Do you consider training for symmetry important? If not, you should. While everyone knows the importance of muscular size, definition, and getting lean in building an outstanding physique, symmetry is where it all either comes together or is lost. Having limbs, body parts, and even individual muscles all in balance with one another is what can truly take your physique to the next level.
You can’t start training for symmetry unless you first determine which body parts are lagging behind. While this seems like a fairly straightforward proposition, a through analysis of your body is likely more involved than you think. After all, you’ll want to compare:
Once you’ve done an exhaustive (and honest) assessment of your physique, it’s time to determine what needs improvement and setting about accomplishing it.
Figuring out which body parts to focus on when training for symmetry can only happen if you know what goals you’re striving for. Certain comparisons are common sense, specifically your left and right upper arm, forearm, thigh, and calf. Though even then, the measuring tape doesn’t always tell the whole story.
However, proper symmetry also requires that specific body parts be in specific proportion to one another. For instance, the legendary Steve Reeves felt ideal body symmetry could only be achieved if the neck, upper arms, and calves all measured the same.
Others believe that Leonardo da Vinci’s drawing of the Vitruvian Man embracing what has since been dubbed the “golden ratio” represents ideal symmetry. Without having to deep dive into an algebra lesson, the golden ratio is eased expressed as 1:1.618. This would mean that certain body parts followed these proportions. For example, a symmetrical physique would see its shoulder circumference measuring 1.618x that of its waist measurement.
Though there a handful of different formulas and definitions of “ideal symmetry” out there, a simple, yet attainable aesthetic set of measurements could be as follows:
Even if you meet the above measurements, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have a symmetrical physique. This is because depending on how you train, you could have muscular imbalances or unevenly developed body parts that still measured on point.
For instance, your shoulder circumference might be in line with the above measurements, which would have you thinking you’re good to go. However, a look in the mirror might show that you have overly developed anterior and side deltoids couple with underdeveloped posterior deltoids. This is a case where you may need to ease off on the front/side shoulder work for a while in favor of working the rear delts.
Similar instances could occur with the upper and lower pecs, upper and lower thighs, or the different heads of the biceps and/or triceps. This is why while training for symmetry, taking progress photos can be just as beneficial as noting changes in measurement.
If you’re training for symmetry and have entire lagging bodyparts (i.e. – your calves are way smaller than your upper arms), a specialization program might be in order. A specialization program is when you’d shift emphasis of your overall training regimen for 6-12 weeks or so. “Shifting emphasis” could mean adding extra workouts, training heavier, increasing volume, or incorporating new and/or different exercises.
Sometimes adding extra work to your program to bring up lagging body parts is the wrong approach. For instance, if your left upper arm is significantly smaller than your right, simply doing more sets of curls and/or triceps work with the left side might not be the answer. After all, how much extra work is “enough”? And if you’re already training arms thoroughly as it is, how do you add extra volume to the program without overtraining, burning out, or risking injury?
A better idea is to instead switch dominant body parts to a more of a maintenance routine. By doing “just enough”, you’ll ensure proper size and strength is kept, while keeping body parts that are behind on a more solid growth protocol.
When comparing body parts that should be equal in size or in proportion to one another, if one is too small, natural reaction is almost always going to be to increase the size of the smaller one. However, this isn’t always the appropriate strategy.
If training for symmetry is your primary goal, then you have to also take body composition into account. For instance, say your waist when measured at the navel was 38 inches and your shoulder circumference was 50 inches. Using the above ratio of 1.5x, that would infer that your shoulder circumference needs to be built up to 57 inches (38 x 1.5) – a substantial increase.
However, what if you’ve got a pretty high level of body fat to go along with that 38-inch waist? If you were to diet down to the point that your waist was only 32 inches while managing to only lose one inch off your shoulders, you’d be right in line with ideal symmetry (32 x 1.5 = 49; 50 – 1 = 49).
The point is that improving symmetry isn’t always about building up smaller body parts and/or maintaining more muscular ones. Instead, the better plan of attack could be a fat loss protocol that decreases measurements that were too big in the first place.
When you begin to emphasize training for symmetry, chances are you’re going to have multiple imbalances to improve. Because you might have more than one imbalance on the same body part, or simply just so many to improve at once, you’re going to have to prioritize which one(s) to target first.
For example, if your left upper arm is half an inch smaller than your right upper arm, but your calves are 1.5 inches smaller than your left upper arm, then that’s two imbalances you might be able to go after at the same time. Do unilateral arm work so as to put the right arm on maintenance mode while you continue building up the left. Meanwhile, you’re hitting a calves specialization program to bring them up as a whole.
On the other hand, let’s say you have the shoulder circumference and waist measurements described in the last section. You obviously will want to focus mainly on a fat loss protocol so as to bring the waist measurement down. However, if a look in the mirror reveals that your rear deltoid development is lagging way behind your front and side delts, that’s something that just might have to be put on the back burner until later.
When all is said and done, training for symmetry is as much about planning and analysis as it is the actual training itself. Be honest about your own measurements/development, and know what your goals are. Prioritize which ones to go for first, then determine if specialization programs, maintenance training, or even fat loss is best approach for you.