How to build an x-physique: do these things, not those things

Do some kind of chin-up every day. Never go to failure either. Slowly and steadily increase volume over time.

Don't avoid chin-ups in favor of rows. Chin-ups are difficult, I know, but most good things in life are. If your elbow is giving you problems do chin-ups with a neutral grip.

Do train your way into chin-ups if you can't do them. Start with bodyweight rows and work your way up to chin-ups. 

Don't say, “I can't do chin-ups.” You can, you just have to train for them with a proper progression.

Do your curls with a thick grip. Your biceps will grow, especially if you're skinny. And biceps can go a long way in creating a pleasing physique from the front. Fat Gripz work well for this. 

Don't toy around with curl variations; pick one or two and work with them over time. Heed the thick grip recommendation above. (Hint: barbell curls and hammer curls are the answer here.)

Wear shirts that fit tight around the neck. It de-emphasizes your lackluster upper chest. Just make sure they aren't so tight that they make your lower chest look C cup sized. (Unless you're a chick, in which case my phone number is…)

Don't wear loose clothing. Be picky here. Make sure you try your clothes on before buying them. They have to fit your body right. 

Focus on the muscles you want to grow, like the upper chest, the shoulders, the upper back, and the lats.

Don't focus on muscles you want to shrink. Because they probably won't shrink. Nothing's going to shrink your waist. It will grow as you grow. But you can grow your shoulders and lats to make your waist look smaller.

Do incline presses on a 30 degree incline. It will hit your upper chest best. A 45 degree incline shifts most emphasis to the shoulders. 

Don't flat barbell bench press. Unless you're a powerlifter, in which case, why the hell do you care about an x-physique?

Pick stuff up and put it overhead; this requires a lot of lifting on your own feet. Picking stuff up will make your back grow. Getting it into a position to press it overhead will make your upper back grow. Putting it overhead will make your shoulders grow. Are you seeing why this is important? 

Don't do a lot of things sitting down. Incline bench pressing. That's about it.

Do a lot of things where your hands support your body weight. Push-ups, chin-ups, dips, bodyweight rows, levers, handstands. (Gymnastics rings help.)

Don't let the bar be your only form of upper body resistance. Putting your bodyweight to use in challenging ways does wonders, especially if you're progressing to straight arm gymnastics ring work.

Front squat. It will hit the upper back in a unique way. 

Don't get fancy with leg exercises; the barbell is the solution. Squats. Pulls from the floor. That is all.

Pull with a snatch grip sometimes. This can be power snatches, snatch pulls, or snatch grip deadlifts.

Don't forget about conventional deadlifts. It's still the base pulling exercise. Get good at it before you dive into these advanced exercises.

Do barbell rows with your back parallel to the ground. You're going to be doing enough pulling with your body vertical. 

Don't ditch barbell rows in favor of dumbbell rows. Old timers used to barbell row on top of a box to get a full stretch at the bottom position. 

Do some Olympic lifting stuff without doing Olympic weightlifting. 

Don't do shrugs. You're better off doing another exercise that will contribute to something else too. Just do your deadlifts and finish with a shrug, like you would during a clean-snatch pull or a clean-snatch panda pull.

Get lean. 

Don't think you need to be 200 pounds to look good. Frank Zane — who many believe to have had the “best” physique — only weighed 185. And that was with performance enhancing drugs in his system. 

Overload chin-ups with sub-maximal volume. If you add one rep to the total amount of chins you can do every week, you'll be up 50 reps within a year. It won't happen, but it shows you the power of volume over time.

Don't overdo weighted chin-ups. One session per week at max. Your elbow will thank you for it.

Flare your elbows on your rows and use some oomph. Flaring your elbows will hit your upper back more. This is a good thing. Also use your legs a bit to get the weight moving. The upper body will be further overloaded by the increased weight you're using. Don't flop like a fish or anything, just use a controlled boost. 

