5 Techniques to Improve Lagging Body Parts

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The Austrian Oak can teach us a few things about working on lagging body parts. When his underdeveloped calves were brought to his attention (more than once), Arnold Schwarzenegger decided the only solution was to work them 6 days per week.

He didn't blame his genetics, chosen rep range, or busy schedule. He knew that he simply had to work harder.

To further motivate himself to build better calves, he cut the bottoms off all his training pants so that he, and everyone else, had a constant reminder of the work that needed to be done.

His dedication obviously paid off, carrying him to victory on the Olympia stage seven times.

The Reality of Lagging Body Parts

Not every muscle group is going to grow at the same rate. Despite our best efforts, we all have lagging body parts.

Even elite level bodybuilders have areas they feel aren't up to snuff.

To make matters worse, we tend to work harder on the things we're really good at, and neglect the rest.

If, early on in your training, you're frequently complimented on your deadlift strength, you can bet you'll give that exercise 110%.

On the other hand, if you have a small, weak chest, you'll probably shy away from bench pressing to save the embarrassment of kicking and spitting to lift 135lbs.

Maybe the reason for your imbalance is that the muscle group was really small to begin with (stupid calves), or they don't respond well to training (I'm looking at you delts), or the result of plain ol' neglect (sorry, traps).

But instead of feeling sorry for yourself and your sad little muscles, you can do something about it.

Regardless of the cause, the solution is the same: more work.

There likely isn't some magical exercise you've never heard of or a super secret rep range. The things you're already doing are probably best, just not in the right quantity.

Below I've laid out 5 techniques that have worked for me in the past and that I still use today.

(1) Priority Training

It's no coincidence that the most common lagging body parts are also the ones that are frequently trained at the end of a workout, usually with a few half-assed sets. You spend 55 minutes hitting squats, deadlifts, and lunges, then begrudgingly tack on a couple sets of calf raises.

Then you're free to spend the rest of the week complaining about your chicken legs (been there).

The easiest solution is to work lagging body parts first thing in your workout when you're fresh and the buzz from your pre-workout is at its strongest. Give them the same effort and volume you would to your favorite muscles.

(2) Increase Frequency

If you're on a typical bodybuilding program that calls for hitting each muscle group once per week, these lagging body parts will never get the stimulation they needs to grow properly.

If you decide that your upper chest needs work, you would of course train it on your normal chest day, but you could also hit incline presses again on shoulder day.

Another way to increase frequency is get some work in on a completely unrelated day. Working rear delts with legs, for example.

Just try not to work the same muscle on back to back days too often.

(3) Pre-exhaust

There is a time when you should not pre-exhaust a muscle (more on that in another article) and a time when it can be extremely useful.

If you want to focus on building a bigger chest but your triceps are the weak link in your pressing movements, you could pre-exhaust the pecs with some dumbbell flys before you move onto bench press.

After the flys, your chest is fatigued but the triceps are still strong. During the bench press, your pecs are likely to become fully exhausted by the compound movement.

This can help tap into muscle fibers that would have otherwise gone unstimulated.

(4) Alternating Sets

Let's say that you want to bring up your shoulders and have decided to add the extra workout on your leg day.

Instead of spending 20 minutes at the beginning or end of your workout on the lagging body part, just do a set in between each set of your various leg exercises.

Since working your shoulders isn't going to affect your leg strength, it's a wise use of the time you would've otherwise spent sitting on a bench texting that girl on the treadmill.

The Alternating Set Method is a great way to add volume for that stubborn muscle group.

(5) Dedicated Day

Let's assume that your shoulders are lagging behind the rest of your body.

You're likely training them after chest. That's great, but if they're not responding as well as you'd like, they may need some special attention.

Instead of giving them maybe 20 or 30 minutes after chest, give them a full hour on a different day. This methods works because your mental and physical energies aren't divided between multiple tasks.

Try to sneak this workout in so it doesn't interfere with your other days. Chest and triceps on Monday, back and biceps on Wednesday, and shoulders on Friday, for example.

Final Thoughts

Selective use of these principles is key. It wouldn't be wise to use all of these techniques for multiple body parts all at the same time. That's a recipe for spending 20 hours per week in the gym.

Spend a few years building the mass first. Then you can evaluate and decide what needs some extra attention.

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  • Reply
    Damian @ Dareandconquer
    March 3, 2015 at 3:13 pm

    Hey man its really the first time i hear about pre-exhaust. I am looking forward to that article.

    Regarding the rest i beleive “alternating sets” is the best one. I do it every time i workout my legs. Its the best opportunity to emphasize on some of the upper body muscles that you want.

    Of course, you shouldn’t work the muscle you worked the day before because you may be a little sore.
    But i really love alternating sets. Its a great way for many who hate legs to make the leg day more interesting and valuable.
    In that case supersets are really time saving. Go from calves straight to pull ups and from leg extensions to dips. Love it.

    • Reply
      March 3, 2015 at 4:50 pm

      You’re right about the motivation aspect. I haven’t skipped a leg workout in over 6 years but I can’t honestly say that I’m ever jumping out of my skin with excitement to do it.

  • Reply
    May 22, 2015 at 11:49 am

    Never really understood pre-exhaustion until now. Turns out it’s something I’ve been making use of all along. Btw I find bench press to be a pressing movement, as in using the delts. Wide grip variations hit the chest better as well as db press where you can better control the motion to activate the pec. Really, once i really started focusing on zeroing in on the pec in my chest training, I find I barely use anything else at all, aside from getting a crazy pump in my forearms. My favorite feeling aside from a pumped back.

    • Reply
      May 22, 2015 at 10:26 pm

      I agree. I consider the bench press to be one of the best front delt developers. I’ve never gotten a forearm pump from bench, must not be squeezing the bar enough.

      • Reply
        May 24, 2015 at 12:24 am

        It’s all in the wrists. Hard to explain this kind of thing but just focus on controlling the weight and you should “find” it. It’s very distinct when you’re forearms are activated.

        • Reply
          May 24, 2015 at 12:36 am

          I’ll have to try it. I always seem lose focus when I try to activate something. Have you ever tried to “pull the bar apart” while benching to activate the triceps? Whenever I do I can’t seem to lift more than 135, lol.

  • Reply
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