Proportion & Balance in Bodybuilding

Prioritising weak points whilst curtailing the strong
By Aaron Hallett, MuscleTalk Reporter & Contributing Writer
March 2012

Big arms but no chest? Big chest but no back? How about having a well built upper torso yet supported by two twiglets of legs?

At some point in your training you will come across a body part that drags behind like a seal’s backside in terms of progression to the other body parts with the other side of the coin being that you might also have a body part that excels in growth at a higher rate than the others.

So what do you do? I have three schools of thought on the subject:

  1. Bring up your weak points to balance out the physique as a whole.
  2. Curtail the training of your strong body parts to allow the rest to catch up.
  3. Then there is the antithesis: make your strong points stronger and embrace the freaky body parts; this will be discussed later.

The first and second points sound similar but with slight differences in how you would train all your muscle groups, strong and weak. If you are bringing up a weak point you can employ prioritisation principles behind how you plan your workouts and how often a body part is trained. A large percentage of trainers will work to a typical seven day week, stereotypically chest being on a Monday? Am I right, or am I right?!

If your weak point is, for instance, chest then this is ideal as you have will have all the rest and recuperation from the weekend (this is based on if the weekends are not training days). You will be fresh; you are most likely to be free from muscle soreness and less tired from a long working week. By prioritising a muscle group at the front of the week you can improve your workout performance than, say, if it was at the tail end of the training week. Under the same principle you would then place stronger muscle groups at the tail end of the training week, still training them, just with reduced recuperation and freshness than if it was the start of the week.

The second point is when you have a body part that dwarfs the rest, or instance a trainer who has a large back but no shoulders/arms. If the back is continued to be trained, due to its high responsiveness to resistance training, it is likely that this muscle group will continue to grow and make the balance and proportions worse when compared to the shoulders. By stopping the resistance training for the back muscle groups you will have two benefits: you will free up a workout during the week which you could allow for weaker body parts and, due to less resistance training, help onset the atrophy of the strong muscle groups.

Depending on how much imbalance there is between the muscle groups and how large the proportion issue is, you might use one of those principles or both at the same time.

To help clarify, I will use examples:

Person A has a strong upper body with little to no weak points or imbalances; however, his lower half shows a different story with legs seriously lacking in development. My advice would be to prioritise the leg training at the start of the week as per the first principle. However, I would not recommend they stop training the upper torso as per the second principle.

Workout split – before
Mon – chest/abs
Tues – back/biceps
Wed – rest
Thurs – shoulders/triceps
Fri – legs

Workout split – after
Mon – legs
Tues – chest/abs
Wed – rest
Thurs – back/biceps
Fri – shoulders/triceps

Person B has impressive development with their arms but to the detriment of balance and proportion to their back and chest. It looks like this person uses their arms more than the target muscle groups during pulling exercises and sometimes pressing work. To allow proportion and balance to be restored, it would be a wise step to curtail arm training for a period until the chest and back improves. The workouts spent dedicated to the muscles of the arm are then freed up to work on weaker areas.

Workout split – before
Mon – chest/shoulders
Tues – back/abs
Wed – rest
Thurs – biceps/triceps
Fri – legs

Workout split – after
Mon – chest/shoulders
Tues – back/abs
Wed – rest
Thurs – legs
Fri – chest/back

Now for the antithesis mentioned in point three: embracing the lack of proportion and increasing the size of the larger muscle groups to a freaky strong point. Whilst you will not be noted for a physique that is in balance and proportion, you will be remembered for possessing a true freaky muscle group. Some people go down this route and are well remembered for it: Tom Platz with his legs, Lee Priest with his arms, Mike Matarazzo with his calves, Paul Dillett with his shoulders, amongst others.

To wrap this up, realising you have a weak point in your physique is the start, what you decide to do from then on, be it to bring it up in parity of the other muscle groups, to reduce the strong points to assist in the bringing of balance and proportion or to carry on as normal and embrace the freaky muscle group as like a personal signature, is down to you.

If you are curious on where your weak points lie, have someone look you over who you know will provide you with honest feedback and have them tell you where you should concentrate your efforts. Weak points and strong points also change, what was once a weak point can become a strong point with the correct training and appropriation of time often highlighting a new point of focus.