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...

11 Jul 2017

Training Intermediate
13 Mins

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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 people have with training their backs is that they just cannot feel the muscles working. This is partly due to not being able to visually see the muscles working but the majority simply comes from never learning how to establish a connection to those muscles.
 
And if you can’t feel them, it’s more than likely that your technique and execution needs work before embarking on building the perfect V taper.
 
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:

1. Partner or Wall 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 while contracting as hard as you can.
 
If you don’t have anyone around, you can easily do the same thing with your back against the wall by depressing the shoulder blades and then driving the elbows into the wall. For your lats, keep the elbows 1-2 inches off your torso and for your rear delts, position the elbows just under shoulder height.

2. Hold each rep in the peak contraction

If you can’t feel anything when performing your typical back exercises, start holding each rep at the top for 6 seconds. This was a favourite of Vince Gironda, who used this to build the neural connection to a muscle and improve the 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.
Peak Contraction

Which Exercises And Loading Parametres?

When training to maximise your V-taper, I like to split the training into three categories that create the overall desired look.
  1. Heavy, compound work
  2. Specialised shoulder 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 6 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.
 
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
  • Bench Press
  • Incline Bench Press
  • Dips
In addition, I would include a second vertical or horizontal exercise, but one which inherently allows less loading, such as:
  • One Arm Standing Shoulder Press
  • Arnold Press
  • Machine Shoulder Press
  • DB Chest Press
  • Incline DB Press
For the first category, I would keep the reps in the 6 to 8 rep range, and exercises in the second category I would keep it in the 8 to 12 rep range.
 
All of the above exercises will cover the lats, upper back and anterior deltoids extremely well but for that complete “capped” look we need to be a bit more strategic with our exercise selection, loading and frequency.

2. Specialised Shoulder Work

Even though the shoulders are relatively small muscles in comparison to the back, even just adding 1-2cm on each can drastically improve the overall look of your V taper. The problem here is that many people do not pay enough attention to the muscles that really make the biggest difference here, which are the rear and lateral heads of the deltoid.

The anterior deltoids get hit very hard in most training programs as they are virtually involved in all horizontal and vertical pushing exercises as mentioned above. 

Unfortunately, even though all of these exercises are going to grow your shoulders to some degree they don’t contribute to that wider look we are after. For this, you need to include lateral raises as this has been shown to be the best way to target this specific region of the shoulders. The following are the exercises we recommend and there is no need to select more than two variations at a time.


The rear delts don’t need as much attention as they do get hit with the majority of your back work, especially if you’re including recommended exercises such as pull ups, pulldowns and rows. Even still, adding in some extra isolation work will not only help in the overall look, but will also aid in keeping the shoulders healthy and robust. 


The rep ranges are best kept high with these sorts of exercises so aiming between 10-20 reps would be a very productive rep range while keeping injury risk low.

Performing 3-4 hard sets (taken 1-2 reps shy of failure) 2-3 times a week will work wonders for most. Don’t make the mistake of dedicating an entire shoulder day here (especially if you’re natural) as this will reduce the frequency at which you can stimulate while inducing a lot of unnecessary fatigue. Doing crazy tri sets and giant sets may look really cool and feel like you’re doing a lot but fundamentally, it’s just overkill!

It could also be worth placing these exercises very close to the start of your upper body days vs right at the end as you will simply get more out of them due to not being as fatigued. In fact, starting each session with lateral raises can not only stimulate your lateral delts more but it could also work as an activation exercise prior to starting your heavy pressing or pulling work. 

Example 1: Typical Upper Day

1. Any Pulldown/ Pull Up Variation 3-4 sets of 6-10
2. Any Vertical/Horizontal Press  3-4 sets of 6-10
3. Any rowing exercise 3-4 sets of 8-12
4. Any secondary vertical/horizontal pressing exercise 3-4 sets of 8-12
5. Any Pullover/ Stretch Movement 2-3 sets of 10-15
6A. Rear Delt Movement 3 sets of 12-15
6B. Side Lateral Movement 3 sets of 12-15

Example 2: Shoulder Specialised Upper Day 

1A. Side Lateral Movement 3 sets of 12-15
1B. Rear Delt Movement 3 sets of 12-15
2. Any Pulldown/ Pull Up Variation 3-4 sets of 6-10
3. Any Vertical/Horizontal Press  3-4 sets of 6-10
4. Any rowing exercise 3-4 sets of 8-12
5. Any secondary vertical/horizontal pressing exercise 3-4 sets of 8-12
6. Any Pullover/ Stretch Movement 2-3 sets of 10-15
 
The above are just examples of how one could structure their sessions but if you’re still building the base of your training, sticking to example 1 for your upper body days would be best but if you have been training productively for a long time, incorporating workouts that look like workout 2 could be very helpful.

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.
 
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.

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 anyone looking to improve their V taper, please share this article with them too.

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