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Turn any weakness into a strength

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Everyone has muscle groups that stubbornly refuse to respond. Here’s advice from some of the best trainers in the world on how to force lagging body parts to grow

Unless your physique was sculpted by Michelangelo himself, you will have some muscle groups that appear relatively small and under-developed compared with others. Whether that’s down to their reluctance to respond or you neglecting to train them as much as you should, any imbalance needs to be addressed if you want to achieve the best body possible. We asked some of the world’s top coaches and pro athletes, starting with IFBB pro muscle model Steve Cook – a man whose physique has to pay the bills – for their advice so you can start working on your weak spots right away.

Do one-and-a-quarters reps, says Charles Poliquin
Some of you will have certain muscles that start growing as soon as you look at a dumbbell, while other body parts stubbornly refuse to respond to whatever you’re throwing at them.

If you have a muscle group that isn’t where you want it to be you need to shock it into action and there are a couple of methods I like that can achieve this.

Your first step could be to slow down the tempo of each rep, especially during the eccentric phase, when your muscles are stronger. Increasing the duration of each set increases the time under tension your muscle is exposed to and the link between tension and hypertrophy is clear.

If that’s not worked for you, then you need to ramp it up and I like doing partial-range reps within full-range movements to induce hypertrophy rapidly. This allows you a greater overload for the part of each rep that is never normally overloaded during full-range reps. An easy way to incorporate this into your training is to do 1¼ reps, where at the bottom of each rep you lift one-quarter of the way up only, go back to the bottom, then do a full rep, so you are overloading the bottom 25% of the move with each rep.

And the beauty of both these tips is that you can apply them to any move for any body part.

Use pre-exhaustion sets, says Hidetada Yamagishi
I have good quads. The symmetry is there and it helps I have a small waist. And my shoulders are wide, which is good because when it comes to shoulders they need to grow outwards! But I have had to work hard on my chest, especially the upper pecs to bring out the thickness. I found pre-exhaustion supersets to be very good, so I do an isolation move, starting with dumbbell flyes to get a good stretch in the muscle, then go into an upper chest compound move, like incline bench presses. So try pre-exhaustion supersets on any muscle group you want to improve. But as with any exercise it is very important that you feel the target muscle doing the work and controlling the weight because that is what leads to growth.

Increase how often you train it, says Mark Coles
If you want to fix a weak spot and help a muscle group grow, you have to put thought into exercise selection and angles. Is the long or short head of your biceps underdeveloped or are you lacking width or thickness to your back? Once you know, you’ll need to consider which exercises are going to target that specific area.

You might also need to target it multiple times per week. Frequency is a commonly underused principle of training. Some people like to vary each workout, focusing on strength in one session, then more volume and hypertrophy work in another. But I like to combine the two in each session, working on strength at the start of the session, then moving to higher-rep work towards the end. In my experience this results in quicker gains in the target muscle group.

When you apply this method, I’d advise you back off a more dominant muscle group for the duration of this specialisation phase. If one muscle group is over-developed compared with others, you might even back off it completely and train it once every third week for a four-to-six week period.

Focus on one weakness at a time, says Olly Foster
We all have weak points. Once you acknowledge that, you need to establish where it is and develop a training plan that places more emphasis on that area.

It’s important to address one area at a time and don’t be lead to believe that more is always better. It’s very easy to over-train the muscle in a desperate attempt to increase size and strength. Quality always beats quantity so use both strength-based and isolation-based hypertrophy-focused exercises that incorporate both bilateral and unilateral movements. And always control the tempo of each rep and focus on the mind-to-muscle connection.

These might all sound like very little adjustments, but when you add them all together they can be a very powerful training stimulus.

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