The hourglass shape is most typically what people associate with the feminine figure. A healthy bra size, a tiny waist, and a round firm booty are usually the components of such a shape, but not exactly achievable for every women. That’s because, while there are those who have been naturally graced with the coveted hourglass, most fall more in the “fruit” category. You know, apple shape being bigger on top than bottom, and pear being the reverse. Banana being long and narrow, while a strawberry silhouette is more like an inverted triangle.
If you’re looking to balance out your proportions a bit, the good news is that you don’t have to rely solely on genetics. While strength training is part of it, there’s a little secret to it, and it’s all about shrinking your waist. Side bends, crunches, planks, and sit-ups are awesome core workers, but if you really want your midsection to look smaller, the key is to start with your shoulders.
Those who bodybuild and compete on stage have known this secret for years. It’s called the V-taper. Look at any of those muscle-bound Mr. and Ms. Olympias, and you’ll easily see the V shapes appear starting from their broad shoulders, developed lats, and small waists. While they are of course the extreme, they are a good example of how building up the heads of the shoulders can help to create an optical illusion of your body shape. Think of it like wearing vertical striped clothing to help your body appear longer, or an empire-waist dress to accentuate your curves. But even better is that you’ll get this effect when you’re in a swimsuit or–gasp!–naked.
Now that you’re in on the secret, it’s time to get those shoulders (and waist) in shape with these awesome exercise.
Military Press: This compound movement works multiple parts of the shoulders, while also engaging the triceps. For this exercise, you can choose to stand or sit on a bench. Start with a dumbbell in each hand, and hold the dumbbells just higher than shoulder-height with palms facing forward and slightly in front of your head. Press the dumbbells up and overhead, making sure to maintain good form. Slowly lower the weight back to the starting position, creating a 90-degree angle with your forearms and upper arms.
Front Dumbbell Raise: This movement is great to develop the front heads of your shoulders. Standing with feet shoulder-width apart, hold a dumbbell in each hand on the front of your legs with your palms facing your body. Engage your shoulder muscle and lift the dumbbells up so that your palms face down. Lift to about shoulder or eye height before slowly lowering back down to the starting position. To really get your shoulders stronger, it’s important to keep your torso steady and not use momentum to raise the weight. For a variation on this exercise, sit on an incline bench to perform the front raises.
One-Arm Lateral Incline: To really develop width in your shoulders (and thus, make your waist appear smaller), it’s all about building the lateral, or side, deltoids. In this exercise, sit on an incline bench, or use an exercise ball to lean against. With your left shoulder, lean against the bench (or ball), so that your upper body is at about a 45-degree angle. Hold a dumbbell in your right hand and let it hang diagonally across your body. With a straight arm, raise the dumbbell up and out to your right side so that the weight is at about shoulder height. Slowly lower the weight back down and across your body to the starting position. Complete all reps on one side before switching to the other side.
Lying Rear Lateral Dumbbell Raise: For shoulders to look sculpted, it’s important to develop all of their angles. In this exercise, you’re working the back of the shoulders. Lie face down on an incline bench, or bend forward at a 45-degree angle at the hips if you don’t have a bench available. Hold a dumbbell in each hand so that your palms face in, with your arms hanging down. With a slight bend in your shoulders, engage your rear shoulder muscles and raise the weights to each side until your elbows are in line with your shoulders. Slowly lower back down.
To build muscle efficiently, it’s best to work with higher weight and lower reps. With that said, the weight selected should not come at the cost of good form. At the highest weight you can handle, complete three rounds of the following exercises. Go directly from one exercise right into the next without taking a break–this will keep the intensity on your shoulders. After each round, take a one-minute rest and then begin again.
Military Press: 10 reps
Front Dumbbell Raise: 10 reps
One-Arm Lateral Incline: 8 reps, each arm
Lying Rear Lateral Dumbbell Raise: 10 reps