Wide shoulders and lats. Narrow waste. Sweeping quads. Here are your go-to moves for a badass V-taper and X physique.  

By Joe Wuebben


Your first question may be: What is the "X" physique?

Simple. It starts with wide shoulders, chest, and lats, then tapers down to a (relatively) small waste – that's the V-taper (the shoulders representing the top of the V, and the waste the bottom). What makes it an X is the lower body. At the bottom of the V-taper, a developed outer quad sweep brings it back out to form the X.

In the sport of bodybuilding, this is the utlimate shape that athletes strive for. But you don't have to be a physique athlete to train for or achieve the coveted X-frame, or even a V-taper for that matter.

Below are 10 exercises specifically designed to add width up top (delts, pecs, lats), keep the midsection looking streamlined, and build up the outer portions of the quads. These are your X-frame moves. Train them hard, train them often.

What Are the V-Taper and X-Frame Muscles?

It all starts at the shoulders, as this is the widest aspect of the body and the beginning of the V-taper. More specifically, we're talking about the middle deltoids, which are the lateral "caps" of the shoulders; the front (anterior) and rear (posterior) delts provide thickness to the shoulders, but not width. Your go-to exercises here are mass-building overhead shoulder presses, lateral raises, and upright rows, all of which hit the middle delts.

Next, there's the chest. When it comes to creating a V-taper, not to mention an X-frame, the chest doesn't quite deserve the priority of the shoulders, but well-developed upper and outer pecs certainly add to the aesthetic by adding some width and creating the appearance of "broadness" (for lack of a better word). The best exercises for this are incline presses and flye movements.

The latissimus dorsi (lats) are as important as any muscle when it comes to creating maximum width in the upper body. When someone is said to have a great V-taper, wide lats are always present. And what exercises develop wider lats? Pretty much anything with a wide grip – namely, wide-grip pull-ups and wide-grip lat pulldowns, though rows performed with a wide grip are useful as well.

Finally, the bottom half of the X. Overall quadriceps development is important, but there's one specific quad muscle you want to focus on for wider thighs: the vastus lateralis. This is the muscle responsible for the "outer quad sweep," where the legs bow out from the waist to create lower body width. Targeting this area involves doing squatting movements with a narrow foot stance (inside shoulder width). It's impossible to fully isolate any one quadriceps muscle from the other three (vastus medialis, vastus intermedius, rectus femoris), but narrow-stance squats will nonetheless emphasize the lateralis.

Now that you know the V-taper and X-frame muscles, it's time to train them with the below exercises...

1) Behind-the-Neck Shoulder Press

Target Muscle: Middle delts

Why It Works: There are two reasons to do this exercise for wider shoulders. One, because shoulder presses in general are the best mass-building moves for the middle delts, and greater size equals greater width. Two, going behind the head/neck minimizes use of the front delts to place more emphasis on the middle delts.

How to Do It: Sit on a low-back seat or an adjustable bench set to 90 degrees. Unrack the bar using an overhand grip with your hands wider than shoulder-width. Bring the bar behind your head to a level that's even with the upper part of your ears. Press the bar straight up overhead and slightly back until your arms are fully extended but not locked out. Slowly lower the bar back to the start position.

In the below video, Dr. Jim Stoppani shows you how to do both behind-the-neck and standard shoulder presses.

2) Leaning Dumbbell Lateral Raise

Target Muscle: Middle delts

Why It Works: Lateral raises in general target the middle delts, but this variation does so in even more isolated fashion. Because it's a unilateral move (one arm at a time), you can put all your focus on that one side to maximize the contraction. And then, the leaning position helps keep constant tension on the muscle the entire rep. When you're standing upright with dumbbell lateral raises, that last bit of range of motion offers basically no tension; with the leaning version, you're better able to eliminate this "dead space," provided you don't let your arm take a break perpendicular to the floor.

How to Do It: Stand holding a dumbbell in one hand with your other hand holding onto a solid structure. Lean out to the side of your working arm, keeping hold of the structure with your other hand so that that arm is fully extended and your body is at a 10-30-degree angle with the floor. Begin with your working arm hanging straight down, then raise the dumbbell up and out to the side. When your arm reaches parallel with the floor, pause for a count, then slowly lower the dumbbell back to the start position. At the bottom, don't let your arm come all the way to perpendicular with the floor (this will keep tension on the middle delts). Complete all reps with that arm, then switch arms.

