Weak body parts suck.
They’re the parts of your body you seem to target every time you go in to the gym but never seem to respond no matter what you try.
I’ve been there. No matter what I did for my shoulders and back they just never seemed to respond like my chest and arms did. I thought for years I was genetically ‘destined’ to have narrow shoulders and a skinny back, simply because those body parts were naturally ‘weak’.
But over the course of the last 8 years or so, I’ve learned some valuable lessons the hard way and I’ve discovered the 4 key factors you need to consider when bringing up weak body parts – so you don’t have the struggle I had when I was learning how to train.
Weak Body Parts Cure #1: Execution Before Everything
First of all, we need a mindset shift. Allow this statement to sink in:
“There is no such thing as a weak body part, only poor ways of training it”
- Ben Pakulski, IFBB Pro
This is our first building block of a good training approach: Execution.
Execution of exercises, or put another way, using the right technique, engraining proper movement patterns and learning how to contract muscles instead of mindlessly moving weight around is the reason most people fail with training plans. At the end of the day you can have the best and most complete training programme in the world – if you execute it poorly it won’t give you any more benefit than a body pump class (sorry).
Going into detail with specific exercises is beyond the scope of this article (as we’d be here all day and neither of us have time for that) but I can discuss execution in a broad manner – if you’re confused about specific exercises there’s a ton of helpful demonstration videos over on my social media channels.
Generally speaking, every muscle in your body has a function, or a reason for being there. We don’t have any completely useless skeletal muscles. With this in mind, we can work out that to properly work a lagging body part in isolation all we need to do is make it do it’s proper job under load. I’ll give you a quick example.
If you’re struggling to grow your chest but you can’t actually feel anything in your chest when you train it, chances are you’re not working it properly. So we need to remember the reason we have muscles on our chest in the first place.
The function of the pecs is to bring the humerus (upper arm bone) across the body towards the midline. In simple terms, when you’re training chest your entire thought process needs to change from pushing the weight upwards, to bringing your upper arms inwards. A great cue I like to use is “squeeze the biceps together”. This switches your focus from throwing weights upward to contracting your pecs by pushing inwards. Give it a try next chest day and see how different it feels.
Weak Body Parts Cure #2: Frequency, Frequency, Frequency
Once the basics of execution and movement patterns are in place, the next factor in bringing up a lagging body part lies in how often you train it. The more often you are able to subject your muscle to a stimulus, the more chances you’re giving it to adapt to the stimulus by growing. This isn’t, however, quite as simple as going in the gym and training the same thing every day. We have the issue of recovery to deal with.
In an ideal world, we’d want to train our lagging body parts every 3-4 days minimum. But clearly there are some caveats to this.
First of all, we need to give ourselves the best chance of recovering between sessions. If we aren’t fully recovered, we can’t train the muscle again (or if we do, the session will be sub standard). So from a training standpoint, we need to be intelligent with our programming.
The analogy of digging a hole instead of digging a trench in your training comes to mind. If you dig a hole, it’s easy to get out of and recover from. If you dig a trench, you’re going to need a lot longer to recover. This isn’t to say you don’t need to train hard. But in my experience most people use way more volume than they need. If you’re doing 38-42 sets on one muscle group in a single session I can categorically say you’re doing more than you need to. What you need to focus on is taking your volume down by 30-50% and working harder in each individual set. If you’re truly working hard in your sets you won’t have the physical capacity to perform 40 sets in a workout, you’ll be fried after 12-16. Trust me, I’ve tried both approaches both with myself and multiple clients and there’s only one winner when applied properly.
Weak Body Parts Cure #3: Intensity & Progress
I touched on this in the above section but it’s so important that we need to discuss it in further detail. Generating the intensity you need to actually stimulate change in a given muscle is essential to making progress and bringing up a lagging body part.
When you go into any given working set, you have to be willing to go through a certain amount of pain to get to the end of the set. This is just as much a mental battle as a physical one.
Most people’s minds give up before their bodies do, and as a result they stop when it starts to get hard (or take little breaks, almost as bad). If you’re serious about wanting results, you need to overcome this mental battle and force yourself to get the reps out no matter what. If you don’t give your body a reason to change, it won’t change. Training should be hard. If it’s not hard, it’s not training.
The next part, linked in with intensity, is progress. You need to progress your training if you want continued results.
Now, progress comes in many forms. The most obvious of these is increases in the amount of weight you’re lifting, which is absolutely a factor and we definitely need to see an increase in strength over time if you’re going to build muscle. But this isn’t the only factor in progress and we definitely don’t want to be adding weight at the expense of execution or intensity (as most people do).
So adding weight, as long as execution, intensity and all the other variables stay constant, does constitute as progress. But what else does?
Well, adding reps to a set you performed weeks earlier with the same weight is another indicator of progress in the gym. Improving execution at a given weight is a great tool to use too. Slowing the tempo (speed) of your reps on the same weight is a third way of measuring progress. These are all tools you need to keep track of if you want things to keep moving forward – which brings me on to my final point of this section:
Buy a logbook.
Now you can buy actual ready made log books online – but my personal preference is simply to grab a small notebook from ASDA for £1.50 and write my training plan in there. Then all I need to do is write my weights, reps and any other notes I need to refer back to in future sessions to allow me to have something to beat and a means to make progress.
Remember: what gets measured, gets managed. If you’re not tracking your workouts, weights and progress you have no idea whether you’re making progress or not, and that’s when we start to get disheartened and demotivated.
Weak Body Parts Cure #4: Don’t Reinvent The Wheel
This is the last point I want to make and it’s something that really gets on my nerves so I just couldn’t leave it out.
In some aspects, social media is awesome. It keeps us connected, allows us to learn from people we never would have heard of in other circumstances and provides us with endless memes about pingu which can never be a bad thing.
However, for all it’s good points social media gives a platform for a lot of dumb sh*t. We have people inventing new and fancy looking exercises to bring up certain body parts which in the most part just don’t make any sense from a biomechanical standpoint. As discussed earlier, if we don’t work a muscle through it’s intended function there’s little point in doing the exercise and most of these made up movements don’t give you any real benefit that you couldn’t get tenfold from an established exercise.
There are hundreds of effective exercises that have been used for decades that work. I’m not saying every single one of these will work for you, we’re all different and have different biomechanical requirements – but I can guarantee that unless you have a serious injury or exceptional physical circumstances (like you’re missing a limb or something), you’ll be able to get on with a selection of effective established exercises without having to copy what the latest Instagram expert is telling his #FitFam to do.
Be intelligent in your training approach and don’t mindlessly copy what someone else is doing if you don’t understand the merit in it. Do your research, put some thought into it and be willing to work hard – and you will get the results you’re after.
I hope this article has helped you clear up some confusion on lagging body parts.
If you have any questions please ask and I’ll do my best to help. Don’t forget to follow me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/AndyClementsFitness and on Instagram at @andyclements01.
Happy training and get after it!
PS – New to weight training and want to know where to start?
Check out this article on the basics of weight training, weak body parts and all: