A big issue for many bodybuilding enthusiasts is bringing up muscle groups that seem to fall behind. One of the most widely used methods of remedying this problem is to train the particular muscle group multiple times per week. However, overtraining will put a stop to your quest for gains in muscle mass, so you must be weary to avoid this in your quest to build a balanced physique.
A common question that is asked is: “well my biceps suck, can I work them out twice a week?” The answer to this is yes and no. Confused? I’ll explain. Your ability to work a lagging muscle group multiple time per week will depend on a few things: length of training spilt, proper use of volume, overload, and active rest; and your genetically inherent ability to recover.
The first idea to keep in mind to help you bring up body parts that are falling behind is the proper setup of your training split. Many lifters divide up their training splits by days of the week, when they miss one day due to some unforeseen circumstance, they feel they have fallen behind for the week and they spend all day at the gym catching up or they don’t work the particular muscle group at all. Usually the muscle group that is skipped is legs unfortunately; the best way to avoid this pitfall is to look at your training splits in a different way.
If you look at the training split of many top bodybuilders, you will see that it is divided into Day 1, Day 2 etc. Instead of Monday being ‘chest day’ and having to wait for a bench because everyone else is performing chest exercises, you will be following a rotation so that the day of the week doesn’t matter.
Think about it? Do your muscle groups really know what day of the week it is? Will your chest choose not to grow just because it is not Monday? This will help you to increase the frequency of working particular muscle groups, instead of trying to get a full triceps workout in twice a week and overtraining; how about working triceps twice every 8 or 9 days? The relative volume and frequency will be increased, but you will liberate yourself from the every 7 days routine.
Also, you can worry less about overtraining because the amount of rest your triceps receive before they are hit is increased from what it would be during a 7 day split. The other benefit of setting up your training split this way is if you miss a day in the gym, just count it as a rest day and continue with your rotation; no more long days in the gym or skipping muscle groups. Here’s an example:
|Original Routine||Arms Routine|
|Day 1 - Chest & Abs||Day 1 - Chest & Abs|
|Day 2 - Back & Calves||Day 2 - Back & Calves|
|Day 3 - Arms||Day 3 - Arms|
|Day 4 - Shoulders & Abs||Day 4 - OFF|
|Day 5 - Legs & Calves||Day 5 - Shoulders & Abs|
|Day 6 - OFF||Day 6 - Legs & Calves|
|Day 7 - OFF||Day 7 - Arms|
|Day 8 - Repeat Cycle||Day 8 - OFF|
|Day 9 - OFF|
With a routine like this, you can have a decent amount of rest in between workouts and still train your arms at a normal volume. Do not fear the fact that there are 3 rest days in the rotation; you can only grow while you’re recovering and taking in more calories then your expending. The rest days will allow you to continue to eat clean but will make it easier for you to be in caloric surplus over an extended period of time provided you keep your diet and calories in a slight caloric surplus even on your off days. So now, if you miss a day in the gym, count that as an off day and continue forward.
The next method to keep in mind is the relationship between overload and active rest. When increasing training frequency of a particular muscle group over an extended period of time it is very important to continue to mix up the workouts and provide a decent amount of rest between training sessions. However, as long as rest is not optimal you will need an ‘active rest’ period at some point. Active rest pertains to the method of providing low volume to a muscle group or to your cardiovascular system so that you don’t fall into over training but you don’t fall out of shape as well.
The best way to go about active rest is to reduce the volume to a mere 6 sets and only work the muscle group once a rotation, without going to failure, for one to two weeks depending on how long you had the training frequency for the muscle increased. In many cases, if your training volume was high for a smaller muscle group like calves or arms you can take an entire training cycle off (you will still be working biceps and triceps during your back and chest routines).
Your natural ability to recover is going to be the primary issue that will influence how often you can hit a muscle group. Drugs can exponentially increase recovery time so you should never attempt to repeat workouts or train at the volume similar to an unnatural bodybuilder. However there are those who genetically recover faster than others, it doesn’t necessarily make them a better bodybuilder but it can definitely make things less complicated for them when it comes to increasing volume or frequency of training. Here is a list of warning signs of overtraining to be weary of in your quest for muscle:
- Lack of energy, despite adequate sleep.
- Aches and pains, especially in your legs.
- Reduction in performance, decrease in strength.
- Increase in colds, decreased immune system.
- Irritability or depression.
- Decrease in appetite.
- Feeling burnt out about your sport or lifting weights.
The only way to properly incorporate the methods of extending your training split and utilizing active rest is to have enough training experience to know how quickly your muscle groups recover from weight training. This is a training method best used by those who are experienced enough to gauge their levels of recovery as to prevent overtraining.
First begin by identifying the lagging muscle group, the only muscle groups that can be brought up together at the same time are the arms or the shoulders because they utilize more isolation exercises as opposed to the chest or back which require the use of secondary muscle groups.
Once you’ve identified the muscle group you will set up your training split based on your experience with your bodies’ recuperative abilities. If you find that you recover rather quickly, you may not need to extend your training split. Once you’ve determined the training split, simply add 4-8 more sets to your typical total set per rotation and divide up the sets between your two workouts as necessary. Example:
- Typical sets performed per rotation for chest: 15.
- New number of sets to perform per rotation: 22.
- Number of sets to perform during both chest days in rotation: 11 sets each day.
Once you master this method of manipulating your training splits you will be able to bring up lagging muscle groups without becoming lost in how to work your training rotation or simply ignoring other muscle groups altogether and causing yourself even more problems.
Dustin Elliott is the Head Formulator for Betancourt Nutrition.