Aesthetic Workout – The Complete Anti-5×5 Bodybuilding Program

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To be aesthetic. That is the goal. But what does it mean?

To look amazing? To have a beautifully balanced muscular physique that places emphasis on quality lines over freaky muscle mass? Yes and yes.

Related: Build an Ideal Physique Using This X-Frame Aesthetic Workout

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines aesthetic as:

a : of, relating to, or dealing with aesthetics or the beautiful
b : artistic
c : pleasing in appearance : attractive

The Urban Dictionary defines aesthetic as:

Something that tumblr weirdo’s say way too often and use it for every damn thing under the sun. A generally annoying word. “Hey dude! check out my straight aesthetic! haha Nike socks and cargos!”

Running with the Urban Dictionary, the term aesthetic is definitely used wayyyyy too much in the lifting realm. You can’t escape it’s usage. Every protein shaker chugging bro from here to Kalamazoo wants dem der aesthetics.

They want to look good. Perfect symmetry. Be Zyzz-like. Be Frank Zane-like. Get them Greek god gains. Walk the beach and have mere mortals fall to their knees in worship.

Something like that…

Steve ReevesWhile aesthetics is a generic term that has somewhat lost value, its concept goes back. Way back. In fact, bodybuilder Steve Reeves actually provided standards as to what the perfect natural body should look like. His ratios were as follows:

  • Arm size = 252% of wrist size
  • Calf size = 192% of ankle size
  • Chest Size = 148% of pelvis size
  • Waist size = 86% of pelvis size
  • Thigh size = 175% of knee size

I have my own standards. They are slightly easier to calculate. Please understand that these are considered optimal for lifters under 20% body fat.

Shaw’s Simple Aesthetic Standards

  • Arm Size = Wrist size + 10 inches
  • Calf Size = Wrist size + 10 inches
  • Quads = Knee size x 1.75
  • Chest size = Waist size x 1.55

Waist size is what it is. There’s not much you can do about it other than lose a few extra pounds of fat. So with that said, we won’t dwell on it. Instead, attempt to maximize your aesthetics by bringing your chest size up to par with respect to your current waist size.

Let’s look at an example. Here our natural lifter has a wrist size of 6.75 inches, knee size of 14.74 inches, and a waist of 31 inches. His size/aesthetic targets would be:

  • Arm Size = 16.75 inches
  • Calf Size = 16.75 inches
  • Quads = 26 inches
  • Chest size = 48 inches

Death to the 5×5 Program

5×5 programs work. Starting Strength. Bill Star. Reg Park. Strong Lifts. Heck, even Arnold Schwarzenegger himself used a 5×5 program early on.  But here’s the problem. The modern era has become so drunk on minimalist programs that they are often seen (and preached) as the only training style that matters,

Not so.

5x5s have many quality aspects. They focus on the major compound movements, progressive overload, and balls-out hard work. These are all good things.

But I prefer more.

My powerbuilding mantra is a bit different. I want to see you make every muscle group from head to toe as big and as strong as humanly possible. In my opinion, this creates a more well-rounded strength base, and a more well-rounded physique.

Argue if you will. Hate me if you must. At least hear me out.

I’ve learned a few lessons over the last 30 years. During my initial foray into powerlifting – in 2007, after spending 21 years more of a strict powerbuilder – I focused almost exclusively on the big lifts. As a result, I lost an inch on my arms over the course of 5 years. My arm strength levels also diminished.

You can say what you want about minimalist 5×5 programs, but I simply believe that for the average Joe or Jane trying to build a muscle and strength base you should use a more well-rounded program. There, I said it. Start tossing 45 pound plates my way.

What does this mean for aesthetic training? It means less minimalism, more maximalism. We will be attacking the body as a whole, from head to toe, trying to bring up overall musculature. Our goal is to forge out a base to work; to make sure no muscle group “is left behind” or undertrained, leading to a more aesthetic and balanced physique.

Aesthetic

Aesthetic Workout Programs

I’m not going to get into the whole frequency debate thing. Yes, there is a muscle protein synthesis benefit to training more frequently. No, it’s not the only darn factor you should be concerned about.

Motivation is important. You are much more likely to build muscle on a program that excites you, rather than a boring option you “must do” or you’ll “lose all gains!”

I personally dislike full body programs. Why? For anything other than beginners, warm up times on multiple compound movements can push these programs into tedious, extended sessions. If you can hang with them, enjoy!

For most of us beyond the beginning stages of lifting, supper/lower splits are a good training frequency middle ground.

Just remember this… Over time, if you have a good exercise selection and are pushing for progressive overload, you’ll make quality muscle gains. Pick a split that works for you. Embrace it. Run with it. Destroy it. Build the aesthetics.

