Everyone is different and unless you’re in the top 1% of the population of genetically gifted people then you most likely have a lagging body part that you’re just not happy with. It might be that you have a narrow shoulder structure so can’t seem to get that coveted V-taper look, you might have tiny calf syndrome or just some straight up chicken legs!
It’s not just in appearance that you can have a lagging body part either, people with big shoulders or triceps might struggle to feel your chest working on bench press movements as these stronger muscle groups take over, you might also have muscular imbalances from working a desk job and look like you’re constantly slouching due to being in a hunched position for most of the week.
The key to finding your weak parts is to have a good hard look at yourself and say “I need to work on this”, once you’ve decided what your main weakness is, then read on and find out how to turn it into one of your best assets.
When analysing your weaknesses, the first place to start is by gaining a full understanding of the muscle itself and this means knowing the anatomy. Each muscle has different insertion points, fibre makeup and responsiveness to exercise so you’ll need to gain a basic understanding of these areas to really benefit from weak point training.
A small change of angle or hand grip placement can completely change where the emphasis is placed on the muscle. The bench press for example, is an exercise designed to work the chest, if however, you use a narrow grip (hands close together) you will be putting a much greater emphasis on the triceps and they will ultimately take over and be worked the most during the set. This is good if you want to build up your triceps but not if the aim was to target your chest.
This example is also true for a squat, a wide stance of shoulder width or wider will put the emphasis on your hamstrings and glutes whereas a narrow stance will target the quads more.
This manipulation of angles, stances, hand positions and exercise selection are the foundation when it comes to targeting a weak area (and training in general) which brings us into the next step which is exercise selection.
This ties in with understanding the anatomy of the muscle group being targeted. Using the triceps as an example, these are made up of three heads with different functions and therefore different exercises need to be used to hit all heads, it’s not a one exercise works all scenario.
A triceps pressdown with arms by your side will work the lateral head (outside portion of the arm) whilst an overhead extension will work the long head (upper rear section of the arm).
It’s also important to select exercises which will recruit the largest number of muscle fibres possible. If you do a single arm triceps kickback with 10kg and a close grip bench press of 80kg it’s obvious which exercise will recruit the most muscle fibres and lead to more growth. That’s not to say that the heaviest weight and exercise is the most efficient, it’s about the greatest load placed on that particular muscle.
A machine chest press is much easier than a dumbbell press because you don’t have to balance the weight on the machine so stabilising muscles aren’t needed which makes it feel much easier. Therefore, machines and cables are best used near the end of your session as they are great ways of targeting the muscle but not necessarily recruiting the most fibres. It’s essential that you therefore vary your exercises to ensure you are fully working the target muscle group.
When targeting a specific body part, the key to progress is frequency, it can be assumed that you train all body parts with similar frequency (twice a week for example) but when looking to bring up a lagging body part then you need to up the frequency to three or in some cases four times per week.
This is because of protein synthesis, working a muscle activates protein synthesis (chemical reactions in the body for muscle growth) for up to 48 hours after training, after this period the rate of protein synthesis slows dramatically so training a body part once per week means you could then be going five days before activating this again.
By hitting the muscle three times a week, you will allow for an optimal level of protein synthesis. This however means that volume and frequency need to be reduced for other body parts to compensate, if you target arms as a weak point and train them three times a week on top of all other lifts then you’ll fatigue very quickly and this will likely lead to injury.
It’s always difficult to analyse yourself and point out self-weaknesses, most of the time you might not even know what to look for, squats are a leg dominant exercises however you need a strong midsection to stand up with progressively heavier weights on your back so struggling to progress in this exercise might be nothing to do with leg strength and development at all but actually down to core strength. That’s just one example of a weakness not glaringly obvious though most of the time you will probably be aware of the areas that you want to improve.
By using a mirror and training log to see where you can improve you should be able to pinpoint these weaknesses and start to work on them using the strategies above.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Simon Byrne is a health and fitness writer covering a range of subjects including training, nutrition and supplementation. Whilst currently a certified nutritionist, he is also studying towards a degree in sports nutrition. Outside of the fitness industry Simon’s career is in venue and events management.