T Nation

Upper Body Imbalance

Up until very recently, I have been poor and have lived in a place with lots of huge hills. As a result, I walked a lot (sometimes hours a day) because I didn’t have a car. Anyway, walking uphill for hours a day gave me pretty big legs, by proportion. For instance, I put my stats into one of those ideal body measure calculators, and my thighs and calves were a bit bigger than what the calculator suggested, my waist was about the same, and my arms and chest were MUCH smaller.

Now it’s not like my squat or deadlift are especially strong. In fact, both are pretty weak (I can, however, spend an entire day- like over 12 hours- walking without getting tired). My DL maxes at around 330 lbs without straps.

Everyone is always saying that to get big arms, you should squat and deadlift. Working the lower body seems to be very important for sure, but isn’t it silly for me to put a lot of effort into making my legs bigger when they are already so out of proportion with my arms/back/chest/shoulders?

Honestly, I kind of feel like a sucker for not doing upper body isolation, and focusing on whole body compound movements. Because while my lower body isn’t “strong”, it’s hurculean by comparison to my upper body.

The other thing issue I’m stuggling with is gaining strength. I’m weak. I’m significantly weaker than some of the women on here. I honestly sometimes feel like I’mnot strong enough to move enough weight to lead to a strength increase. I really don’t even know where to start. I’m a thin guy, and I have a hard time gaining weight. As a kid, I was fat, and as soon as I eat a large caloric surplus, I start getting fat immediately. I honestly don’t know what to do.

Go ahead and focus on your upper body. Do not be afraid to do some isolation work.

I would recommend that you focus on building strength, in both the upper and lower body, by doing compound and isolation exercises first and then you can move to a more specialized size building plan if you want.

Things like bench press, dips, pull-ups, bent over rows, military presses, curls (yes), skull crushers (yes) should be part of your program. Also deads will not add that much size to your legs except for your butt, maybe hams, they hardly hit the quads at all, and they can help your arms a little bit due to the Test release.

I probably have you go 4 times a week doing push/pull with legs on pull day, unless you are a complete beginner and really never lifted and then just do a beginner workout. Your initial thought is correct in that order to build size you need some base of strength.

Good luck with it.

[quote]Aleksandr wrote:
The other thing issue I’m stuggling with is gaining strength. I’m weak. I’m significantly weaker than some of the women on here. I honestly sometimes feel like I’mnot strong enough to move enough weight to lead to a strength increase. I really don’t even know where to start. I’m a thin guy, and I have a hard time gaining weight. As a kid, I was fat, and as soon as I eat a large caloric surplus, I start getting fat immediately. I honestly don’t know what to do.[/quote]

If your legs are in the shape you say - you are in a very enviable postition. Well…I’m envious at least as my body is the exact opposite.

Strength will come. Size will come. The key is to get started and stick with it.

My opinion is that if you have taken a long long break from resistance, everything will grow from the start.

You could concentrate only on upper body, but I think it will catch up just as quickly by merely getting in the gym and lifting consistently.

Your diet may need to be tighter than most, but being that you are no stranger to accomplishing goals - you certainly have the ability to manage what you eat to affect the goals you have for yourself.

As for the gym - you are a member of the best damn training site around. Pick a program. I would suggest working your way through Waterbury’s stuff.

I guess that in summary my advice would be:

  1. Don’t obsess over your lack of size/strength.

  2. Make sure your diet is tight.

  3. Get in the gym and start picking up heavy stuff.

[quote]Aleksandr wrote:
Up until very recently, I have been poor and have lived in a place with lots of huge hills. As a result, I walked a lot (sometimes hours a day) because I didn’t have a car. Anyway, walking uphill for hours a day gave me pretty big legs, by proportion. For instance, I put my stats into one of those ideal body measure calculators, and my thighs and calves were a bit bigger than what the calculator suggested, my waist was about the same, and my arms and chest were MUCH smaller.

Now it’s not like my squat or deadlift are especially strong. In fact, both are pretty weak (I can, however, spend an entire day- like over 12 hours- walking without getting tired). My DL maxes at around 330 lbs without straps.

Everyone is always saying that to get big arms, you should squat and deadlift. Working the lower body seems to be very important for sure, but isn’t it silly for me to put a lot of effort into making my legs bigger when they are already so out of proportion with my arms/back/chest/shoulders?

Honestly, I kind of feel like a sucker for not doing upper body isolation, and focusing on whole body compound movements. Because while my lower body isn’t “strong”, it’s hurculean by comparison to my upper body.

