Creating the Illusion of Size: Maximizing Width

For the average hardcore bodybuilder, size is what’s all about. Oh, sure, you need good proportion among all the muscle groups, complete development, and all, but really, most of us care about size first. One way to enhance how big you look is to enhance your width. By this I mean increasing your shoulder width, increasing your lat width, decreasing your waist size, and increasing your thigh/calf size. Of course, thickness, or how you look from the side, is very important also, but increased width will really enhance your appearance of size. Larry Scott, the first Mr. Olympia, worked very hard to enhance his width, being naturally narrow in the shoulders. In fact, he’s not only known for the “Preacher” or “Scott” curl he is almost as well known for his unique approach to laterals. Width, especially in the delts and lats, along with a smaller waist will bring out the coveted V taper. By increasing your shoulder width and decreasing your waist size, you can appear several inches wider than you really are. Bring out the lat width and you have that wide “cobra” look to your back. Let’s not forget the legs with the dramatic thigh sweep and bulging calves. What bodybuilder wouldn’t want that? If you plan to compete, this is critical, even if all you want is a beach body, this is still important. For those smaller framed bodybuilders out there, creating the illusion of size allows you to compete against a bigger guy on more equal terms.

The areas to be concerned with, then, are the delts, primarily the side delts, the lats, the abs, the thighs and calves,while not neglecting any other areas. We’ll look at exercises that enhance width, you can add these to your current workouts ( I would not suggest replacing any of the key mass builders that also enhance thickness, like squats and dead lifts,these two exercises are too important to neglect) or use the suggested routines that appear later in this article.


The main exercise to enhance delt width are side laterals, these can be done with dumbbells or cables. You can do these one arm at a time, or with both arms. Cables allow for some variation as far as your body angle relative to the cable: you can stand with your back to the stack and pull straight out to your side, as in a dumbbell lateral, you can stand sideways and pull across your body, or standing sideways,you pull up and out to the side. Power partials are a good variation on regular dumbbell laterals, with these you warm up, go to a heavy weight and do partial range side laterals.

Wide grip upright rows are one of my favorite exercises for the side delts, they also hit the front delts and traps. To ensure balance among the three delt heads, and as a mass builder, I’d include a pressing movement – I like behind the neck presses despite all the negative press about them, I’ve been doing them since the early 80’s with no problems at all – but if they bother you, do military presses, and I’d include rear laterals for the often neglected rear delts.


Lat width is built by chins or pull-downs. There’s actually several types of chins although the terms chin up and pull up are often used interchangeably: The chin-up can be performed with the palms facing towards the body (i.e., with a supinated grip), with the palms facing away from the body (pronated grip), or gripping parallel bars (semi-supinated grip). The term pull-up is traditionally used when the exercise is performed with a pronated grip.Beginners who are not strong enough to perform a chin-up may make use of an assisted chin-up machine, where you stand on a bar with a counterweight to reduce the weight that you pull up. Another useful exercise for beginners is the negative chin-up, where you are assisted to the top position and execute a slow, controlled descent. I personally prefer these, you are much stronger in the negative phase of any exercise. I like to use these on exercises for all body parts as a means of increasing intensity and strength.

An alternative to the chin-up is, of course, lat pull downs. With this machine, it is far easier to increase the resistance above body-weight than with the chin-up. What I like about pull-downs are the numerous handle attachments you can use: a straight handle, a parallel grip handle, a V handle, a rope attachment. In both cases, it’s important to start the pull with your lats, never with your biceps. Think of your arms as hooks, pull with your lats, let the arms follow.

ABS- crunches are the order of the day here. Some oblique work is necessary, but you don’t want to over-develop them. What with today’s trend toward pot bellies with ab muscles, that gross “gh gut”, a well developed but tight mid-section can really stand out.

THIGHS – I would never neglect squats, they are to important of an exercise, but for the purpose of this article, I would add outer sweep exercises, such as narrow stance squats (or smith machine squats), narrow stance hack squats, and narrow stance leg presses.

