These days, thanks to the glut of poor workout advice and hulking, freakish bodybuilders, it almost seems like the art of building a killer physique has been long forgotten.
Many people think it requires fancy, “magical” workout routines, grueling soreness and pain, 9 meals and 5,000 calories per day, and a laundry list of snake oil supplements.
The reality is they’ve missed the forest for the trees, lost in the minutiae of protein timing, supplementation, and fancy workout routines and tactics, failing to realize that none of it will solve the riddle of why they’re not making the progress they should be.
The truth is, the most powerful driver of total body muscle growth is total body strength. And the reason you haven’t built the physique you want, is probably because, well, you’re weak.
Don’t hate me yet–I’m a loving tyrant–but one look around a commercial gym tells me that these days, most of us don’t even know what strong is anymore.
Well, I’m here to set the record straight and outline what real total body strength is, the exercises that build it, and why it’s the key to building an awesome male physique.
It’s hard to define what solid strength is when most people in the gym are following routines designed to make them weak.
Moreover, those that are strong tend to have absolute strength, which doesn’t take into account their body weight. That is, they can lift plenty of weight, but when when you factor in their bodyweight, it’s far from impressive.
Real strength is how much you can lift, proportionate to your bodyweight. This is known as relative strength.
By focusing on building relative strength, you’re forced to become efficient in your workouts and in building your physique. You have to strip off any excess body fat and build serious, dense, and powerful muscle without turning into an amorphous blob.
A great example of individuals with high amounts of relative strength are professional gymnasts. And look at their physiques–absolutely unbelievable!
Gymnasts have to develop incredible relative strength to maneuver their bodies the way they do, and we can see how effective it is for building impressive amounts of muscle and definition.
Fortunately, though, you don’t need elite genetics and you don’t have to spend a decade on the rings and pommel horse to follow in their physical footsteps.
Instead, you can utilize the effectiveness of weightlifting to focus on building relative strength and get very, very strong while also maintaining low levels of body fat, and you’ll build the type of body that sends tongues wagging.
Every day I hear from dozens of guys complaining that they simply can’t build muscle no matter what they do in the gym or how many calories they eat. And the most common “problem areas” are the chest, shoulders, and arms.
My answer is almost always the same: if you want to get bigger, you need to get stronger.
I’ve never seen a guy repping out 120 lbs dumbbells on the incline bench and then complaining that his chest doesn’t grow. Nor have I seen a guy doing weighted pull ups with a couple of plates dangling off the belt that didn’t have a world class back.
Your shoulders won’t grow? Work up to your bodyweight on the standing overhead press for 6-8 reps and I guarantee you’ll have a serious case of capped delts.
The message here is simple: your muscles need a good reason to be well developed, dense, and powerful. So give them one!
Doing 200 reps per workout is not a good enough reason. Progressive overload is, and that means adding weight to the bar over time. Work your way up to “godlike” strength and get under 10% body fat, and lo and behold, you’ll also be rocking a godlike physique. I guarantee it.
I’m talking the type of strength that makes the juiced up bodybuilders want to know how the hell you got so strong. That makes you physically capable to handle just about any situation you might find yourself in.
So that’s the goal. Let’s learn how to get there.
When we boil it down, a truly great physique requires three things: a V-shaped back, round powerful shoulders, and a well-developed chest, with particular emphasis on upper-chest development.
What about the legs, you ask?
Well, building muscle and adding muscle to the lower body is much, much easier than the upper body. Your legs are the largest muscle group in your body and they respond very quickly to exercises like heavy squatting and deadlifting.
In fact, many guys are at risk of adding too much size to their lower body to the point where it detracts from their physiques.
There’s a point where the legs just get too big–jeans of any cut no longer fit, your thighs are constantly rubbing together, and your quads are starting to look like tree trunks. Too much mass in your legs and butt just draws people’s attention downward and skews your upper body ratios.
You often see this in guys following weightlifting programs that emphasize the lower body with several sessions of lower body work per week.
Now, I’m not saying you should neglect your leg training–dress legs are far from attractive–but you’re going to build sleek, proportionate, and powerful legs doing a simple legs workout built around heavy squatting far quicker than you’re going to achieve the awe-inspiring upper body that you want.
