Front lat spread

Posted 11 months ago

Flat vs Full

If you are new to the bodybuilding game, you may have heard people talking about looking “flat” or “full” and you’ll probably not have a clue on what they are talking about. I remember being confused by those terms too when I first got into the sport, and I wrongly felt embarrassed about the fact that I didn’t know what those terms meant when applying them to someone’s physique.

Of course, I shouldn’t have felt embarrassed because it was new to me too, but I certainly felt that not knowing made me seem less worthy of being in the sport. Not only that: I remember doing my first competitor’s check-in and not having a clue what to look for. It took days and weeks of continuously assessing check-in photos and monitoring someone’s body before I eventually understood the process.

Therefore, the purpose of this article is to explain exactly what these two terms mean so that you can go away knowing exactly what to look for in your own physique or your clients’ bodies when you assess them.

Glucose storage

Before we get into it, we must understand the fundamental process of muscle glycogen. For those of you who are unaware of this term, let me explain. As you eat carbohydrates, these are digested and broken down into simple sugars: glucose. This glucose is then transported around the body and distributed to working muscle groups for immediate use as energy, both for survival and/or to fuel performance. If there is any glucose left in excess, this can be stored in the body in a few different forms.

The first one and more widely known one is storage through body fat. The body can shuttle excess carbs straight into fat cells for storage and later use. This is an evolutionarily advantageous process, as excess energy stores will ensure survival if the body goes through times of starvation via low calorie intake/availability.The second way excess glucose can be stored is in its polymer form known as glycogen, which is simply glucose molecules crammed together. This can be stored in the liver and also muscle, the one we are most interested in discussing here. This storage acts as readily available fuel for the body and is released during times of exercise or low blood sugars.

Why does that matter?

Now that you’ve got the basics, you might still be left wondering why this matters. Well, what if I were to tell you that those muscle glycogen stores, when they are saturated and full, can give the impression of an increase in muscle size and shape? Conversely, when they are depleted, they can look smaller hand have less of a pop to them, making your physique look worse.

In essence we have a muscle that can look “flat”, with not much shape, no pop and is hard to contract (Figure 1);

Figure 1

Or we can have a muscle that is “full”, looking nice and rounded, has a pop to it, and is easily abile to contract (Figure 2).


Figure 2

As competitors are preparing for stage – more so in the lead up to show day – we look to fill up these muscle glycogen stores to present an overall fuller look. However, it is a fine balancing act and takes skill. Why? Well, if you put too much (food) in and over-saturate those stores, some of the glucose that is present in the blood will be direct towards fat cells and the physique will begin to look softer. As such, getting someone who is extremely lean to look “full” will come down to trial and error: in this process, you’ll seek to find the perfect amount of carbohydrates that need to be consumed (usually over 2-3 days) to ensure that muscle glycogen stores are full and the physique looks just as conditioned (lean) as you were when flat.


Figure 3                                                                 Figure 4Firstly, you will have to forgive the “you’ve been tango’d tan” but this was on show day and the spray tan is somewhat normal for stepping on stage. But here is a clear example of what putting in carbohydrates can do to my physique. You’ll see how much more detail my physique has overall: starting with the quads, is more visual separation and they look bigger; the top line of the chest and delt have more oomph and pop; the arms look a little bigger; and lastly, condition is exactly the same. For me, this was after consuming 2500g of carbs over 3 days (this is what is known as the carb load), but before you go and implement that for yourself, you must bear in mind that I am 6ft 4’, have a decent amount of muscle mass and weigh 105kg here. You must find out what your body’s individual requirements are to get full, and these might be vastly different from mine.

Embrace being flat

For this carb-up process to occur and for it to be successful, you’re going to need to be what we call “peeled”. By this, I mean having extremely low levels of body fat. In this state – and if you’ve ever been there, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about – the body is a different animal. It’s pretty crazy to see how quickly it digests food, how it burns through fuel and how much food it can handle without any fat gain whatsoever. Why doesn’t the body gain fat after all that food? Well, bear in mind that you have been in an extreme calorie deficit for months, and as such, the body would take a few weeks of consistent eating to get out of that. So, the carbs you put in are used to top up muscle glycogen stores or used as energy.To get to this point you must embrace being “flat” for a long time. Too many bodybuilders worry or complain about feeling flat as they are dieting when in reality, that’s absolutely fine, because without running flat for a consistent period of time, you’re not going to bring the condition that you need for the stage.Sounds easy enough, right? Wrong!! If you haven’t already, check out my other article on Reality of dieting to extremes to find out how it truly feels to be peeled. What I will say is that enduring those hard days it is truly rewarding at the end of the process as you can see. (Figure 5)

Figure 5

In summary being “flat” or being “full” is used as a term in reference to muscle glycogen stores. When these stores are full, the muscle itself looks a little bigger, more rounded, and has more of a pop to it as well as a greater ability to contract. Bodybuilders will diet for a long period of time to get flat and then will seek to get full in the lead up to a show with what is known as a carb load.

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