Women’s Physique & Bikini Training Series: How To Maximise Your V-Taper

Women’s Physique & Bikini Training Series: How To Maximise Your V-Taper

To achieve a winning 'V' taper you need to have three things...

Akash Vaghela Akash Vaghela · 11 Jul 2017

Training Advanced
15 Mins

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In this three-part series, we’re going to break down the best ways for women to approach training these their glutes and working on their V-taper, starting today with the latter.

What Is The V-Taper? 

The V-taper refers to when the upper body takes the shape of the letter V with wide shoulders and lats finishing with a small waist.

To achieve a winning V taper, we need to have three things:
  1. Well developed lats and upper back
  2. Wide and capped shoulders
  3. Low body fat
If you’re dieting with the right guidance, number 3 should be a given. But number 1 and 2 less so, as this is what requires real work and time.

The problem with dieting so regularly is you never allow your body to have extended periods of muscle gain, which is ultimately when you can make improvements to your physique.

When you’re eating in a deficit and doing lots of cardio, chances of you putting on muscle are pretty much zero, so it’s critical that when you implement the advice in these articles, it’s done with a small surplus in calories.

Upper Back / Lats

The biggest problem many women have with training their backs is that they just can’t feel it.

And if you can’t feel it, no exercise, set or rep scheme will make it grow.

Rule number one in building up any body part is that you must be able to feel it before you apply progressive overload.

If this sounds like you, the first thing we need to do is establish a strong mind-muscle connection to your back, especially the lats. These are the muscles that when well developed, will improve your V-taper from front, back and side, and allow you to hit poses you otherwise wouldn’t be able to typically pull off (without looking stringy).

Here are two strategies you can immediately inject into your training:
  • Partner Assisted Activation
What you’re going to do here is stand with your back facing to someone else. With your partner’s hand towards the bottom of your triceps, you’re now going to depress your shoulder blades and move your elbow back. As you push back against your partner’s hand (who will match your resistance), you should feel your lat activate. Hold this for 6 seconds and repeat for 3-4 reps each side.
  • Hold each rep in the peak contraction
If you can’t feel anything when performing your typical back moves, start holding each move at the bottom for 6 seconds. This was a favourite of Vince Gironda, who used this to build the nerve impulses to a muscle and improve mind-muscle connection in the back.

After a few weeks of using these techniques, you should feel an increased recruitment in your back across all exercises.

Now this is when you shift your focus to progressive overload, and getting strong as possible.

If you want to improve your physique, you NEED to focus on improving strength across all rep ranges. This isn’t something that only applies to men, as many women think.

In fact, I’d venture to say it’s even more important for women, simply because of their inherently weaker hormonal structure for muscle building. Women have less room for error, so need to be super focused on their training progressions to make improvements.

Shoulders

The two reasons why I see many women fail in building their shoulders are that they’re too weak overhead, and they spend far too long doing only isolation exercises with no real intensity.

Isolation work is critical for shoulder development; you need a healthy amount of raises in different directions. However, to make shoulder isolation work effective, I’ve found that it needs to be 1/ performed in superset/circuit fashion and 2/ with constant tension.

Which Exercises And Loading Parametres?

When training to maximise your V-taper for women, I like to split the training into three categories that I make sure are ticked off by the end of the week:
  1. Heavy, compound work
  2. High rep / isolation work
  3. Strongman exercises
To structure this work, I typically either split it so we do the heavy work at the start of the week, and the higher rep/isolated and strongman work towards the end.

Or, we work through each within each session, in the order written above.

Both work, and ultimately it depends on your preference and training split.

1. Heavy, Compound Work

This should be thought of as your bread and butter work. The basic compound lifts you use in your training with only one goal in mind: to get strong.

For the upper back and lats, nothing beats the chin-up in my opinion, especially if you’re a woman who struggles on this. The improvements I’ve seen in women’s backs from increasing their chin-up numbers always amazes me.

If you can’t do any at the moment, read this. If you can do a few, and want to rapidly increase your numbers, read this. Either way, I consider both mandatory reading!

In addition to the chin-up and their variations, I’d advise picking a few rowing exercises that you enjoy and can perform with good back activation.

Some of my favourites are:
  • Bent Over Rows
  • Chest Supported DB Rows
  • One Arm Deadstop Dumbbell Rows
While I’ll expand on it further in the glute article, a deadlift variation will be important here too.

I would keep the reps in the 4 to 10 rep range for these exercises, performing 3 to 4 sets of each, and resting for as long as you need to do another set at a high intensity (which for many women won’t be long, you recover quick!).

For shoulders, I’d pick any pressing exercise from the following:
  • Seated or Standing Military Press
  • Seated or Standing Dumbbell Overhead Press
  • Seated or Standing Press Behind the Neck
In addition, if you’re not doing much flat/incline pressing (which isn’t always necessary for female competitors), I would include a second overhead movement, but one which inherently allows less loading, such as:
  • One Arm Standing Shoulder Press
  • Arnold Press
  • Machine Shoulder Pres
For the first category, I would keep the reps in the 4 to 8 rep range, and exercises in the second category I would keep it in the 6 to 10 rep range.

So our heavy day in the first phase of training could look something like this:

1A. Any Heavy Overhead Movement 4×6-8
1B. Any Chin Up Variation (or progression working towards it) 4×6-8
2A. Any Secondary Overhead Movement 3×8-10
2B. Any Rowing Movement 3×8-10
3A. Any Triceps Compound Exercise 3×8-10
3B. Any Pulldown or Rowing Movement (depending which needs more work) 3×8-10
4 Any Shoulder Prehab/Rehab Work 3-5 sets

2. High Rep/ Isolation Work 

There are a few reasons why higher rep, isolation pump work is more applicable to building a V taper than when trying to emphasise other body parts.

