The Art and Science of Dialing In Your Physique

Applying hierarchy theory to build the complete package.


Are you a narcissist? If you are not, you should be. Maybe not to the extreme, but if you don’t strive for perfection and keep a watchful eye over your progress, you’ll never achieve the pinnacle of success as measured by your inner self. Whoa, sound deep? Perhaps. I’m not much good with the psychoanalytical thing, but it sounded like the right thing to say. Besides, no matter how you cut it, it’s our egotistical need for dominance that fuels our weight room plight. It’s fine to be huge and freaky but unacceptable to be small and geeky. Whether it’s strength or size driven, the desire to be big, lean, and perfectly balanced across all body parts is part of our character. The complete package is something we continually chase.

The most important thing you can do is realize that you care how you look and you will never be happy no matter how perfect you are. The term alpha male is merely scratching the surface of your need to impress everyone, even though most people really don’t care—it’s simply your belief that they do. Thus, the hierarchy of needs suggested by Maslow some 60 years ago, may actually help us understand why we are so driven to succeed.

But what does an early-1950s theory have to do with training? For starters, Maslow defined five levels of social need, starting with the base physiological need level, and progressing up with safety, belonging, esteem, and finishing at the top with self-actualization. Each level of the pyramid relies on the base built before it and takes a basic requirement, adds to it to include greater boundaries and obstacles, and then refines it before it reaches the pinnacle. Perhaps training for the perfect physique follows a similar path on your way to dialing up the complete package. There are some basic requirements. There are some basic needs. You have to build layer upon layer to reach the size and shape you want. And then you have to refine all of your hard work to reach the peak.


While I ain’t Maslow, and I certainly didn’t invent the idea of training for size and shape, I do know that there is a process that everyone must follow in order to reach the perfect package. Depending on where you are on your quest, you may need to start at the bottom or somewhere in between. Regardless, if you are higher up the pyramid, it’s likely you started at the bottom some time ago. However, even those who are well-established with their look need to pay attention, unless you are as big and ripped as you ever want to be. Chances are you want to get bigger, and chances are that you want to get leaner. If you start in the middle on your quest for size, you will fail. If you try to lean out, and don’t have solid muscle underneath, you will fail. And, thus, the pyramid of perfection has merit.


Consider this the equivalent to Maslow’s basic physiological need. Without it, your body has nothing from which to build. Build some solid muscle first. I’m sure that statement is not a shocker. But it amazes me how many guys simply try to build size, without building the foundation. Muscle continues to rebuild and layer itself with training. Just as with building a house you start from the bottom up, you need to hit the weights with big lifts like bench press, squat, and some heavy-duty rows, and incorporate some big mass-building moves like shoulder presses, bentover rows, and leg presses. Then work your way out toward the smaller muscles.

Check your strength along the way to ensure you are continually getting stronger, as strength is the foundation of building size—the stronger you are, the more weight you lift. And the more total weight you can move in a single workout, the faster you get to your goals. A good strength program will last four to eight weeks, hitting each muscle group and major movement at least once per week and twice if you have the willpower to push your limits. One of the very best things you can do to ensure you’ll always have the complete package is to go back to these basics every once in a while.

At least twice, if not four or more times per year, you should go back to some heavy-duty basic training. Forget the pump and work on strength. It’s especially important if you have hit a period when your body just doesn’t seem to want to grow. The big strength moves will help recruit new muscle fibers and force your body to try harder, as it has to recover both mentally and physically. And both are needed to build that base. Don’t worry if your muscles don’t seem to grow. When you go back to your hypertrophy program, you’ll be much further ahead than you were, and your muscles will respond favorably to your newly acquired strength.


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