent the distortion of one's natural symmetry.

5'5 160 pounds 6'0 200pds

5'6 165pds 6'1 210pds

5'7 170pds 6'2 220pds

5'8 175pds 6'3 230pds

5'9 180pds 6'4 240pds

5'10 185pds 6'5 250pds

5'11 190pds

Muscle to Bone Ratio for Building the Classic Physique

To create the kind of ultra-symmetrical physique displayed by Reeves-where the all important bone to muscle ratio conveys an illusion of greater size, whilst not detracting from overall aesthetics-use the following table, one that he himself endorsed.

Steve Reeves Ultra Symmetrical Physique Ratio's

Arm size = 252% of wrist size

Calf Size = 192% of ankle size

Neck size = 79% of head size

Chest size = 148% of pelvis size

Waist size = 86% of pelvis size

Thigh size = 175% of knee size

So for example to get your thigh size, measure your knee. Then multiply this measurement by 1.75 to get your proposed thigh size.

For the record, Steve Reeves measurements were:

Arms: 18.5

Calves: 18.5

Neck: 18.5

Thighs: 27

Chest: 54

He almost reached his own ideal of the perfect physique.

Another option is to have your physique assessed by a personal trainer, judge or friend who you feel will provide you with constructive feedback. Even better, get two opinions and see whether or not both opinions are fairly similar. This will consolidate your faith in the responses and you will then be able to choose avenues to rectify the issues compromising your symmetry.


There are three or four really common asymmetrical problems. Quite often trainee's have one arm bigger or more shapely than the other, an unequal lat spread, uneven pectoral development or a gap between the bicep and the forearm. These are the most frequent sources but there are of course many others.

Ok, so you have identified whereabouts on your physique needs attention, how exactly do you improve symmetry? A common method is applying a system of unilateral exercising. Exercising the offending muscle and totally ignoring the 'good side" is perhaps the most commonly applied answer to asymmetrical development. Instead one tactic that you could try is to exercise your good side as you normally have in the past. But apply exercise to the offending site with a totally different form of stress. For example if you are used to doing sets of 12 reps, continue that form of stress on your good side but do explosive sets of 5 to 6 reps to the bad. Also, try doing sets of 30-40 reps with slow, continuous tension movement to the bad side. Theoretically, as the cellular elements respond to this new form of stress, you may spark new growth there. It may be that the muscle has already adapted to the level and type of stress you have been applying and is in need of a new level and type of stimulation.

If you have been training for a while you might want to check out a chiropractor to determine whether your problem is rooted in nerve damage or impingement. I have known and seen many bodybuilders with asymmetrical development resulting from nerve damage. Most typically the damage has occurred in the spine and has impinged or damaged the nerve which services the offending muscle.

A third option in direct relation to stubborn body parts affecting your proportion is to train with intelligence and diligence. Let's take back as an example. At various contests and gyms I find ample evidence that a large number of trainee's consider a completely developed back of minor importance. At many shows I have attended the contestants posing routines have reflected this attitude with most poses covering the rest of the body and often only a single rear view back pose position thrown into the routine almost like an after-thought.

Another common mistake that trainee's make is something as simple as to overtrain the biceps and under train the triceps and forearms. Bulging biceps alone are not the secret to awesome arms. This belief usually results in an enthusiastic but misguided training program with one-dimensional training in that it produces or exacerbates unbalanced arm development, namely all biceps and no triceps.

Larry Scott and Robby Robinson are two bodybuilders that were known for their great arms. While the particular details of their arms varied, they both shared one common feature; symmetry. Not only did these bodybuilders have comparative balance between their biceps, triceps and forearms, but they also exhibited symmetrical development within these muscle areas.

Even if you are not a competitive bodybuilder an unbalanced muscular development will detract from your appearance and overall strength. To build truly amazing arms you must train biceps, triceps and forearms with equal energy and consistency. Only balanced workouts can produce the proportionate muscular development that will maximise your symmetry.

Proportion undoubtedly affects how aesthetically pleasing a physique is overall. So it is really frustrating to have stubborn body parts. While I don't purport to have all the answers regarding slow-growing muscle groups, I do believe that sometimes all it takes to improve the situation is good choices of exercises, proper form, hard work and a positive attitude. Any problem area can be improved and you'll never know by how much until you try. Two time Mr Olympia Larry Scott had so-called pinched clavicles and narrow shoulders when he started bodybuilding, but with hard work and ingenuity he developed some of the most massive, thick and rounded deltoids. In fact his efforts were so successful he didn't look narrow at all.

Symmetry is to a great extent the product of a good genetic foundation but improvements can be made regardless of one's genetic predisposition. You need to honestly assess your body and train according to its flaws to enhance your overall shape and symmetry. Be aware that having an outstanding body part or two may hinder your x shape and ruin your proportions. The best physiques past and present are and always will be blessed with symmetry. Ensure that you train for superior amounts of muscle that are all in proportion. This will make certain that your physique is on its way to being beautifully balanced and easy on the eye.