T Nation

Genetics, Bodybuilding, and Shoulder Width


I was wondering what you guys thought about genetics in terms of proportions. Specifically: clavicle length, shoulder width, waist, etc.

Is it possible for one to achieve an imposing frame if they have poor genetics in the clavicle department?

How does one create the illusion of a tapered waist and broad shoulders?

I am curious as to what everyone else thinks.


That would depend on how poor those genetics are.

Yes, it is possible to build an imposing frame...however you are posting pictures of guys at the elite level...and that level, no one is that poor in that department.

I was a skinny kid with small shoulders. They are a stand out body part now but I was not lacking in clavicle width to any abnormal degree.

Phil heath has narrow clavicles and I would guess most think he is "imposing".


Well, "genetics" when it comes from bodybuilding has a lot more to do than just clavicle width.

One can have narrow clavicle but a genetic predisposition for being able to build a lot of muscle for example.

Now, to answer your question. I have a narrow clavicle myself and I developed a pretty decent physique. Same thing with one of my clients, IFBB pro bodybuilder Pat Bernard (image attached). Pat has a bad structure for bodybuilding; narrow clavicle, fairly wide hips, very long torso. He was able to do very well by building his delts a lot and having great abs.

Heck, even Phil Heath (Mr.Olympia) was criticized for having a narrow clavicle!!! If you build your delts big enough, you can create a v-shape illusion even if you have a narrow clavicle. But it might take a big longer than if you are advantaged in the width department.



This is an article I wrote. Look at the Dorian Yates pre-training picture... obviously he wasn't training and not "taking anything" but he is still a fully grown adult and you can see that his clavicle is not wide at all.


Shit, I can beat that "nerd pic".


PX - In your own personal experience, how did you lift to achieve your shoulders? Did they just start popping out when you started lifting or did you have to hammer them and really focus on them specifically to get them to grow? What would you recommend to anyone else looking to achieve large shoulders?

CT - Thanks. That makes a lot of sense. And wow. That is one hell of a transformation by Yates.


I can't find that pic of me with the glasses and the string bean arms right now, but I was way smaller than Yates was looking.

It took concentrating on really putting size on all over and getting my weight up.

I have wide hips also, so I knew from the start if I wanted the illusion of any kind of v taper, I had to build up my shoulders, back and quads more.

It took a long time, but they are now one of my most stand out body parts.

Twice a week training and a shit load of food and patience is how you build soccer ball shoulders.


Awesome. Thanks for the answers, PX. Really appreciate it.


I've always felt that people give too much credit to using poor genetics as an excuse. Everyone obviously has genetics gifts, and uh.. non-gifts (lol) in regard to certain sports, in this case, we're discussing building a physique that fits into certain preconceived proportions.

Each person has their own 'road to travel' in the gym, in that they have to address different issues than other trainers might. As such, I like to think that as long as you're not discussing the highest levels of the sport (IFBB Pros), that everything sort of evens out in regard to strengths and weaknesses. I always felt that my hips weren't naturally narrow compared to others I knew, but in my efforts to offset it by improving my upper body and quad sweeps, I ended up bigger overall. Perhaps someone with a more pronounced V-taper from the get go may not develop the same level of thickness that I had.

I understand that most people want to build an "imposing" frame, but whether that means impressive from a competitive bodybuilding sense, or just filling out a XXL t-shirt are two different things. You'd be surprised how many trainees whined about their poor V-Tapers until they finally bit the bullet, dieted down, and realized that they actually had a much narrower waist than they suspected!



For width: develop the delts and the upper back.

My favourite compound exercises that make you look wider: 1.Incline Barbell Press (wide grip, to just under the chin), 2. Wide grip pull-ups (complete stretch at the bottom, up until upper arms parallel with the floor), 3. Snatch grip high pulls, 4. Dumbbell pullover (I look at this as a compound exercise, great for developing the upper part of the lats).

Next to that, cannonball shoulders will contribute to the illusion of width. Therefore: isolation! Isolate the rear and side delts, hammer them with a lot of volume, a lot of density and a lot of intensity. Weight is less important, go for the pump.

For popping of the shoulders, everybody knows that certain gear does the job.


just pump in enough synthol and you too can be on your way to a great v-taper.


I lol'd, but I am afraid it is true.


Aaron Clark was supposed to never turn pro because of his narrow clavicle... hehehehe


CT (or anybody, really), regarding the 80% test you mention in the article, what exercises is that best applicable for? Compound or isolation?


Stu makes a good point and I think its being over-looked. You can achieve a V-taper two ways:

  1. Get a wide back and giant boulder shoudlers.
  2. Lean out and make your waist smaller. <- Not dependent on genetics, just effort and discprine.

Combine the two and that's where you get that illusion of being massively wide. If you slap a 40" waist on even pro's they will lose some of that illusion. They will still be massive, but they look like their backs are miles wide because their wastes are tiny. If you can't get past 50" shoulders, but you can get your waist down to 30-32" that's an 18-20" taper. How much more illusion do you want?

If you want to look imposing clothed, go bulk mode, if you want to look impressive on stage or at the beach, lean out. Mix the two for success (debateable on the term "bulk mode").


Waist size is genetic. You can only get it as small as your genetic structure allows. Some ppl it will be wider some can get it quite small. I read somewhere else a lot of the top pros are mid 30s even creeping higher. Yet their waists don't look that big (well some of them lol)


Those top pro's are also way over-sized everywhere else. Its been said that your body can only support so much muscle structurally in other places before your waist has to grow to support it. They may have 37" waists, but they probably have 65" shoulders, so the drastic taper is still there.

I won't argue that waist size like everything else is genetic, but I'd be hard pressed to believe a natty can't get down to at least a 34" waist when lean. Really lean smaller guys probably even down to 28" waists, and this isn't at competition bodyfat levels, its quite obtainable depending on height. "My waist is too big/thick" seems more an excuse to not bother leaning down. 34" waist and 50" shoulders is a 16" drop, that's 8" per side, that's a taper that will be noticeabl when shirtless - or wearing something from Hollister.


I spent too much time 'not' training the lateral delts correctly; Ive been playing catch-up the last Two years. Genetics can be a bitch but, hard work and proper training, and intake can help push you through your potential. In spite of imperfect physiques, imperfect tapers, bad calf inserts, flat delts or whatever, some people succeed, even in not-so-ideal conditions.


What Savage said. Don't sit there and make excuses for your genetic limitations, you aren't going to make a career out of being a bodybuilder. Be happy with what you've been given and push and see where your limits are, you'll be far happier than sitting around worrying about it.

I personally have small calves and not the best legs. I get down about it at times, but then I see folks who have issues walking or in wheelchairs. I'll happily take my slightly bum knees and small calves to that. It gives me motivation and gratitude knowing that I've been given good health, the rest is my responsibility. I may not have great legs now or ever, but I garauntee in 5 years they'll look a lot better than today.


^Exactly, and nothing can change that. Still, we're talking about bone structure when we discuss wide/narrow hips or clavicles. The level of leanness attained for contests will allow you to truly see just where your hip bones are.

However, the average gym folks (or even the larger variety who have no interest in ever dieting down) will sometimes complain about their thick waists, when in reality, unless they're willing to cut a bit and get to the point of seeing how wide their hip bones really are, it's nothing more than an excuse for being pudgy IMO. Yes, you can have very developed obliques, but no one ever mistakes muscular obliques on a lean trainer for fat.

(waiting for people to pounce on me for this one -lol)