Find Your Physique

With their dense, lean muscularity, today’s physique athletes are a throwback to bodybuilding’s Golden Era, when X-frames reigned supreme. Here’s how to eat, train and recover to look better in a pair of board shorts.
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Very few guys have the ability, let alone the desire, to step onstage and go toe to toe with elite-level bodybuilders carrying well over 200 pounds of mass at 4 percent body fat. And since the National Physique Committee (NPC) introduced men’s Physique as an active category in 2011, the competitive landscape has changed considerably. Finally, fitness-minded males see athletes onstage they can relate to and possibly even emulate.

A realistic, aesthetic physique to root for: It reminds us of the glory days when Frank Zane reigned in the world of bodybuilding. Speaking of attainable, if you want a body that resembles today’s top Physique pros and hearkens back to Zane, it’s time to start working toward that goal. In the following pages, we’ll outline what it takes to chisel out your own classic physique, right down to the rep, gram and calorie. With the road map so clearly drawn, you’ll finally see just how achievable a lean, muscular body can be.

Physique Training Principles

Successful Physique athletes pull their training protocols from a variety of disciplines. Developing muscle size and shape is paramount, so their workouts often look similar to bodybuilders’ routines. Yet they also want to display a fit, athletic look, as if they could step off the stage in their board shorts and go straight to the beach for a couple of hours of surfing, so many of their workout plans tend to include explosive movements and high-intensity cardio. These days, people go to the gym to achieve a wide range of goals simultaneously: size, strength, leanness, endurance, athleticism and functional fitness, to name a few. The Physique athlete is a shining example of this.

Training for Hypertrophy

When you want to maximize quality muscle mass, training each major muscle group with high volume (total number of sets) is key. That’s why a traditional bodybuilding split, where different bodyparts are trained on different days, is the way to go versus hitting more or less the full body in every session. Three to five exercises per muscle group per workout, three to four sets of each movement, is a solid recommendation. As for rep ranges, your best bet is to stay in the widely accepted hypertrophy window of anywhere from eight to 15 reps (and occasionally up to 20) per set.

Training forPower/Strength/Athleticism

While size, shape and overall aesthetics are of utmost importance in the Physique division, a fit, athletic look with sleek lines is favored over a blocky, muscle-bound appearance. This is where Olympic lifting, plyometrics and other explosive movements come into play on a regular (weekly) basis. Developing muscular power translates directly to strength, and even indirectly to size, as you’ll be able to lift more weight for more reps to overload your muscles. There’s a reason Olympic-style lifts and power exercises like box jumps have become popular in the last decade or so: They help achieve myriad goals, from the aesthetic to the functional.

Training for Leanness

Long, slow sessions on the treadmill, stationary bike and/or elliptical still have their place for burning calories and shedding body fat, but high-intensity interval training (HIIT) has become the king of cardio as of late. The general premise of a HIIT workout is simple: Go hard (sprint) for a short bout, then go easy, and repeat for anywhere from four to 25 minutes. The intense nature of these brief but grueling routines has proven to be a much more efficient way to burn fat than low-intensity cardio.

“I do HIIT sessions two to three times a week for 15 to 25 minutes while in a muscle-building phase,” says NPC Physique competitor and Dymatize athlete Jared Groff. “During contest prep, I extend those HIIT sessions to 30 minutes and add in two to three steady-state cardio workouts of 45 to 60 minutes, adjusting week by week depending on how fast my body is cutting.”

Physique Training Program 

The training split and sample workouts you see here are recommended and actually followed by elite Physique competitor and personal trainer Jared Groff. Follow this program for eight weeks for maximum results. Perform five to 10 minutes of dynamic warm-ups followed by specific warm-up sets, as outlined.

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Bodyweight moves increase total workout volume.

Bodyweight moves increase total workout volume.

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Doing a wide variety of rows is crucial to building upper-back depth and detail.

Doing a wide variety of rows is crucial to building upper-back depth and detail.