CALVES – Critical for a complete, balanced physique. Exercises are primarily seated and standing calf raises, leg press calf raises and donkey calf raises.

I didn’t mention chest, hamstrings or arms, but these areas should obviously not be neglected. With the chest, balance is important, meaning you should focus on the upper chest to avoid that sagging look, the outer chest for a nice flare, and I would always include the flat bench press ( sometimes called the upper body squat) for overall mass. With arms, you have everybody hitting set after endless set of curls in hopes of building “big guns”. What they don’t realize is that the triceps accounts for 2/3 of your upper arm size, you should emphasize the lateral, or side head of the triceps without neglecting the other heads. Even though curls are the main mass builder for biceps, there’s more to biceps training then just the basic barbell curl, meaning intensity techniques as much as other exercises. With hamstrings, the idea is more one of balance than anything else, since they don’t really contribute to width.

Here are two routines utilizing these exercises and two split options:

One of my favorite splits is a 4 day, set up like this:
Day 1 – back, biceps, forearms, abs
Day 2 – chest, triceps, abs
Day 3 – rest
Day 4 – legs, abs
Day 5 – delts, abs
Day 6 – rest
Day 7 – rest

If you can use this, it’s a great choice because it allows a good balance of workout volume per workout day and it allows for good recovery.

Otherwise, if a 4 day does not work with your schedule, try this 3 day:

Day 1 – chest, back, abs
Day 2 – rest
Day 3 – legs, abs
Day 4 – rest
Day 5 – delts, arms, abs
Day 6 – rest
Day 7 – rest

In all my 25 years, I’ve never combined chest and back on the same day, and I’ve seldom combined arms on the same day, but I have to say, it’s a great split.

Even though we’re training for width, you should never neglect the core mass movements, they are included in the routines.

Routine # 1

Note: Even though I suggest warming up with 50% of your 1rm for 15 reps for most exercises, and then suggest adding weight for each remaining warm up set, I’m not suggesting a definite “pyramid” type progression. Do as many reps as you can for each warm up set, up to a max of 15 reps, then go right into your heaviest weight for your first working set. This type of approach is sometimes called a reverse pyramid, although my version is not as strict in terms of performing a exact number of reps for each set. The advantage of doing your first working set with your top weight for reps, as opposed to the standard “pyramid up” in weight finally hitting your top weight for the last set, is that you will be stronger for your first working set – you will lift more weight and will be able to train with more intensity – no way can you do this if you do 3 or 4 progressively tougher sets first.

4 day split
Day 1 – back, biceps, forearms, abs
Wide grip chins – 50 reps – do as many as you can, rest briefly, then keep going until you hit 50.
Bent rows – 2 warm up sets, 50% of your 1rm for 15 reps, add weight for each warm up set.
3 working sets, 8 reps
Wide grip lat pull-downs- 3 working sets, 8 reps
EZ curls – 2 sets,8 reps
Preacher EZ bar curls – 2 sets, 8 reps
Hammer dumbbell curls – 2 sets, 8 reps
Reverse curls – 2 sets, 15 reps
Crunches – 3 sets, 25 reps

Day 2 – chest, triceps, abs
Incline bench press – 3 warmup sets, 50% of your 1rm for 15 reps, add weight with each additional warm up set.
3 working sets, 8 reps
Flat bench press – 3 working sets, 8 reps
Incline flys – 3 working sets, 10 reps
Tricep push-down with your elbows flared wide to hit the lateral head – 2 sets, 8 – 10 reps
Tricep dips – 2 sets, 8 reps
EZ extension – 2 sets, 8 reps
crunches – 3 sets of 25 reps

