T Nation

How to Build a Cover Model Physique?


Hi, I'm a new member here so firstly; hello, I'm 'Soloist'.

Now I'm sure I'll face criticism from people for posting this, but I think its reasonable that I post on a muscle/ strength forum rather than Men's Health because my goal involves increasing strength and frankly I'm unconvinced by what I've read in MH's magazine and forum. Also, I respect other people's goals of getting as big or as strong as they can, so hopefully people will respect my goal of building a lean, strong and athletic body.

I'll provide some current stats:
Age - 21
Height - 5'9"
Weight - around 161 lbs
BF - approx 13%
1RM bench - 210
1RM squat -240
1RM deadlift - 295

My first question is, what kind of strength is required to reach say MH cover model standard. At the moment I'm targeting 1RMs of 245 bench, 325 squat and 400 deadlift - does this seem reasonable?

I'm also into running and cycling (which have taken me to single digit BF before). Because of this I don't want to bulk up to a level where I'm too heavy to do well at these sports - so I'm targeting around 7-8% body fat at 155-160 lbs. Again, does this seem reasonable for a cover model physique or would I need to be heavier (bear in mind that I'm only 5'9")?

Thirdly, because I want to build my fitness, strength and lower my body fat at the same time, I'm quite interested in the G-Flux concept I've been reading about. My current plan is to take a base of 1750Kcal/day, then add in enough calories to cover the amount of cardio I do (as roughly a 40/30/30 or 40/40/20 mix of protein/carbs/fats).

On my weights days (3 full body/ week) I'll lift in the morning, eat say 2500Kcal throughout the day and then in the evening burn off the excess by running/ cycling. That way my body has enough calories throughout the day for rebuilding but ends in deficit so that I can still lean down. Obviously I'll need to eat carbs so I don't really struggle with cardio, but I'll also be able to get a lot of protein throughout the day as well. Does this seem like a reasonable idea?

Lastly, in addition to bench, squat, deadlift and shoulder press; is there another lift that would be suited to building my shoulders but that wouldn't fatigue the rest of my body for the other lifts? I read the '20 lbs of hollywood muscle' article and I think it makes a good point about shoulders creating the impression of more size. And relative the the rest of my body I think my shoulders are lagging a bit.

Any other comments/ criticism would be appreciated.




Also, having been overweight (210) and fairly weak when I was younger, I really don't want to go down the bulk/cut route. Just thought I'd mention that in case anyone advises bulking up for a bit and then cut down/ improve fitness later. I'm sure that's good advice but its not advice I'm comfortable taking.


200lbs (at your height) in single digit bodyfat with almost perfect proportions and a good looking face.

Your idea of nutrition is completely wrong. I have no idea why youre trying to lean down before you have the amount of muscle mass it takes to actually be capable of being that lean (cover model lean)


emphasis on the good face


Bloody hell, 200lbs at 8% would mean another 44lbs of lean mass! That's a hell of a challenge.

There are a couple of reasons for me wanting to cut first; I'm going on holiday in 5 weeks and sub-10% would look better than a couple of pounds more mass. Secondly, after I've finished cutting there will be a short period where it's easier for me to gain mass, hopefully offsetting some of the time I spend cutting.

Thirdly, having been overweight before I never want to go over a 32" waist again, and I'm about 31 at the moment. I feel most comfortable at 29-30". So if I get to 29" I have 3" of fat gain to play with whilst I'm cleanly bulking up.

I'm thinking 44lbs of lean mass is likely to take at least 2 years. Does this seem about right?


two years with a whole lot of steroids is possible. If your natural you can expect to gain around 5lbs a year which would equate to around 8 years of training and proper diet to gain 44lbs of lean muscle mass.


What happens if all the girls you are trying to impress with your "lean, strong, and athletic body" hate your personality?

If you go down this road you'll reach a point where your strength gains will likely become stagnant and potentially reverse if you keep pushing on trying to get learner. But it's your body, go nuts.


and after 40 years you'll gain 200 lbs!


Actually impressing women isn't my main aim (no, not men either before some smart arse comments). The reason for wanting to stay fairly light is that I enjoy cycling, and anyone who's tried to cover 120miles+ over hills will tell you that near the end you start wishing you hadn't even brought a spare inner tube to save a few ounces. So at 200lbs I might look impressive but I sure as hell wouldn't be happy because my body wouldn't be suited to my activities.