3) Wide-Grip Upright Row

Target Muscle: Middle delts

Why It Works: Upright rows are great for hitting the middle delts, but with a standard grip they hit the front delts to a large extent as well. Shifting to a wider grip (outside of shoulder width) de-emphasizes the front delts to put more focus on the middles.

How to Do It: Standing holding a straight barbell outside of shoulder width at arms' length in front of your thighs (hanging straight down to the floor). Contract your middle delts and bend your elbows to lift the bar straight up your body. When your upper arms reach parallel with the floor, pause and hold the contraction for a count or two, then slowly lower back down. This exercise can also be done on a Smith machine or using a cable with a long bar attachment on a low pulley setting.

Here's a video of Dr. Stoppani demonstrating a Smith machine upright row with a wide grip:

4) Incline Bench Press

Target Muscle: Upper pecs

Why It Works: This is the ultimate mass-building move for the upper portion of the chest. When the upper chest is fully developed, it creates the appearances of more width. Plus, the shoulders are involved in incline presses, so you'll get some size there as well.

How to Do It: Lie on an incline bench press bench and grasp the bar with a roughly shoulder-width grip. Unrack the bar, then bend your elbows to lower the bar to your upper chest. Keep your upper arms are roughly a 45-degree angle to your torso. Contract your upper chest muscles and extend your elbows to press the bar up until your elbows are just shy of locked out.

For a tip from Dr. Jim Stoppani on proper form on incline bench press, watch this TikTok video.

5) Incline Dumbbell Flye

Target Muscle: Upper, outer pecs

Why It Works: Flye movements emphasize the outer portions of the chest, which will help add width up near the shoulders. The incline angle will further target the upper pecs.

How to Do It: Set an incline bench to a 30-45-degree angle. Lie on the bench with your feet flat on the floor and your back pressed against the pad. Begin holding the dumbbells with your arms straight up from your shoulders and the dumbbells directly over your upper chest. Your palms should face each other and your elbows should be slightly bent; maintain this position throughout the exercise. Slowly lower your arms out to your sides until your wrists come to about shoulder level or slightly above. Bring your arms back toward the midline of your body, focusing on using your pec muscles to draw them back together.

6) Crossover Crunch

Target Muscle: Internal and external obliques

Why It Works: While you can't technically trim your midsection with ab exercises (regardless of what the infomercials try to tell you), you can create the appearance of a more streamlined midsection by developing the diagonal fibers of the oblique muscles. For this goal, twisting variations of crunches are useful. It's probably best to not add too much weight to exercises like cable oblique crunches, so as not to add bulk to the area, but you don't need to steer clear of such moves either. The version here is a bodyweight oblique-focused move.

How to Do It: Lie on the floor with your knees bent and feet and lower back flat on the floor. With your hands cupped loosely behind your head, contract through your abs to lift your shoulders and upper back off the floor. As you crunch, twist and cross your elbow over to the opposite knee. Hold this position for a second before slowly lowering back to the start, making the negative portion of the rep as slow and deliberate as the positive portion. Repeat back and forth to each side.

7) Wide-Grip Pull-Up

Target Muscle: Upper lats

Why It Works: Pull-up and pulldown movements are hands-down the best exercises for developing overall back width, and using a wide grip (hands outside shoulder width) accentuates the widening effect. Pull-ups in particular are a great overall mass-building move for the lats.

How to Do It: Take a wide grip on a pull-up bar (hands outside shoulder width) and start in a hanging position, arms fully extended. Pull yourself up explosively by contracting your lats until your chin clears the bar. Slowly lower yourself back down to the start position.

Check out this video to see JYM Athlete Kevin Lo share some tricks for performing the perfect pull-up...

8) Behind-the-Neck Wide-Grip Lat Pulldown

Target Muscle: Upper lats

Why It Works: Just as wide-grip pull-ups are great for developing back width, so too are wide-grip lat pulldowns. It's essentially the same motion. Going behind the neck, however, places more emphasis on the upper lats.

Lat pulldowns, however, are a bit more versatile in that they allow you to use a wider range of resistances to hit both high reps (with lighter weights) and low reps (heavier weights) to stimulate maximum muscle growth. Granted, weighted and assisted pull-ups can be done to cover different rep ranges, but it's more convenient with lat pulldowns.

