Kurt, you asked what was the best exercise for looks. I agree with Patricia – everything is individual-specific. However, I can’t imagine very many females who would be unhappy with the way their upper bodies look after a good deal of basic bodybuilding-style lifting.
You can’t lose by working pecs. For smaller-chested women, if they get some hypertrophy here it will be very nice. For big-chested women, pec development can reportedly help sagging (I wouldn’t know, but it seems reasonable that attaching something to a firm foundation would be better than the alternative).
How can you overwork and develop back? There can’t be many women out there who are going to see muscles popping out of their backs. It’s hard to develop lats, and there’s usually plenty of fat to cover them.
Shoulder development is, to me, the biggest bang for the appearance buck when it comes to upper body. Good shoulder alignment, without forward rotation, just looks good.
The only upper body part that I could see overdeveloping on an average woman, to the point where she wouldn’t like it, is perhaps biceps. Still, if bis get overdeveloped, then something else is probably lagging and needs to be priortized instead.
It takes a LOT of work over a LOT of time to build muscle that sticks around even after the workouts go away. No woman is going to wake up one day and have big muscles that weren’t there before. I once had overdevelopment (to my taste) of quads, right above the knee). I quit doing extensions, and the quads shrunk back down. Now I do a lot more compound exercises, squats, lunges, etc., in different styles, and I don’t get that bulge at all.
I think Jennifer Lopez is an interesting example for the average woman who doesn’t want to look too muscular. Her trainer has her do TONS of upper body, lots of pushups, lots of shoulders, to help “balance” her lower body. If you see pictures of before she worked out versus now, it’s quite impressive.
It’s also worth pointing out that if a woman thinks she looks too muscular, she can always gain a little more subcutaneous fat (which is generally not difficult!). This is the converse situation of the guy who wants to look muscular; it ain’t gonna happen till that layer of blubber is gone.
One last observation. A year or so ago, I hadn’t lifted regularly for a couple years, and I had lost a lot of the muscle I once had. I got back to the gym and gained back the muscle and lost some fat. Then, I gained a lot of fat, which I’m currently working on losing, but kept all the muscle. When I look at the pictures – last year before, last year after, and now – I can’t believe how much better I look now, even with the additional fat, than the “before” situation last year. I have 15 pounds more muscle this year than in the “before” picture last year, and look so much better.
Sorry for the long post – but it always amazes me how afraid women can be of getting “too muscular.” It’s like starting piano lessons and being afraid that you’ll become a virtuoso overnight and then how will you handle the pressure from the critics?!