And I'm a little dubious of the 5lbs of muscle a year too. I've gained more than that in a few months before and I'm still a relative beginner. It might take that long to go from 190 to 200, but 160 to 170 must surely be quicker?

To summarise the advice in this thread:
- Your goals are impossible.
- Don't bother dropping the last 9-10lbs of fat to get to 8% BF before cleanly bulking up - its all about getting heavy as quick as possible.
- The only reason anyone would want to be lean, strong and athletic is to impress women, rather than to have functional strength and a high level of fitness.

I don't mean to sound confrontational; but seriously?


You really think dropping to single digit bodyfat all year round is 100% healthy ?
Most people who have that are top athletes (atleast here in Belgium) and even they go up in the offseason..

Your goals are not impossible but they can not be reached in the amount of time you want to do it in.
44 lbs of pure, lean muscle mass is a lot and I doubt you would get them 100% cleanly in 2 years.

Ok maybe your digestive system is in orde to handle the low bodyfat but if you want to cleanly bulk up you will be going slowly but steadily and it will take a lot of time. In the beginning one can easily gain a lot because you are coming from scratch but after a while gains will get hard.

And I do believe you can look great at 170 pounds but don't expect the biggest muscles or most impressive physique with it at your gym


Ah, I think perhaps I haven't been clear enough in my intentions. And I think that the 170 you suggest at 8% BF is about what I'm after. 200lbs seemed pretty high to be honest.

What I'm actually planning on doing is dropping to about 152 at 8%, then cleanly bulking up to about 180. Inevitably there will be some fat gain, but if I could add 16lbs of muscle then at 180 I'd be about 13% BF. That's 16lbs of muscle and 12lbs of fat. Does that seem realistic for a clean bulk or is there likely to be more fat gain?

Then I could cut down from 180 to 168-170 at 8% BF.


Cycling and bodybuilding are sports with conflicting goals (I used to cycle a LOT, so I know). You can't excel at both, so pick a goal and go all-out at either one or the other. If you try to put on upper body mass, your cycling will suffer (unless you are just a sprinter, but even then...). It's possible to build your upper body to a reasonable level, but your cycling will suffer. All depends on how competitive you are. If you want a great upper body, then you will have to resign youself to the fact that you will never be a great cyclist, and vice-versa.

And to answer your question, you will need to be at more than 180 lbs in order to cut down to 170 lbs at 8% BF, unless you want to take forever to do it. The more muscle you have prior to your cut, the easier it will be to shed the fat and keep the desired amount of muscle on your frame.


I've got more than a few thoughts, but for now, here's this:

1) Yes, 2 years is enough time to gain 44 lbs, IF YOU DO IT RIGHT. Years before, I would have said "no, it takes longer" but quite frankly, I've matured in my training views since then. Sadly, I learned the hard way since I didn't have anyone to tell me (and show me) different.

2) Yes you can do it naturally. Pay no attention to the peckerhead that said you needed a boatload of steroids to do it. It takes lots, LOTS of hard work and even more eating. But it can be done. 44 lbs breaks down to 22 lbs a year. Which is less than 1/2 a pound a week. You can gain a measly half pound in a week.

3) Your waist will not necessarily end up bigger than 32" when you are at your target goal of 200 lean pounds. However, you must, I repeat MUST accept the fact that you might have to deal with a 32" or more waist in the process of getting to that goal. I am not suggesting you reach the "overfat" level again. Not at all. In fact I suggest you stay away from that.

HOWEVER, countless aspiring bodybuilders and physique trainees' goals have been absolutely sabotaged by the guy's childish unwillingness to lose his 6 pack long enough to gain some fucking muscle. So, make the commitment for the long haul and get to it. Otherwise you will. never. reach. your. goal.

4) in the short term I'd tend to agree with you that low bodyfat % would look better on holiday. So work on that goal but when it's up, get into gaining mode. Set goals, short, medium, long term. They must be specific: if they are not specific enough, you can't track your progress and you'll get lost again.

5) 1 rep maxes have absolutely nothing to do with how you look. There is no number to shoot for that will determine how much like a cover model you look like. Maxes are great for tracking strength gains, and obviously more strength equals more muscle gaining potential, but in the final analysis 1 rep maxes are useless for "physique" goals as opposed to strength goals.

6) You can be 200 lbs and enjoy running and cycling quite easily. Hell you can rock climb effectively above that limit (although it is rarely seen). It's all in how you train.