Don't row with super strict form. No one that does is worth a salt. Learning how to create and use force with a little extra body movement is key in almost every lift. Why do you think old time Olympic pressers shifted their hips back and forth on the press?

Go train now. You won't get the physique you want reading articles online all day.

Trying to lose fat, build muscle, and build a body you’re proud of?

Maybe you’re a little lost right now.

Maybe you don’t have much motivation.

Maybe you don’t what program or diet to use.

I don’t know…

But what I do know is this:

Everything you need is inside of you.

You’re capable of more than know.

You just have to open your eyes.

My weekly column can help.

Just a small little honest note from me sent every Sunday.

Unless I’m hungover.

And then it comes Monday.

What I’m trying to say is that it’ll come Monday.

(These weekly columns don’t get posted to the site.)

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • chuck October 12, 2012, 1:55 pm

    what body part of yours do you feel is lagging?

    • Anthony October 15, 2012, 5:24 pm

      Uhm, I tend not to get finely tuned into body parts and I tend to go for overall “shape” more. I don’t think anything is lagging right now except for my entire body — I’d like to continue growing it in an equal proportion right now.

  • Mike October 12, 2012, 2:29 pm

    Great article!

    Why do you suggest only doing weighted chinups once a week?

    • Anthony October 15, 2012, 5:24 pm

      Because any more usually causes some elbow issues. They need some time to recover.

  • Rajat Desikan October 12, 2012, 3:00 pm

    Love the cliff’s notes template of the article. I was giving it a mental ‘check’ as I read along.
    I am sending you the pic of the painting with the olympus god tricking…I hope you will like it…

    • Anthony October 15, 2012, 5:24 pm

      Sweet. Didn’t get it yet.

      • Rajat Desikan October 16, 2012, 3:16 pm

        Sorry, sending it today…

        • Anthony October 17, 2012, 12:16 pm

          o rly?

  • Greg - Kinobody October 12, 2012, 6:27 pm

    Anthony your blog rocks! I’ve been really enjoying it. I am a fellow chin up lover! I have found as well that two heavy days of weighted chins is too much to recover from. I prefer to hit weighted chin ups once every four to five days. I am able to make the fastest progress with this frequency. Since building up to weighted chins with 110 lbs for 5 my lats have exploded. This is without any additional pulling movements.

    • Anthony October 15, 2012, 5:25 pm

      Yeah, they definitely help. And thanks for the kind words in addition to providing the body fat pictures!

  • Traindom October 13, 2012, 12:44 am

    I liked the style of the article. You didn’t number it, which helped with the flow. Great tips. It really got me thinking about just how plain graceful bodyweight movements really are. The other day I was watching this new series called Arrow (which airs on Wednesdays at 8 pm Eastern Time), and there’s this scene where Oliver Queen is doing some bodyweight work. I love barbells, but damn, bodyweight work can be straight up beautiful, haha, you know? There’s something about being able to manipulate your body in space that is so appealing and mystical. It may very well the same reason why I like anime shows. By the way, I highly recommend that series. It just started this week, so playing catch-up shouldn’t be too bad.

    I wish there were similar graceful lower body bodyweight movements. The closest I’ve seen to upper body bodyweight movements in that regard is the pistol.

    I absolutely agree with the angle of the incline pressing. At first, I thought that incline pressing at 30 degrees was lacking, so I jacked the the angle to 45 degrees. I didn’t like it. The emphasis shifted onto my shoulders and away my chest.

    I believe that clothes make a huge difference. Fit is king here. A shirt is more flattering when it fits your body. It can really highlight positive features, like a wide back. Excessive fabric hides your body and tight fabric can be really uncomfortable and make you look bad as well, e.g., visible nipples. The same principles apply to jeans, pants, etc. Focusing on fit can do absolute wonders when it comes to looking good. The better body one has, the better that clothes look on one, so one should definitely take advantage of this. This video is somewhat related: [youtube

    • Anthony October 15, 2012, 5:27 pm

      Thanks, I’ll check it out!