Hammer curls train the brachialis, which helps elevate the height of your peaks.

Hammer curls train the brachialis, which helps elevate the height of your peaks.

Squats not only add leg size but also help send your metabolism soaring.

Squats not only add leg size but also help send your metabolism soaring.

Day 5: Pump Day

Choose from any of the previous workouts to attack lagging areas. “I focus on back and one other bodypart for most of the workout, but I make sure to get a full-body pump,” says Groff. “this takes just 45 minutes.”

Day 6: Explosive Day

“This workout constantly changes in order to challenge the body,” says Groff. “I typically use exercises such as barbell cleans, deadlifts and box jumps (lifting/power); broad jumps, lunge jumps and squats (plyometrics); and sprints, stairs and skips (cardio).” For explosive moves, keep total volume low and rest high. Select three to five moves and perform three to five sets of three to five reps with up to three minutes of rest.

Physique-Building Nutrition

Chicken-Breast

The underlying nutritional principles for attaining a competition-caliber physique revolve around building as much muscle as possible while staying superlean. There’s a fine line between eating too much and losing muscle definition and eating too little and sacrificing mass, but with a solid plan, attention to detail and a little discipline you can find a happy medium.

It all starts with protein, since building muscle and then keeping it is job one. Carbohydrate and dietary fat intake often fluctuates depending on the individual and the particular phase he’s in, whether mass building or leaning out. “Macronutrient needs change depending upon the athlete’s size, age, metabolic capacity and level of body composition,” says Groff.

David Morin, ACE-certified trainer, fitness cover model and owner of Morin Fitness (getmorinfitness.com), has a specific macronutrient breakdown that helps keep him extremely lean but also muscular: “The ratio that works for me Monday through Saturday is 60 percent protein, 25 percent fat and 15 percent carbs,” he says. “Then on Sunday I carb-load and don’t really track anything. When it comes to diet, I’m very focused on packing as many nutrients into a lower-calorie diet as possible.”

Sample Physique Meal Plan

Here’s a typical hard-training day of in-season eating for Groff; on rest and cardio-only days he would drop his carbohydrate intake considerably. As a sponsored athlete, he uses Dymatize supplements exclusively where protein powders, mass-gainers and pre-workouts are listed. Feel free to substitute your favorite brands here.

Meal 1:

  • 7 Egg Whites
  • 1/2 cup oat meal (dry measure) mixed with water and...
  • 3-4 scoops mass-gainer powder

873 calories, 90 g protein, 108 g cabs, 9 g fat

Meal 2:

  • 2 scoops whey protein powder
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons natural peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup sliced apples

395 calories, 56 g protein, 16 g carbs, 12 g fat

Meal 3:

  • 6-8 ounces chicken breast
  • 4-6 ounces sweet potato or 1 cup brown rice
  • 1 cup mixed greens

400 calories, 51g protein, 48 g carbs, 0 fat

Meal 4:

  • 2 scoops whey protein powder
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons natural peanut butter

360 calories, 56 g protein, 7 g carbs, 12 g fat

Meal 5:

  • 6-8 ounces white fish or chicken breast
  • Green salad with: 1 tablespoon vinegar, 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 cup mixed greens

362 calories, 40 g protein, 1 g carbs, 22 g fat

Meal 6:

  • 6 egg whites OR 1 1/2 scoops casein protein powder

96 g, 24 g protein, 0 carbs, 0 fat

Preworkout (30 minutes before training)

  • 1 serving pre-workout product
  • 25 grams liquid carbs (glycogen supplement)

100 calories, 0 protein, 25 g carbs, 0 fat

Postworkout (immediately after training)

  • 2 scoops whey protein powder
  • 50 grams liquid carbs (glycogen supplement)

408 calories, 50 g protein, 52 g carbs, 0 fat

Approximate Daily Totals: 2,995 calories, 367 grams protein, 258 grams carbs, 55 grams fat