In Part 1 of this series, we learned how to identify underdeveloped muscle groups and discussed a list of items that must be executed properly before one can deem a body part as “lagging”.
For this installment, we’re going to assume you have, in fact, already covered those bases and are certain it’s time to direct your attention in a targeted manner towards a specific area of your physique.
But before we dive in, it’s important to note this is ONE METHOD of doing this whole training manipulation thing. We hope if you’ve learned anything from all of our content here at 3DMuscleJourney.com, it’s there are a number of solutions to every problem, and there is no “correct” way to go about this. I’m simply laying out a suggested framework based on some of our personal and client-based experiences.
That said, let’s dive into it.
YOUR FIRST SPECIALIZATION STEP
For our purposes, a “specialization cycle” is one in which your overall calculated training volume is manipulated and weighted in favor of your particular lagging body part. You will be taking away some training volume from one area and giving it to another.
To be clear, rather than ADD volume to your current training protocol, you simply EXCHANGE some of it. Because chances are, if you are like every other human, you have weaker body parts AND stronger body parts.
Just as you are attempting to grow a stubborn muscle group, you also have muscle groups that would maintain their side or maybe even grow with less attention than you’d expect.
So, to manage fatigue, preserve recovery mechanisms, and decrease risk of injury, we take the conservative route to start.
NOTE: Don’t worry. We’ll eventually go over some more drastic actions later in this series if you feel they are needed. But, we do not crank up the dial unnecessarily or without testing the waters first. This first step may be just what you need, while still leaving you plenty of volume room to grow into later down the road.
HOW TO MAKE THE EXCHANGE
With your high-responding body parts, the ones that tend to grow quickly or are already developed from your previous athletic history, drop volume by about 1/3 to 1/2 of the amount you used on your most-recent training cycle. A common way to do this initially would be to simply drop any isolation movements or accessory work targeting these muscle groups, leaving you only with your main compound lifts.
You could then replace the removed volume and “give it” to your under-developed muscle groups to specialize.
As a micro example, let’s say a particular lower body day from your previous training program looked like this:
But because you have a well-developed lower body and your shoulders could use some work, you change that day to look like this:
Rear Delt Fly
In this example, your lower half is still receiving appropriate amounts of stress, and your shoulders, in addition to the training stress they got on the days you normally train them, are now also getting some extra accessory love on days they typically wouldn’t.
That example is a zoomed-in view, but the entirety of the specialization cycle would follow suit. If you drop your volume for one muscle group by 25%, then you are giving space for your lagging area volume to increase by 25%. Just making simple trade-offs to start.
FOR HOW LONG? AND HOW OFTEN?
To start, run one training block in this manner before evening your program back out. It’s important you don’t spend entire months or years in specialization mode as to not overload joints and connective tissues.
You could probably do this two or three times per year to see how it’s working and give it some tweaks. Maybe the first time you only exchanged volume by 1/3, and in a couple of months you’d like to exchange by 1/2. Or maybe you’d like to manipulate some of your compound work instead of just moving accessories around. Either way, this method of exchanges should be given its fair shot at least a couple of times before you can determine whether you need another approach.
HOW DO I KNOW IT “WORKED”?
It’s important to recognize that a “lagging part” is truly just that — it is a low responder that may need a lot more work than you’d ever think to make very small amounts of visual progress in comparison to your higher responders.
With that in mind, try not to assess your lagging part in comparison to your stronger ones. It would probably be far more useful to measure it against itself.
Let’s go back to our previous example of an individual who is attempting to bring up their shoulders. If this person spent the previous four months in a balanced training program, how much did the shoulders change?
Then let’s say the next four months you decide to run two specialization cycles spread eight weeks apart. At the end of those 4 months, did the shoulders change any more than that?
This is a much fairer representation of what your physiology is capable of than to measure one part against another. Especially because “progress” for a muscle group can be so incredibly slight. If this protocol “worked” you might notice a 2 to 3% difference, which is actually quite a big deal. Most people you meet will not even notice changes because the changes are so small, but as a bodybuilder, YOU will notice them — and that’s nothing to scoff at.
Photos can definitely help with this as a more objective visual representation. Coaches can be useful as well. Strength may or may not be a good indicator, as there can be “shadow gains” which simply come from practicing movements more frequently and being more efficient at them.
Either way, however you choose to assess, just maintain the perspective that lagging parts must be measured against themselves, not against your best or biggest part. To do so would be to establish unrealistic expectations and set yourself up for a whole lot of disappointment.
MORE EXPECTATION MANAGEMENT
So, if you are exchanging volume from one body part to another, what about those areas that are being stolen from? Will they shrink and wither away?
Not likely. Your most-developed muscles are typically higher responders to training anyhow. You might be surprised how little work they need to maintain size. Many times, nothing visual will happen at all.
But other times, strength or size may take a small hit while you shift focus during your specialization cycle. Just keep in mind that it’s only temporary. Things might appear smaller, but they might simply be deflated or flat compared to their normally “pumped” state due to fluid shifts and nutrient partitioning in the area.
Once you return to a balanced training program, things will even back out. High responding muscle groups will fill back out, and you will realize you had nothing to worry about.
To sum it all up, bringing up lagging parts will take a lot of patience and volume to show any significant change. On the other hand, strong body parts, which are high responders, may (but might not) flatten out a little, but will quickly reflate once you return to a balanced program.
WHERE TO GO FROM HERE?
As mentioned earlier, this type of specialization can be run anywhere from two to four training cycles per year. A higher frequency could increase risk of injury, or cause true backsliding of strong body parts due to spending too much time on the back burner.
(I realize this seems like a large range, but there are a whole lot of individual variables to consider, such as training age, stress levels, dieting periods, injuries, competition schedule, etc.)
As with any other training experiment, start cautiously and change one variable at a time. For your first attempt at this, make a single-cycle exchange of 1/3 your training volume, then go right back to a balanced plan like you were running before the specialization cycle. Take pictures and record data from before and after so you can assess the effectiveness, keeping in mind what constitute reasonable expectations from above.
If you didn’t see much of a change and decide to run another specialization cycle later in the year, perhaps do an exchange of up to 1/2 of your training volume. Assess again for measurable or visual progress.
And if you STILL feel like your lagging parts could use some more work, or that your stronger parts are unable to hold their size with this decrease in volume, we have a few other options and tactics to throw you way in the third and final part of this article series.
Part 3 coming end of April 2017 – Sign up for our newsletter to get it emailed directly to your inbox.