Day 3 – rest

Day 4 – legs, abs
Squats, regular stance – 3 warm up sets, start with 50% of your 1rm for 20 reps
2 working sets, 8 reps
Squats, narrow stance – 3 sets, 10 reps
Hack Squats, narrow stance – 3 sets, 10 reps – I like barbell hack squats, but there are several great machines out there as well.
Leg curls – 3 sets, 12 reps
Standing calf raises – 2 warm up sets, 20 reps, 3 work sets, set # 1 – 25 explosive, quick sets, set # 2 – 25 slower, full range, squeeze and hold at the top reps, set # 3 – 15 reps, slow reps, non stop reps.
Seated calf raises – 3 sets, 25 reps, slow, controlled, up and down, no pausing.
Crunches – 3 sets, 15 reps

Day 5 – Deltoids, abs
Arnold press – 2 -3 warm up sets, 50% of your 1rm for 15 reps, add weight for each warm up set
2 working sets – 8 reps
Side laterals – 2 working sets, 8 – 10 reps
Rear laterals – 2 working sets, 8-10 reps
Wide grip upright rows – 2 working sets, 8-10 reps
I know upright rows have gotten a little bit of a bad rep, if you don’t want to use this movement, try wide grip shrugs instead.
crunches – 3 sets – 25 reps

Day 6 – rest

Day 7 – rest

This routine will build width while also using basic movements to help add overall size and, yes, thickness.

Routine # 2 – this is the 3 day split.

Day 1 – chest, back, abs
Incline bench press – 3 warm up sets, begin at 50% of 1 rm for 15 reps, add weight with each set,3 working sets, 8 reps
Flat bench press to neck, slighter wider grip than shoulder width, 3 sets – 8 reps
Incline flys, start at the lowest incline, raise it one level for each set, 3 sets – 8 reps
Dead lifts – 3 warm up sets, 50% of 1 rm for 12 reps, add weight with each set 2-3 sets, 8 reps
Negative wide grip chins – 10 -15 reps
Wide grip lat pull-down – 3 sets, 8-10 reps
Bent rows with a slightly wider than shoulder width grip – 3 sets ,8 reps
Crunches 3 sets, 25 reps

Day 2 – rest

Day 3 – legs, abs
Squats – 3 warm up sets, 50% of 1rm for 15 reps
2 work sets, 8- 10 reps
Narrow stance squats – 3 sets, 8-10 reps
narrow stance leg presses – 3 sets, 8-10 reps
Leg curls – 3 sets, 8-10 reps
Standing calf raises – 4 sets, 15- 25 reps, go for a deep burn.

Day 4 – rest

Day 5 – delts, arms, abs
Military press – 3 warmup sets, begin with 50% of your 1rm for 15 reps and add weight for each warm up set.
Side laterals – 3 sets, 8-10 reps
Rear laterals – 3 sets, 8-10 reps
Wide grip shrugs – 3 sets, 8 reps
Lying EZ extensions
EZ pullovers
EZ close grip press – 8-10 reps of each exercise
EZ curls – 3 warm up sets, 50% of 1rm for 12-15 reps
Seated EZ curls
Standing EZ curls
Reverse bent rows, narrow underhand grip – 8-10 reps each exercise.
Do 1-2 of these.
Reverse curls – 3 sets,15 reps
Crunches – 3 sets, 25 reps

Day 6 – rest

Day 7 – rest

This is a great routine for those with less time. In both routines, I would suggest training to a point of positive failure. I can’t see the point of stopping at a pre-determined number of reps if you can do more. Having said that, I do believe in cycling intensity – you should change your routine around every 4-6 weeks anyway, one way to do this, besides changing a few exercises, is to add intensity techniques, such as supersets, drop sets, rest pause, negatives, to name just a few. I would add one or two techniques at a time, then change to some different ones, you want to progressively increase your work over time and promote variety.

So there you have it, give this routine a try and see if you have problems getting through any doorways!

Vince DelMonte is the author of No Nonsense Muscle Building: Skinny Guy Secrets To Insane Muscle Gain found at www.VinceDelMonteFitness.comHe specializes in teaching skinny guys how to build muscle and gain weight quickly without drugs, supplements and training less than before.

Jim Brewster has over 30 years experience in bodybuilding and
is known internationally as an authority in the fitness field.
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