How to Do It: Adjust the seat of a lat pulldown machine so that your knees fit snugly under the pads. Grasp the bar well outside of shoulder width, arms fully extended overhead. Make sure to NOT go too heavy on this exercise. Contract your lats to pull the bar down behind your head until it's right at ear level (to keep from injuring the shoulder joints, don't go any lower than this). Squeeze your lats in the bottom position, then slowly return the weight to the start position, arms fully extended.

In the below YouTube video, Dr. Stoppani compares behind-the-neck and standard lat pulldowns, demonstrating how to do both versions.

9) Narrow-Stance Front Squat

Target Muscle: Vastus lateralis of the quadriceps

Why It Works: A narrower foot stance on a squatting motion puts slightly more tension and emphasis on the outer portion of the quads, the vastus lateralis (whereas a wider stance focuses more on the inner quads). Moreover, front squats place more overall emphasis on the quads (and less on the glutes) than do back squats.

How to Do It: Hold a barbell across the front of your shoulders in the “clean” position. Stand upright with your feet about hip-width apart (if not slightly narrower), looking straight ahead. Slowly drop your hips toward the floor until your thighs reach parallel, concentrating on keeping your elbows up so the bar doesn’t slide off your shoulders. Drive up to the start position by contracting your quads. Keep your back flat (not rounded) throughout the movement.

This exercise can also be done a Smith machine. Likewise, you can also do a machine hack squat with the narrow foot stance.

10) Leg Extension w/ Toes Pointed Inward

Target Muscle: Vastus lateralis (outer quads)

Why It Works: Pointing the toes in toward each other while doing leg extensions (versus keeping them pointed straight ahead), places slightly more focus on the outer quads.

How to Do It: Adjust the seat of a leg extension machine so that when you sit, your lower back is flat against the seatback and your knees line up with the machine’s axis of rotation. Begin with your legs bent 90 degrees and the weight lifted a few inches off the stack. Before starting the set, turn your feet so that your toes point inward, and maintain this foot position throughout. Contract your quads to extend your knees until your legs are completely straight. Squeeze your quads for a counts at the top, then return to the start position. To repeat, keep your toes pointed inward.

V-Taper Shoulder Workout

This workout incorporates the three shoulder exercises explained above. Upper traps are also included in the workout, as this is a complementary bodypart to train with shoulders. For added intensity, do 1-2 rest-pauses on the last set of behind-the-neck shoulder press and 1-2 drop sets on the last set of both wide-grip upright row and leaning dumbbell lateral raise.

Exercise Sets Reps

Behind-the-Neck Shoulder Press

4

8-10

Wide-Grip Upright Row

4

10-12

Leaning Dumbbell Lateral Raise

3

15 per side

Barbell Shrug

3

12

Dumbbell Shrug

3

15

V-Taper Chest & Back Workout

This workout consists of three chest-back supersets. Aside from the V-taper exercises covered above, wide-grip seated cable rows were added (as wide-grip rows promote a wider back), as was dumbbell bench press. For the latter exercise, use a slight incline (30 degrees or so) to place more emphasis on the upper chest. For added intensity, do 1-2 rest-pauses on the last set of both incline bench press press (using a spotter) and wide-grip pull-up, and 1-2 drop sets on the last set of both wide-grip lat pulldown and incline dumbbell flye.

Exercise Sets Reps

Incline Bench Press superset with

4

8-10

Wide-Grip Pull-Up

4

8-10

Wide-Grip Lat Pulldown superset with

4

12

Dumbbell Bench Press

4

12

Incline Dumbbell Flye superset with

3

12-15

Wide-Grip Seated Cable Row

3

12-15

X-Frame Legs & Abs Workout

This workout pairs legs and abs. Narrow-stance hack squats were added to double up on the outer quad sweep emphasis along with front squats. For abs, reverse crunches and regular crunches are combined with crossover crunches in a triset (three exercises performed consecutively with no rest) to hit the entire midsection. For added intensity, do 1-2 rest-pauses on the last set of either narrow-stance front squat or machine hack squat and 1-2 drop sets on the last set of leg extension.

Exercise Sets Reps

Narrow-Stance Front Squat

4

8-10

Narrow-Stance Machine Hack Squat

4

10-12

Leg Extension w/ Toes Pointed Inward

4

12-15

Crossover Crunch triset with

3

To failure

Reverse Crunch triset with

3

To failure

Crunch

3

To failure

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*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease

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