The main one being that the shoulders are very fragile and unstable, and given the complexities of its joint function, it can become easy to become unbalanced and get injured. The shoulders are also highly fatigue resistant, and because of their ability to perform so many actions, they thrive on isolated and high time under tensions.

If you only do the heavy compound lifts for the shoulders, you risk developing these imbalances and actually risk not directly loading them much (given the major role the triceps and to a lesser extent the upper chest in many shoulder pressing moves).

That’s why I love using supersets, trisets and circuits with multiple angles when trying to develop the shoulders, as well as trying to make them more resistant to injuries.

On a shoulder pump day, I like to pick exercises from three categories:
  • Rear Delt Variations, e.g. incline rear delt fly, cable rear delt flies, rear delt swings, face pulls etc.
  • Side Lateral Variations, e.g. cable lateral raise, dumbbell incline lateral raise, lean away lateral raises etc.
  • Modified Press Variation, e.g. Scott press, Bradford press, half rep machine presses
I don’t think women need direct front delt work in the form of front raises etc. for a better V-taper; we want side and rear delt development, not frontal.

When putting together these workouts, the choices are endless. A simple progression I like to use phase to phase is to start with straight sets, then go to supersets, trisets, and finally giant sets. As the ability to contract and maintain constant tension on the delts improves, the extended set methods will become more beneficial.

Remember, the goal on these days isn’t max loading. It’s about creating as much of a pump as possible, and flooding the muscles with blood and lactic acid.

For the upper back and lats, it’s a bit more simple. If on our heavy day we trained in the 4 to 10 rep range, on our lighter day, we just shift this to 8 to 15 reps.

In terms of exercise selection, the only consideration for this day would be to limit lower back loading. As we loaded heavy early in the week with deadlifts and possibly bent over rows, opting for more machines and supported exercises works better on this day.

I would pick exercises from three categories on this day:
  • An overhead pulling variation. Unless you’re very proficient in chin-ups, I’d probably choose a pulldown variation here.
  • A high rowing movement. We want to focus on flaring the elbows a bit more on this day when rowing so we can get into the upper back a little more. Exercises like chest supported, machine and cable rows all performed a little higher than normal work well.
  • A stretch type movement. I really think a limiting factor in many people’s lat training is the lack of flexibility in the shoulder, and not training in that extreme range. Something like a pullover, or a Gironda stretch row, or even just an extreme stretch as explained here are all suitable options. These should be performed slow and deliberately, with a focus on really opening up the shoulders.
If we put the second day together so far, it could look something like this for a girl a few phases in:

1. Any Pulldown Variation 3-4 sets of 8-12
2. Any High Row Variation 3-4 sets of 10-15
3. Any Pullover/ Stretch Movement 2-3 sets of 10-15
4A. Rear Delt Movement 3 sets of 12-15
4B. Side Lateral Movement 3 sets of 12-15
4C. Modified Press Variation 3 sets of 8-12
5. High Rep Press 2-3 sets of 12-20

You’ll notice that I’ve used a more straight set approach on this day compared to day 1, where I opted for antagonistic supersets.

On this day, we want to keep a localised pump in the area, and use incomplete rest periods.

On day one, the goal is max loading, so instead of doing a set and resting 2-3 minutes before going again, I’ve paired it with the opposing muscle to save time and shorten the rest periods.

There’s nothing magical about doing it that way, I just know from experience women hate resting that long during their training!

3. Strongman Work

After the higher rep work in the back and shoulders, all that’s left to do is some strongman work.

This might come as a little bit of a surprise addition, but I genuinely feel that strongman work, in particular weighted carries like farmer’s walks and overhead carries are far too underrated for back and shoulder development.

I’ve found it’s best to place these at the end of the workout when the back and shoulders are already fatigued, and your mind-muscle connection is enhanced.

I typically choose between either a farmer’s walk or overhead carry. If the former, I like to cue ‘pushing out’ on the dumbbells so they’re not by your sides, and almost in a partial lateral raise position. This way we’ve got constant tension in the areas we want to target. It’ll also limit the load and make the movement less ‘trap-heavy’, which is something we don’t want to target in women.

To programme it, the best way I’ve found is to go for time, somewhere between 40 and 60 seconds. I typically programme 3 to 5 sets, with one minute rest periods to finish the workout.

Another option that I’m a fan of is to add it into the isolated shoulder circuits. The lactic acid build up from this is insane.

Conclusion

Building an awesome V taper takes time and effort. While you can’t control your structure (those with wide clavicles and small hips will always have a better taper), you can focus your training efforts to make the best of your body.

By progressively training your upper back, lats and shoulders through a wide variety of rep ranges, coupled with the right food intake, you should be well on your way to achieve the taper that makes you stand out in front of judges.

If you have any questions, as ever, please don’t hesitate to ask. If you know of any women looking to improve their V taper, please share this article with them too.

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for part 2 on glutes!
Akash VaghelaAkash Vaghela

Akash Vaghela has spent 10+ years transforming bodies and lives around the world, and in May 2017, founded RNT Fitness to serve this purpose. His vision is to see a world transformed, where ambitious high performers experience the power of the physical as the vehicle to unlock their real potential. He’s the author of the Amazon best-selling book Transform Your Body Transform Your Life, which explains his unique and proven five-phase methodology, is host of the RNT Fitness Radio podcast, has been featured in the likes of Men’s Health and BBC, whilst regularly speaking across the world on all things transformation.

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