While amateurs focus on their strengths, experts know they're only as strong as their weaknesses.
As such, a strong athlete acknowledges their weaknesses and puts in the time and effort to strengthen them.
For a physique to be considered complete, there’s no room for underdeveloped muscles.
Genetics cannot be ignored, and some muscles will be more resistant to growth than others, even when exposed to optimal training techniques.
However, with enough knowledge and a burning desire to succeed, any muscle can be coerced into growing.
Here are seven ways I have overcome lagging muscle groups.
1. More Regular Training Frequency
Muscle protein synthesis is the main biological mechanism behind building muscle. This can be triggered through consuming adequate quantities of protein, fermented BCAA supplementation, and weight training.
During a general bodybuilding split, every muscle is isolated once every seven days. For muscle groups which are resistant to growth, the most obvious solution is to increase training frequency on this muscle. In doing so, muscle protein synthesis levels will increase in that specific area.
Data demonstrates that muscle protein synthesis peaks and remains elevated for around 48-72 hours after training; therefore there is benefit in training a stubborn muscle group again after this period.
When applying more training frequency to a lagging muscle, I use a blend of low and high rep training. One workout could follow a DTP (Dramatic Transformation Principle) format while the other could be more strength based with higher weight and low reps. This addresses two main strategies, using various mechanical stress approaches for optimal muscle growth.
2. Unilateral Exercises
Training for a full week exclusively using unilateral exercises is something I like to do from time to time.
Related: Unilateral Training - Building Muscle & Strength Without A Barbell
I find that this enables me to foster a better neurological connection to the working muscle with each rep. This focus can also reduce the potential of secondary muscles from taking over the work, ensuring that the target muscle stays engaged through the whole set.
To get the most out of my unilateral weeks, I like to decrease the weight and focus on form using a slow rep speed. This is particularly effective for weak muscle groups.
3. Strength Training
I have never met a massive bodybuilder who doesn’t lift heavy weights. Success leaves clues, and in this case it’s the fact that to grow, there must be some progress with strength training.
To easily track your progress, select one compound exercise for the lagging muscle group, with the sole aim of increasing the weight you can lift within an eight-week period. Using this exact same philosophy, I built my deadlift up to six plates a side, building muscular size in the process.
4. Employing “DTP”
The Dramatic Transformation Principle, better known as “DTP”, is an amalgamation of high and low rep training. Together this combination harnesses the power of both hypertrophy pathways by stimulating all types of muscle fibers in the body.
For weak muscle groups, this approach can be a complete shock, which is ideal. There is often potential to grow when new thresholds and stressors are introduced to the body. If you’ve consistently worked within the 8-12 repetition range, you may have seen limited progress, yet the muscle group could become hyper-responsive when trained with higher repetitions.
In standard form, DTP follows this format:
- Set 1 - 50 reps
- Set 2 - 40 reps
- Set 3 - 30 reps
- Set 4 - 20 reps
- Set 5 - 10 reps
- Set 1 - 10 reps
- Set 2 - 20 reps
- Set 3 - 30 reps
- Set 4 - 40 reps
- Set 5 - 50 reps
This provides a very broad range of training stimulus, attacking the muscle through a multitude of biological pathways.
Keep in mind that rest intervals in the higher rep ranges should be kept to approximately 60-90 seconds because the aerobic system recovers quickly. In the lower rep ranges of 10 and 20 reps, rest can increase to 2-3 minutes because the ATP energy system and fast twitch muscle fibers take longer to recover.
5. Nutritional Enhancements
There is little merit in enhancing training stimulus without a stringent nutrition system backing it up. Firstly, ensuring that your macronutrient requirements are met and you're consuming sufficient calories is needed.
Beyond this, on the days when the lagging muscle is trained, it could be beneficial to eat additional calories before and after training to encourage better performance and recovery. This is going to be incredibly relevant to substantially bigger muscle groups, such as the legs and back, because they utilize so much energy.
6. Advanced Supplementation
When addressing stubborn muscle growth, every tactic needs to be employed, including advanced supplementation. Specifically, pre-workout, intra-workout, and post-workout are critical time frames where supplementation can yield large differences.