And this is why, when building an awesome physique is your number one goal, you can get away with focusing on the legs a little less than your upper body training. So, with that out of the way, let’s talk about the three upper body exercises that really get the job done…
It’s no secret that, in men, the shoulder-to-waist ratio is a fundamental, almost primal agent of attraction.
Well, the key to developing a great shoulder-to-waist ratio is developing your lats, and I know of no better way to do this than weighted pull-ups and chin-ups.
These simple movements are almost mystical in their ability to build strong, muscular backs and biceps. At this point, I’ve actually had to drop my back work down to one set per week because any more back development and I’ll have to get all my clothes custom made.
Whenever someone complains to me that they can’t grow their back, I ask them how many chin-ups they can do… with 100 pounds hanging from their waist. And they usually just stare at me like I’d asked how many people they’ve killed.
Weighted pull-ups and chin-ups do more than just build a back–they also build downright freakish pulling strength. This is why chin-ups and pull-ups are a favorite among wrestlers, martial artists, and military professionals.
Notice I keep saying weighted chin-ups. That’s key. And you have to learn to embrace the heavy. When you get to the point where you can do triple digit weighted chin-ups (100+ lbs), you’ll be able to throw people around like rag dolls.
In fact, when I was training heavily in Brazilian Jujitsu, I often had to fight guys far more skilled and technically savvy than me, but because I had so much pulling strength, they simply couldn’t tap me out. I had enough technique and intuition to avoid the inescapable locks, and from there, I could simply overpower them. This is why many mixed martial arts fighters focus so heavily on building raw strength. It makes that much of a difference.
The bottom line is if I were to choose just one exercise to get really strong at, weighted chin-ups would be it.
The incline press develops a masculine square-like chest. If you want the type of pecs that look like armor plates, then you want to get strong on your incline press. End of story.
This great little exercise also does a beautiful job filling in the muscle at the top of your chest (the “upper chest”), which prevents the “bottom-heavy” pec and creates the line down the center of your chest that just looks fantastic.
Yet another benefit of the incline press is it tends to be easier on the rotator cuff, which can become the bane of guys that only focus on getting strong on the flat bench.
This is probably because whether you’re pushing someone away, pushing a car, or throwing a punch, your arms usually project slightly upward. Real-world pressing usually occurs at a slightly upward angle.
My go-to shoulder press movement is the barbell standing press because it requires you to have both powerful shoulders and triceps and a rock solid core and incredible stability.
This exercise was a favorite among the old-school weightlifters notorious for extremely strong, balanced, and proportionate physiques, and it’s still considered one of the best tests of a man’s overall strength.
The overhead press can be tricky at first–you need to get used to keeping your elbows locked in (resisting the urge to flare them outward), and you need to learn to create a stable base to press off of by keeping your heels close together and bracing your butt and abs hard–but once you get the technique, you can use it to get very, very strong.
Moreover, standing presses build a type of real-world strength that you just don’t want to mess with. The ability to maintain solid balance and stability while generating large amounts of upward force is a big part of “superhuman” athleticism and functionality.
Make no mistake, though–the standing press is the deadlift of upper body exercises. It delivers fantastic results in the way of shoulder growth, but it’s brutally hard.
If you want to build a godlike male physique, you will need to get very, very strong on the three movements outlined above.
If you did that and supplemented with enough leg work to maintain your proportions, you’ll wind up with the perfect amount of muscle for your stature. Combine that with 6-10% body fat (men only–16-20% for women) and congratulations, you now look like a Greek god.
Staying lean isn’t just for looking good, though, because relative strength means that the more you weigh, the more you have to be able to lift. And as fat doesn’t have a direct impact on strength, too much of it just holds you back.
The bottom line is high amounts of relative strength also implies a great body composition and a great physique–lots of muscle and not a lot of fat.
If you don’t know how to reach single-digit body fat percentages, don’t worry–it’s no more complicated than the training principles I’m outlining here. And you can even do it while building strength.
So, let’s get to the strength goals to shoot for. If you build up to the godlike level on all three movements, and get lean, you’re going to look incredible and have more strength and power than you will know what to do with.
Good – 45% of bodyweight attached for 5 reps
Great – 60% of bodyweight attached for 5 reps
Godlike – 75% of bodyweight attached for 5 reps
Good – 115% of bodyweight for 5 reps
Great – 130% of bodyweight for 5 reps
Godlike – 145% of bodyweight for 5 reps
Good – 80% of bodyweight for 6 reps
Great – 90% of bodyweight for 6 reps
Godlike – 100% of bodyweight for 6 reps
If you’re a little flabbergasted, I understand. Those are some serious milestones.