The other thing issue I’m stuggling with is gaining strength. I’m weak. I’m significantly weaker than some of the women on here. I honestly sometimes feel like I’mnot strong enough to move enough weight to lead to a strength increase. I really don’t even know where to start. I’m a thin guy, and I have a hard time gaining weight. As a kid, I was fat, and as soon as I eat a large caloric surplus, I start getting fat immediately. I honestly don’t know what to do.[/quote]

This is a very forthright post from a guy who’s character I believe I misjudged in another thread. We probably will never see eye to eye on some things, but I have a newfound respect for you.

Anyway, to pretty much go along with what’s been said, I doubt if you have much to worry about. While it’s true that most people have some muscle groups that surrender to growth more than others, if your legs can grow like that from walking the rest of you will grow too.

You may never be as strong as you think you ought to be (who is?), but if you work your upper body in the strength/growth ranges say 3-6 reps with some serious effort you’ll get stronger by a lot. Believe it. You’ll probably get bigger than you thought you could too.

I also agree you should work your legs hard too. You may have developed some additional slow twitch fibers though from all that walking (another whole topic).

I could be wrong, but I have a feeling once you’re settled into a training schedule and do some growing you also may not gather fat as easily either.

Let us know how it’s going.

–Tiribulus->

It’s funny that about 90% of beginners tend to have overdeveloped upper bodies, and spend no time on legs. We immediately recommend that they start focusing on leg work…You on the other hand have the opposite situation, so why not focus on upper body movements. Primarily stick with the big compound movements for upperbody, and do some isolations afterwards.

By no means would I would recommend avoiding leg exercises. Just because your legs are big, doesn’t mean they are strong. But there is nothing wrong with specializing in an upper body scheme until everything is in proportion.

As far as diet, try adding 200-300 clean calories a day to your diet for a couple weeks and see what happens. If you aren’t gaining fat, up your calories again. Follow that until you are making the gains you are looking for.

Like most trainees, I started in the opposite situation. My upper body was too strong relative to my lower body. I didn’t manage to balance everything out until a few months ago, but here’s what worked for me.

The two basic principles I used were to put my weaknesses first in my training week, and first in each training session. Since I usually trained three times per week, my weeks would look something like this:

Day 1: Lower Body
Rest
Day 2: Lower Body/Upper Body Pull
Rest
Day 3: Lower Body/Upper Body Push
Rest
Rest

This allowed me to increase strength in all of my lifts, but most dramatically in my lower body. I imagine that you could just reverse the Lower/Upper labels.

There’s little reason to completely neglect your lower body because you walk while using heavy weights with your upper body, especially at your level. That’s like taking two steps forward and one step back. Try to exceed yourself in every set, but organize your workouts so your upper body gets most of your effort.

Thanks guys, I really appreciate the feedback.

I read CT’s last article, and it makes a lot of sense to me. My bench is probably my weakest lift, which makes sense considering my weak arms and chest. When I bench, my anterior delts totally dominate the lift. However, they are very weak, so I can’t move much weight at all. Since the delts don’t have nearly the same potential for strength as the pecs, my bench moves up terribly slow. What’s worse, the stronger my delts get, the less my tris and pecs are involved in the movement. Does this seem plausible?

I guess what I’mwondering is, should I focus primarily on isolation work? This goes against every instinct I have, but obviously, my instincts aren’t working as well as I would like…

[quote]Aleksandr wrote:
I read CT’s last article, and it makes a lot of sense to me. My bench is probably my weakest lift, which makes sense considering my weak arms and chest. When I bench, my anterior delts totally dominate the lift. However, they are very weak, so I can’t move much weight at all. Since the delts don’t have nearly the same potential for strength as the pecs, my bench moves up terribly slow. What’s worse, the stronger my delts get, the less my tris and pecs are involved in the movement. Does this seem plausible?

I guess what I’mwondering is, should I focus primarily on isolation work? This goes against every instinct I have, but obviously, my instincts aren’t working as well as I would like…[/quote]

I think you may be getting the concepts of splits and isolation movements mixed up. Splits are basically where you don’t work your whole body in a single workout.

Exercises like squats, deadlifts, benchpresses and barbell rows are called compound movements because they work large interrelated muscle groups simultaneously. Isolation exercices are movements that attempt to concentrate the work on smaller muscle groups or in some cases even one muscle. If you knew all that and I misunderstood you I apologize.

For where you’re at I would not recommend a lot of isolation work right now. Nobody is going to debate that foundational strength (and size) is built on compound movements. I’m not saying never do any isolation exercises, but big movements are what you need to focus on right now.

If anything form seems to be an issue. You are more than likely overworking your front delts on benches because of letting your shoulders hunch forward toward the top. You may have your elbows either too close to your body or up too high by your ears as well. You also may be shrugging without realizing it.