Maximize your performance, as well as your body’s rebuilding and recovery processes during these times, and watch weak muscle groups start to grow.
Prior to training, ensuring that your body is fueled with a few key ingredients can make the difference between hitting new PRs or running out of gas before your workout is complete. The most important ingredients to boost your performance Creatine and L-Citrullline.
Beta-alanine is also very crucial as it improves performance by reducing muscle fatigue. Once ingested, it turns into carnosine and is stored within cells to reduce the effects of lactic acid, a byproduct of intense exercise which causes muscle soreness and fatigue.
Creatine keeps you going through your workout by producing ATP, the form of energy needed by your muscle cells.
Finally, pure L-Citrulline acts as a pre-cursor to L-Arginine, improving blood flow to the muscle which can help with performance and recovery through enhanced nutrient delivery.
The combination of these ingredients addresses several pathways to accelerate muscle performance and recovery to improve your ability to work harder without failing, boosting your potential to grow.
When dealing with stubborn muscles, do not overlook the importance of supplements during your workout. You want to keep the performance-enhancing benefits from your pre-workout regime going right through to your very last rep, maintaining a high level of intensity. To address this, BCAAs, L-Citrulline, and taurine are key ingredients you should include.
Essentially, your muscle tissue is broken down during your workout and will need to be rebuilt. Consuming BCAAs during your workout will spark the protein synthesis process, and provides your body with the essential amino acids needed for recovery, before you leave the gym floor.
Maintain the level of L-Citrulline in your body by using a small amount during your workout. This will ensure blood flow continues to the working muscles, delivering the oxygen and nutrients they need to push out every complete set of reps.
Taurine assists by supporting a better fluid balance to keep your body hydrated as well as drawing more fluid into the muscle itself. A hydrated body will always perform at its best.
Collectively, these ingredients can feed off your pre-workout supplementation to continue the positive effects in terms of performance and recovery. This is important for the rebuilding process, as well as to ensure you’re ready to hit your training session tomorrow.
When the workout is complete, shift your focus to rebuilding and recovering. Your body’s protein synthesis process was triggered by your training session and supported with the intake of BCAAs, but now you really need to get some nutrients in.
A high quality whey isolate protein is ideal in the post-workout time frame as it is fast digesting, getting to work quickly to repair the damaged muscle tissue.
Related: 5 Tips to Perfecting Your Post Workout Meal
Not only did your training session inflict damage on your muscles, but it depleted your glutamine levels. Glutamine is beneficial for its recovery properties and its ability to keep your gastrointestinal tract functioning well – meaning better nutrient absorption for muscle growth.
Keep your creatine levels topped up by supplementing with creatine post-workout, when your cells’ energy system has been fully drained. Taking care of these aspects today will ensure your training session tomorrow can be productive.
By addressing these three vital time frames with proper supplementation, you can support your body for optimal growth. Pre, intra, and post-workout windows are times where specific ingredients can go a long way towards your progress, so be sure to feed your body what it craves and needs.
7. Smart Scheduling
It’s natural to feel more energetic and motivated at the beginning of the week versus the end. After five days of work, responsibilities, training sessions, and stress, it gets easier to let yourself slip on the gym as you start to feel worn down.
Nip this in the bud by scheduling your weaker muscle groups early in the week. Doing so will ensure that they get the physical and mental attention they need when you feel your best.
Rather than conceding to the fact that a muscle won’t grow due to “genetics”, I’d recommend you apply these points.
With improved mental tenacity, changing training techniques, and armed with better knowledge around nutrition and supplementation, even the most stubborn muscle can be forced to grow.
Great article about what is needed to grow from both the workout and necessary supplements.. it would be good to have included the suggested dosages. Thanks for writing this.
This is all pretty good advice. What has helped me the most is concentrating more on each individual lift. Instead of allowing my mind to wander, I focus only on the moment I'm in at the time. I have seen better gains by doing this, even if I don't lift as much weight or for as long a period of time.