The three options presented in this feature are:

  1. Fullbody Workout
  2. Upper/Lower Split
  3. 4 Day Bro Split

Option #1 – Fullbody Workout

Here’s a sample schedule:

  • Monday – Workout A
  • Wednesday – Workout B
  • Friday – Workout C

For abs and calves, alternate between these body parts every other workout. Use any exercise of choice.

Workout a
Full Body Workout
Exercise Sets Reps
 Squats  2  12
 Machine Chest Press  3  12
 Dumbbell Row  3  12
 Military Press  3  10
 Dumbbell Stiff Leg Deadlift  3  10
 Close Grip Bench Press  3  10
 Dumbbell Curls  3  10
 Abs or Calves  3
Workout B
Full Body Workout
Exercise Sets Reps
 Leg Extensions  4  12
 Pec Dec  3  15
 Lat Pull Down  4  12
 Side Lateral Raise  3  15
 Reverse Hack Squats  3  10
 Cable Triceps Extensions  3  15
 EZ Bar Preacher Curls  3  12
 Abs or Calves  3
Workout C
Full Body Workout
Exercise Sets Reps
 Deadlift  2  8
 Leg Press  3  15
 Bench Press  3  8
 Machine Shoulder Press  3  12
 Leg Curls  3  12
 Dumbbell Skullcrushers  3  12
 Reverse Grip Lat Pull down  3  15
 Abs or Calves  3

Aesthetics

Option #2 – Upper/Lower Split

Here’s a sample schedule:

  • Monday – Workout A
  • Tuesday – Workout B
  • Thursday – Workout C
  • Friday – Workout D
Workout a
Upper Body Workout
Exercise Sets Reps
 Military Press  3  10
 Dumbbell Rows  2  12
 Dumbbell Bench Press  3  10
 Side Lateral Raise  2  15
 V-Bar Pull Downs  3  12
 Machine Chest Press  2  15
 Skullcrushers  3  12
 EZ Bar Curls  3  12
Workout C
Upper Body Workout
Exercise Sets Reps
 Bench Press  3  10
 Lat Pull Downs  3  12
 Machine Shoulder Press  3  12
 Push Ups  2  Max
 Seated Cable Rows  2  12
 Dumbbell Upright Rows  2  15
 Cable Triceps Extensions  3  12
 Dumbbell Curls  3  10
Workout B
Lower Body Workout
Exercise Sets Reps
 Squats  3  10
 Dumbbell Stiff Leg Deadlifts  2  10
 Leg Extensions  3  15
 Reverse Hack Squats  3  10
 Planks  4  60 seconds
 Seated Calf Raise  3  15
Workout D
Lower Body Workout
Exercise Sets Reps
 Deadlifts  2  8
 Leg Press  3  15
 Leg Curls  3  15
 Dumbbell Lunges  3  15
 Ab Wheel Rollouts  4  10-15
 Leg Press Calf Press  3  25

Option #3 – Bro (Body Part) Split

Here’s a sample schedule:

  • Monday – Chest and Biceps
  • Tuesday – Legs
  • Thursday – Shoulders, Traps & Calves
  • Friday – Back and Triceps
Chest & Biceps
Split Workout
Exercise Sets Reps
 Bench Press  3  10
 Dumbbell Bench Press  3  12
 Push Ups  2  MAX
 Machine Chest Press  2  15
 Cable Crossovers  3  15
 Dumbbell Curls  3  10
 EZ Bar Curls  2  12
 Reverse Grip Lat Pull Down  2  15
Legs
Split Workout
Exercise Sets Reps
 Squats  3  10
 Leg Press  3  15
 Dumbbell Stiff Leg Deadlift  3  10
 Leg Extensions  4  15
 Dumbbell Lunges  3  15
 Leg Curls  4  12
Shoulders, Traps & Calves
Split Workout
Exercise Sets Reps
 Military Press  3  10
 Seated Alternating Overhead Dumbbell Press  3  12
 Dumbbell Upright Rows  2  15
 Side Lateral Raise  2  15
 Machine Shoulder Press  2  15
 Face Pulls  2  15
 Dumbbell Shrugs  3  15
 Seated Calf Raise  3  15
Back & Triceps
Split Workout
Exercise Sets Reps
 Deadlifts  2  8
 Dumbbell Rows  3  12
 Lat Pull Downs  3  15
 Seated Cable Rows  3  15
 Single Arm Machine Rows  2  15
 Close Grip Bench Press  2  12
 Skullcrushers  2  15
 Cable Triceps Extensions  3  15
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Name: Steve Shaw

Bio: I don’t believe in magic training systems or rep ranges. My philosophy is simple: remain consistent, use the best possible exercises, focus upon progression and enter the gym looking to maximize each set. When you maximize each set, you maximize progress. Easy, obvious, insanely effective.