In any case you are correct in assuming that the longer you continue doing the movement wrong the stronger you will get that way and the harder it will be to break the habit. The body’s natural inclination is to favor whatever it thinks is stongest.

In all truthfulness I don’t see you having any real problems once you get going in the right direction. Your mind is what’s hassling you right now. You’re an intelligent guy which is an asset and you’re motivated, but you sound like you have some self doubt lurking about back there. This is just a suggestion, but forget about those “ideal body calculators” too. They mean next to nothing and will only serve to unneccesarily muddle up your goals.

I’d also bet money if someone could go there and show you how to do the big excercises correctly that you’re already stronger than you think. Where are you working out BTW? Is there any way to get someone to give you a hand there?

You’re gonna be fine. Once you get a foundation and a clear vision of where you’re going you’ll be the one in here helping the guys with questions like yours.

[quote]Tiribulus wrote:

For where you’re at I would not recommend a lot of isolation work right now. Nobody is going to debate that foundational strength (and size) is built on compound movements. I’m not saying never do any isolation exercises, but big movements are what you need to focus on right now.

[/quote]

I agree with you Tiribulus, for the most part, regarding doing mostly compounds, and am not trying to pick bones with you. However, here is what Thib says in his HSS-100 article.

“A superset can also allow you to thoroughly stimulate a certain muscle group. This is accomplished by coupling a compound exercise with an isolation exercise. While it’s no secret that big multi-joint, complex exercises are the best growth stimulator, they do have their shortcomings, the most important being that your body will always strive to complete the exercise with the less energy expenditure/effort as possible. This means that it won’t necessarily put the most training stress on the desired muscle group, but rather on the one best suited to do the job.
For example, you might perform the bench press to build up your pecs, but if your front delts and/or triceps are overpowering, chances are that your chest will be left sub-optimally stimulated from your bench pressing work. By adding an isolation exercise for the pectorals either after (post-fatigue), before (pre-fatigue), or before and after (pre and post-fatigue) you’ll be able to fully fatigue the chest.”

I only post this to get people thinking, and realize that you specifically said you weren’t against isolations, just to focus on the compounds for now.

[quote]Modi wrote:
I agree with you Tiribulus, for the most part, regarding doing mostly compounds, and am not trying to pick bones with you. However, here is what Thib says in his HSS-100 article…

I only post this to get people thinking, and realize that you specifically said you weren’t against isolations, just to focus on the compounds for now.[/quote]

I’m not disagreeing in principle with you or CT either. In his case though he’s got a bit a of a mixed package going at his point. He needs a level foundation to build on. He also says he wants to get stronger. He asked at the end of his last post if he should be concentrating on isolation exercises. Clearly this isn’t going to move him toward his stated short term goals.

There was nothing wrong with the thrust of CT’s article, but in my opinion, it’s more complicated than he needs to get for a little while. Not that my opinion is gospel or that he shouldn’t consider all the feedback he gets. In my experience when a novice is a bit confused on how to proceed, solid simplicity is the best way to get the wheels rolling that’s all.

–Tiribulus->

[quote]Tiribulus wrote:
Modi wrote:
I agree with you Tiribulus, for the most part, regarding doing mostly compounds, and am not trying to pick bones with you. However, here is what Thib says in his HSS-100 article…

I only post this to get people thinking, and realize that you specifically said you weren’t against isolations, just to focus on the compounds for now.

I’m not disagreeing in principle with you or CT either. In his case though he’s got a bit a of a mixed package going at his point. He needs a level foundation to build on. He also says he wants to get stronger. He asked at the end of his last post if he should be concentrating on isolation exercises. Clearly this isn’t going to move him toward his stated short term goals.

There was nothing wrong with the thrust of CT’s article, but in my opinion, it’s more complicated than he needs to get for a little while. Not that my opinion is gospel or that he shouldn’t consider all the feedback he gets. In my experience when a novice is a bit confused on how to proceed, solid simplicity is the best way to get the wheels rolling that’s all.

–Tiribulus->[/quote]

I don’t disagree with you, he is a beginner, and I strongly believe in a solid foundation (hence the disclaimer before). But I think the quote from CT’s article will get people thinking, even if it is on a more advanced level.

Millitary presses, dips, power cleans, power snatches, barbell rows, chin-ups should be the foundation of your upper-body training. Big, compound lifts build a big, strong upper-body.

[quote]Aleksandr wrote:
…strong lower body…weak upper body…[/quote]

I was pretty much the same when I started lifting, so I completely understand. A lot of the advice here is right on. Ensure your nutrition is sufficient and lift with enough volume, intensity and regularity and it will balance out.

I do 2 total body workouts a week, and one pure upper body a week and I am having great gains with it. The key for me was doing periods of strength focused training, then periods of hypertrophy focused training.