  • Traindom October 13, 2012, 12:45 am

    I don’t know if videos can be embedded here, but let me see: [youtube

  • Sondra October 13, 2012, 5:02 am

    Oh my goodness…. thank you so much for all your articles and advice!
    I have been having issues gaining muscle… and when i really got serious lifting i gained a little muscle and extra fat with it (well you already know how it goes) and my husband who has been trying to help me gain muscle is 100% mesomorph… so he is not much help lol
    so your blog has helped me so much….
    as a women, do you think there is much that I should tailor to your advice overall about training and diet?
    I already know that frequency is key for me… when i started doing pull ups every day i really started to develop my upper body… same with picking up heavy things and putting them over head.. lol thanks 🙂

    • Anthony October 15, 2012, 5:29 pm

      Sondra — training basically stays the same. Diet kinda does too, just a matter of adjusting the quantity. I write mostly for males here, so if you ever have any questions on how to alter something for a female, be sure to drop a question in the comments!

      • Sondra October 16, 2012, 4:08 pm

        Sounds great thanks… I have found it hard to find anything about building muscle that is actually targeted for women…. everything is about cardio and lifting only in the 12-15 rep range… not my style!
        As for diet, do you think women need more protein than men because it is harder for us to build muscle? 1.5 g of protein per lb of lean mass if I want to build muscle while keeping fat away?
        Also I think it is more important for women to incorporate cardio on a more regular basis as compared to men, do you agree?
        Thanks for your help 🙂

        • Anthony October 17, 2012, 12:18 pm

          1) Look into Girls Gone Strong, Nia Shanks, etc…
          2) No, protein isn’t the issue. It’s just the nature of the hormonal differences. Such is life.
          3) I don’t think it’s of any more importance, no. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be included.

  • Tom October 14, 2012, 7:28 am

    What split would you recommend to focus on building the x-physique?

    • Anthony October 15, 2012, 5:31 pm

      Tom, it’s less about the split and more about the exercises chosen and focal points. I should be throwing more out there in regards to this soon. In fact, very soon and A LOT of stuff. Keep your eyes open.

      • Siddharta October 19, 2012, 7:32 pm

        I look forward to that!

  • Matthew January 20, 2014, 4:09 am

    Hi Anthony, I’m really glad to have found your site as a classic skinny-fit that’s struggled for years. I can see you’ve put a lot of work into all of this and many people are going to really appreciate it and I’m sure: already do. It’s easy for skinny-fats to be mislead by people out there with completely different genetics and eventually just give up.

    I can do at max 13 chin-ups / 9 pull-ups. Would something like 5×6-8 reps spreadout daily with one day for weighted be ok? and maybe one day off?

    Do you also advocate doing any pressing movement (pushup or dip) daily?

    My weak part is really my arms and upper chest. Lats are actually ok, which only serves to make my arms look more stick like lol. I was pleased to read your thoughts on curling. I’d abandoned it early on but now think there is a place for a session or two a week, with fat gripz as you suggest.

    • Anthony January 22, 2014, 12:08 am

      See my posts on PLP + 40.

  • Aaron February 9, 2014, 11:20 pm

    Yo Anthony,

    Just discovered your website today and have been browsing for a good hour now. Just like to say, your website and advice is pretty awesome for those looking to get, just as you say, an aesthetic X physique.

    Too many people nowadays read articles and interviews with fitness models, bodybuilders and just your usual gym rat juicers and follow their advice to minute avail.

    Your advice is seriously perfect for someone looking to get aesthetic and in good shape, without having their whole life and mentality revolve around the ‘gym lifestyle’.

    I discovered this after moving away from that lifestyle myself and can safely say I’ll be sticking around.

    Not to mention you share my love for weighted chins! Know this is long and drawn out but thought I’d show me appreciation.

    Keep it up!!!

    • Anthony February 11, 2014, 6:02 pm

      Thanks man. I try.