The Pulse


Training Towards the T-Shirt

by Patrick Reynolds

Spring is coming to the northern hemisphere. The days are getting longer and the trees are full of heavy buds ready to burst open. My heavy winter coat has been hanging on the coatrack unused for a while. My lighter fleece will join it in a few weeks, soon to be followed by my windbreaker. Before we know it summer will be here, and t-shirt season will be in full swing.

People often train-up for a beach trip, spending week after week working out for a grand total of 4 hours actually spent on the beach in their swimsuit. The "beach body" motivation is impractical in that way. What should really get you motivated is the desire to look good in a t-shirt. Unless you're a Baywatch lifeguard or a stripper, many more people will see you in a t-shirt than without this summer.

There are a few things that all need to go right for you to look good in a shirt When it all comes together you can impress strangers on the street wearing nothing more than jeans and a simple white tee. Here's how the magic happens:

Low Body Fat

This is essential. A t-shirt's visual effect can be destroyed by a pot-belly, love-handles, man-boobs, back-fat, or flabby arms. No amount of muscle building will make these things go away. Only a tight diet will smooth out these silhouette-ruining features. 

However, the good thing about a t-shirt is that you don't have to cut into the painfully low body fat numbers that rocking a swimsuit calls for. The shirt is going to give you a lot of cover, so men can get away with a comfortable 13-15% body fat, while women can have around 16-25% body fat while looking great.

So, first step, get your diet locked down and start shedding those winter fat-stores. In the following set of pictures you'll see that the biggest reason these models look great in their t-shirts is their body fat is nice and low. Everything follows from getting this key starting point.


This is what most people overlook when thinking about shirts. What makes for a pleasing body-line is the taper that a shirt has from shoulders to waist. The single biggest factor in creating this downward triangle is the shape of your lattisimus dorsi muscles, the "lats" that run down the outer edge of your back from your shoulder all the way to your lower back.

The average person has a criminally underdeveloped back. People will obsess over their abs but barely give a thought to the huge slab of unused back muscle that the mirror never shows. With a good routine of pull-ups, pull-downs, and rowing-type exercises, your back will quickly tone up. 

When the back is strong, the lats will flare out from the sides just a bit. This spreads the t-shirt material wide, and gives the entire shirt structure. From this wide point the fabric can then taper down to the waist. The great thing is that the wider your back, the smaller your waist will look by comparison. Women are often hesitant to train their backs out of fear of hulking out, but ladies, trust me, a strong back and broad shoulders will only make you look slimmer.



A strong, full chest is the perfect pairing with your strong back muscles. The lats pull the shirt wide, and a well-developed chest will pull the fabric to the front, creating a pleasing, three-dimensional look that exudes health and confidence.

The key here is lift. When your pec major and minor are toned up, they form a kind of internal wonder-bra of muscle that raises your entire chest up towards your chin. Men will get that broad, strong, "Superman" style chest. Women will see their bust look fuller and more youthful, which is a nice consolation prize as the breast tissue inevitably gets smaller with body fat loss.

When both your Lats and Pecs are toned up, and your body fat is on point, you've made it 75% of the way towards looking great in a t-shirt. The fabric will be filled out, with no puckering or hollow spaces. This means you don't have to worry about getting a super-flat stomach or small waist. The filled out shirt will give you a lot of wiggle room in those areas. Now to just put some icing on the cake.


The trapezius muscle is the thing that gives you that elegant line from your neck to your shoulder. People with under-developed traps will have more of a stick-figure look. The neck ends and two straight lines go out to the shoulders.

If your traps are strong, however, you'll get that nice sloping line that guides the eye up to your neck and face. The traps are a very sexy muscle on both men and women, and a t-shirt shows them off better than any other type of clothing. If you look at the shape of mannequins in a store, they're traps are always ridiculously toned. That's because tall, broad traps make clothes look great.



The deltoid muscle is the cap of muscle tissue on top of your shoulder. The delts are the perfect finish for a strong trapezius body line. When your shoulders are toned, it amplifies that downward triangular body shape that we find appealing.

You don't have to be born with broad shoulders to get that broad look. Strong deltoids will do a lot of the work for you, if you put in the time to train them. And because the deltoids plunge halfway down your upper arms, right between the biceps and triceps, they make your arms look great, even if your actual arm muscles aren't much to write home about.


The final t-shirt muscle you need to think about are your triceps, on the back of your arms. The biceps get all the attention when it comes to arms, but unless you're walking around in the bodybuilder flex pose no one is going to really see your biceps. 

What they will see is the underlying structure of your arm as you open doors, take a sip from a drink, or wave to a friend. When your triceps are toned up, all of these small actions will show that hint of a line on the side of your arm. It'll just appear for a moment, but this little line telegraphs to everyone that you're in great shape. Without good triceps, you'll have hot-dog like tubes where your arms should be.


I hope this gives you a burst of motivation as we look towards t-shirt season. All your hard work in the kitchen and during your workout will be worth it that first warm day when you walk outside in your favorite tee and know you look like a million bucks.



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