As a matter of fact, I’ve surpassed each of those myself and have helped countless people do the same. Whether it was my personal coaching clients or people following my Greek God Program, it can be done.
What would an article like this be without a workout routine to follow?
Well, I want to share the exact routine I’ve used to build freakish strength and what many people say is an incredible physique. It’s low volume and heavy in nature, but combine it with a proper diet plan and don’t be surprised if you set PRs week after week.
Not only that, but as you start adding 20, 30, 40+ lbs onto your key movements, your physique will fill out beautifully. You’ll hardly believe the results that such a simple and minimalist routine can provide.
I don’t have enough words to explain the entire reasoning behind every aspect of this workout, but there is a method to the madness.
What you’ll notice is that each workout is being performed every 4-5 days, which gives your muscles and the local neurons that fire those muscles enough time to recover.
By hitting key movements every 4-5 days, you can maximize strength and muscle gains.
Another unique aspect of the workouts is the reverse pyramid setup, which has you perform your heaviest set first, followed by progressively lighter sets. This will allow you to lift considerably heavier weights than a traditional pyramid structure.
Lifting your heavy weights first can also enable your body to recruit more muscle fibers on the subsequent sets, meaning you’ll be able to lift more weight for the higher rep ranges, which is key for maximizing their potential for hypertrophy.
One other “fancy” aspect to this otherwise KISS style of training is a “rest pause set,” which is one where I want you to do 12-15 reps followed by 4 mini sets of 3-5 reps with the same weight, with 10-15 seconds rest between sets.
Alright then…to the workouts!
Incline Barbell Bench Press: 3 sets of Reverse Pyramid Training (RPT) (4-6, 6-8, 8-10)
Standing Barbell Press: 3 sets of RPT (4-6, 6-8, 8-10)
Skull Crushers: 3 sets of RPT (6-8, 8-10, 10-12)
Lateral Raises: Rest Pause Style
Weighted Pull-ups or Chin-ups: 3 sets of RPT (4, 5, 6)
Incline DB Curls: 3 sets of RPT (4-6, 6-8, 8-10)
Sumo Deadlifts or Power Cleans: 2 sets of RPT (3, 4)
Bulgarian Split Squats: 2 sets of RPT (6-8, 8-10)
Train three days per week, on non-consecutive days, alternating between Workout A and Workout B, like this:
Monday: Workout A
Wednesday: Workout B
Friday: Workout A
Then, the next week, do workout B twice and A once.
Rest a full three minutes in between sets.
When you hit the top end of the rep range for all three sets, increase the weight on all three sets the following workout, which will bring you to the bottom of the range.
Micro-load your weighted pull-ups or chin-ups by adding 2.5 lbs to the belt each workout. When doing this causes you to start losing reps, stay with your weight, switch the grip from pull-ups to chin ups or vice versa, and work up to the top of your rep ranges.
Record your weight, body fat percentage, and numbers on each lift each and every week, and if your weight and strength are going up, you’re building muscle.. Depending on what you’re doing with your diet, you can expect to gain some body fat along the way, but I recommend you keep it to a minimum.
Remember that there’s no reason to eat like a horse and get sloppy fat on a muscle-building program. You can gain strength and muscle at or slightly above your total daily energy expenditure, and doing it this way keeps you lean.
You also need to know that adding 15 to 20 pounds of muscle, or more, is a slow process, even when you’re doing everything right. The most a natural weightlifter who’s brand new can hope for is a couple of pounds of muscle per month, and the more experienced the weightlifter, the smaller this number gets.
So don’t get too obsessive about your weight on the scale or reflection in the mirror. It takes a few years to go from “normal” to “godlike,” but don’t despair because once you’re there, it’s easy to maintain for the rest of your life.
Just focus on building that relative strength and on slowly increasing your body weight while keeping your body fat levels low, and you’ll not only kick major ass, you’ll also save tons of time and effort that would have been otherwise been wasted on ineffective workouts and diets.
Gregory O’Gallagher is the creator of the Greek God Program and founder of kinobody.com. He teaches men how to build proportionate muscle and achieve low levels of body fat by lifting three days per week, eating incredibly satisfying meals every day, and reveling on weekends.