170 lbs is low. Really. Your question was "Men's Health/Fitness/Muscle & Fitness cover model". That's nearer 200 lbs lean unless you have ridiculously genetically blessed muscle insertion points and full bellies. Although, yes, in all truthfulness out of all those magazines Men's Health has the skinniest models most like Hollister. If you want "Abercrombie or Hollister" then maybe 170 is ok.


OK, so I've decided to take the advice I've been given and start eating to build muscle. It's a tough choice and I'll probably have to buy some larger jeans at some point, but in the long run it makes sense. So thank you all for the advice, especially Aragorn.

Another question though:

Is it really as simple as eating 3500 calories a day, getting lots of protein, avoiding junk food and doing heavy compound lifts 3-4 times a week? Or is there some other trick to building large amounts of muscle whilst keeping fat gains at a minimum?

Also, I could reasonably eat 5000 calories a day without much difficulty, but I know I'd balloon if I did that, which is why I'm going for 3500. My BMR is only 1800 calories so I'll be getting another 1700 on top.





A few thoughts here:

  • Don't focus on numbers so much. They're important to track so that you know you're making progress, but you shouldn't try to get everything set in stone. E.g. - wanting to stay under a 32" waist. If you get to 200lbs with single digit bf, you WILL have a waist over 32", even though you would be lean.

  • The vast majority of MH cover models are well under 200lbs, so whoever threw that number out there is delusional. Being 200lbs at 5'9 with legitimate (i.e. not guesstimating) single digit bodyfat is pretty big. I think most people don't have a real understanding of how lean <10% is.

  • Realize that cycling and building muscle are competing goals, but you don't have to have an all-or-nothing mentality and focus solely on one. Just accept that you will never be exceptional at either endeavor, which is something you seem to be completely fine with.

  • As someone else already pointed out, you have an incorrect mental model of how muscle is built. You can't "eat enough throughout the day to build, then end in a deficit." The muscle fibers are repairing themselves for days after a workout, and doing enough cardio to create a deficit after working out does nothing but make you spin your wheels.


You are very focused on specific numbers, the reality is that none of us can you the EXACT number you need to gain X and lose Y. You will need to figure these numbers out on your won through trial and error. Eat 3500 for 3-4 weeks and monitor your progress, if your strength has barely gone up but you have gained 6 pounds... You are eating too much, and probably not lifting hard enough in the gym.

The KEY to the weight training is not simply to do "heavy compound lifts 3-4 times a week," it is PROGRESS on those lifts. If your squat is 185x6 today, and in 6 months its 196x6, you will not see any difference in your legs.

If you train and eat intelligently, gaining 44 pounds in two years is very possible (especially for someone at your starting point). Dieting is extremely easy (dont get me wrong, it sucks and its not fun, but the idea of eating less and not eating cake is not exactly hard) and takes almost NO time compared to the process of building muscle. After 2 years of lifting you should be able to diet in 12-16 weeks and be in cover model shape. Honestly.

The numbers you listed in your original post are probably good goals to achieve that look, but I know guys who can lift that much and more who don't necessarily have the cover model look. The goal is not absolute strength, but rather strength gains(and weight gain) in body building, and not usually for a single rep. He who can squat 315x12 and bench 275x12 will probably look better than the guy who can Bench 315x1 and squat 375x1. These are made up numbers of course, but its just to illustrate an idea.


just for reference, you can look at my pics from this summer to see me at 5'10", 170 and 9% body fat...and I am a scrawny little bitch with no right to be a cover model until I put on about 30 lbs LBM. I'm pretty sure a few posters around here way back when nicknamed me Zach Efron. I think you are gravely mistaken in how you are visualizing what 170, 8% even looks like at your height.


Thanks for the reply, your progress pretty interesting to follow - having initially been overweight, have you found that you've gained more fat than you would like since starting to bulk up? And how much has your strength increased since your lean photo?

Also, I think the reason I expected 170, 8% to look different to your photo is that I've been 9% at 152 and didn't think I looked scrawny. Though perhaps that was because I was doing a lot of running and didn't do any lower-body weights. In fact, my squat then was lower than my bench is right now. Had my legs been stronger I probably would have weighed a lot more with no difference in upper body.

And Lonnie you're bang on about progress in the lifts! I've already started to eat more in an effort to bulk up and I've found that I'm pushing myself a lot more in each workout, almost to 'justify' eating more food. As far as squats, I'm actually repping 7.5kg (16.5lbs) more than I was this time last week.