We are all unique in our own special ways. This is not just a quick personal development pep talk, but to gently say that along with our individual physique strengths we also have our particular weak areas. Our bodies are shaped the way they are based on family genetics and usage. Through resistance training we are able to shape our God-given bodies in new ways. While we cannot change our height, bone structure, or shape of a muscle, as these elements are predetermined by genetics, we can greatly enhance what we have. All humans have the same 600 some muscles. Yes, you do have abs! The length of our muscles and tendons as well as the number of muscle fibers are set. But through proper nutrition and exercise we can decrease body fat levels and increase the size of our muscle fibers greatly altering our appearance. We cannot make our bodies to look exactly like someone else, but through strategic exercise we can make dramatic changes.
Several of my personal ‘weak areas’ would be my calves and general upper body width (back and side shoulders). Being a naturally tall and thin guy these have been problem areas my entire life. Instead of just accepting defeat I educated myself, devised a battle plan, and went to work. Making major changes to ones body is not a quick process. You have to be patient and n for the long haul, but your efforts will be rewarded. While I still don’t have the biggest calves they are much improved and nowadays I frequently get compliments. Here is my best advice to turn your weak points into highlights.
Place a special focus on the muscle groups that are lagging. We often have the mindset that we have to work thighs, hamstrings, and then calves last. Or when working shoulders we need to do our overhead presses and finish with rear delts. While in general this is normal protocol sometimes we have to work outside the box. For example when I am focusing on developing my calves I often start my leg workout with calves while I am full energy. Switching things around changed the game for me. A shoulder workout can start with rear delts! Amazing revelation right? Don’t be afraid to break what is normal and train for your own body. These next two concepts are apart of prioritizing, but important enough to have their own paragraphs.
Work your weak points more than just once a week. You can’t really go wrong working them twice weekly. Depending on the muscle group and your recovery level a few touch up sets a third round every now might be beneficial as well.
It’s important to consider not only the number of sets during a specific workout, but also the weekly volume which we talked about above with frequency. A lagging muscle group requires more than just 3-5 sets of a couple exercises. An exercise can be done for 6, 7, 10+ sets! Who knew? Bigger muscle groups like the thighs, chest, and back can handle more total sets in a week. I’ve gone up to 20 sets for a given muscle group in a single session and 30+ in a week. Everybody responds differently to volume, but the point is to give your weak areas more attention than normal.
At the end of the day workout intensity stands above most other concepts when it comes to muscle growth. I’ve been asked before what ‘intensity’ means. To me it means absolute focus, single mindedness, and the desire to get as much results from every single rep. Workout intensity is the desire to be uncomfortable and to work a muscle until it has nothing left. Listen to this: exercises are generally more intense with proper form and when a slower tempo is used. Ones mind often gives out before the muscle. You always have to ask yourself, “Can I do one more rep?” Don’t stop just because you did 10, 12, or 15 reps. Muscles don’t count, they can only feel. I always tell me personal training clients, “I don’t care about 12. Do more!” There are so many methods, programs, scientific articles, but your workout intensity will generally supersede them all.
One way to increase workout intensity is by going beyond failure. What does that mean exactly? It means lifting to absolute muscular failure with good form and then doing more! If you have a lifting partner common techniques include:
- Forced Reps: A partner provides minimal assistance to finish the positive (concentric) portion of the lift.
- Negatives: Upon failure a lifting partner may help or completely lift the weight and you lower the weight slowly. Our strength to do the eccentric portion of a lift will surpass that of the concentric lifting of the weight.
I generally workout solo and often use these methods to go ‘beyond failure’:
- Drop Sets: Once failure is reached quickly reduce weight and continue with reps. Multiple weight reductions can happen in a single set.
- Pause-rest: This is one of my favorite techniques. Once muscular failure is reached take a quick 4-10 second rest and continue on with the set. This can be repeated any number of times each set.
Keeping a record of your workouts is vital for progression. I can barely remember what I did yesterday let alone what exercises, exact sets and reps, and weights used last week. Use a notebook or your phone to keep detailed notes of each workout. Over time work to do more weight and/or more reps.
Weak Point Cardio
This is a method I use often especially when prepping for a natural pro show. It’s a twist on HIIT cardio where I hit an intense interval followed by a quick set to work on a lagging muscle group. There are unlimited variations of this idea. Have fun with it and get those extra sets in.
If I am focusing on my side delts I might do the following:
- Jog for one minute
- Lateral Raises with resistance band: 15 reps.
Repeat 7-10 times.
When working on back width my ‘Weak Point Cardio” might be:
- Stationary Bike: 20 seconds all out.
- Stationary Bike: 30 seconds moderate.
- Wide Grip Chins: 12 reps.
- Stationary Bike: 40 seconds moderate.
Repeat 5 times.
All this extra work to bring up a weak point is wasted if you are not priming yourself for recovery. The muscle building cycle involves breaking down muscle fibers then doing everything we can to recover so they grow bigger and so we can do it all over again. Focus on these things to maximize your recovery potential:
- Sleep: This is sometimes difficult with family and work, but try to get at least 7 hours of sleep nightly. The quality of your sleep is important too. Try to stay off your phone several hours before bed, or at least turn on the ‘night shift’ option on your screen changing the screen light to warmer colors.
- Nutrition: This is the foundation of health and any physical change. The what you eat, how much, and when are all important. If you are looking to drop body fat eat in a clean calorie deficit. When trying to build muscle eat in a clean calorie surplus. These calories are made up of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. While everybody is different there are standard macronutrient percentage breakdowns that are a good place to start. Seek professional help if you need assistance in this area or follow a reputable ‘program’ that outlines detailed nutrition protocol.
- Hydration: Being that our bodies are made up mainly of water it’s only natural that we need a lot of it to functional properly. Staying fully hydrated gives us energy, helps us lose body fat, and build muscle. Best of all it’s typically free! Drink a glass of water immediately upon waking to start the day off right. I personally bring in about a gallon of water daily. And yes, I visit the bathroom often. It’s one of the sacrifices I make to be healthy.
- Supplementation: Nutrition and workout intensity are always most important. But when those things are in place proper supplementation can help a little. I work hard enough that even ‘a little’ extra energy, focus, and recovery matter to me. Extraordinary lifestyle requires extra-ordinary nutritional support. The basics include whey protein especially post workout, creatine, and glutamine. Look for quality brands that are third party tested and contain no artificial colors or flavors.
Natural muscle growth takes time especially when dealing with parts of the body that are stubborn. Make a commitment to yourself to be in this for the long haul and never quit. You’ve heard the saying, “Anything worth while takes time.” A killer set of calves is definitely a worthy goal.
My weak points will always be a work in progress, but by being consistent with all the methods mentioned above they are slowly turning into highlights. By happy with who you are, but always strive to push your boundaries and improve.