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”.
In Part 2, we discussed specialization cycles of training that manipulate volume in efforts to increase the stimulation and encourage the growth of these lagging body parts.
Here in Part 3, we’ll cover what to do if the specialization cycles are no longer proving effective.
HOW DO WE KNOW IT’S TIME TO IMPLEMENT THESE PRACTICES?
Before we talk specifically about what approaches to take, it’s important to note these techniques are not to be thrown around simply when you “feel like” implementing them.
Within the broader context of this series, the following strategies should be considered advanced efforts. Thus, we’d prefer you carefully read the first two articles, spend the months or years required to see those methods through, before using the techniques in this article. Using them early is unnecessary at best and potentially detrimental at worst.
Sure, there may be other scenarios in which you could use the methods below right away, but when dealing with lagging body parts I would not condone that.
Following this order of operations and having some patience will allow for continued advancement and sound data collection practices. I cannot stress this enough — when it comes to training volume manipulations, it is far more advantageous to make small calculated increases over time than to hastily initiate giant increases.
Leaving room for continued progress is an undervalued, yet highly intelligent strategy for anyone hoping for a career in natural bodybuilding.
All that said, assuming you’ve thought this through and are assured you need more advanced strategies to handle your lagging body parts, here are three proposed suggestions.
We will start with the overarching theme of total volume consideration before diving into a couple of smaller exercise-related tweaks that may be of service.
PAST THE EXCHANGES, ONTO THE ADDITIONS
In our last article, we discussed an exchange of work within your current program — increasing volume for areas that need it while at the same time decreasing volume temporarily for your stronger body parts that probably do not. We first suggested shifting 1/3 of your training volume from strong to weak, then perhaps progressing to 1/2 of your total training volume.
While it is likely that your stronger body parts might deflate a tad bit and appear to be losing some size, previous size and fullness typically returns soon after you exit the specialization cycle.
But what if the exchange didn’t pay off as hoped? What if you back-slid in your strong muscle groups, and your weak muscle groups didn’t gain much ground?
If you did notice substantial backsliding in your stronger muscle groups, it might be in your best interest to actually forget the exchange mentality and go for the pure addition of work. Perhaps for your next specialization cycle, you simply implement extra volume for weaker parts to combat these deleterious effects.
So, if your current balanced training cycle (not a specialization cycle) is your baseline, keep everything the same except increase your volume by 20% on your lagging muscle groups.
However, as mentioned in the last article, still consider these as sporadic cycles and not a new baseline for training all the time. Remember, injury prevention and connective tissue health is a vital aspect of your ability to progress throughout a career.
Do all things in moderation. If you are advanced enough to require specialization cycles at all, then you are also advanced enough to think you can make rapid progress and you can let go of the idea that your training should always be progressing in a linear fashion every week.
In time (months at least), that 120% weak-point volume will eventually be your new 100%. Then, if your meticulously tracked progress indicates you haven’t made progress, you can make another 20% increase, but not before enough time has passed to assess the effectiveness of the initial increase.
At some point after many years of training, your specific needs will become more apparent and your own “symmetrical” training program could (and should) end up looking asymmetrical compared to others because it will be based on your specific strengths and weaknesses.
EXERCISE ORDER MANIPULATIONS
As Alberto mentioned in our podcast episode on lagging body parts, there is something to be said for the freshness of your limbs and mindset.
Let’s say that your arms are the weak body part that needs to catch up, but, because you are so physically and mentally drained by the time you get to targeted arm movements at the end of your upper body workout, they are simply getting whatever is left of you.
A good tactic then might be to start your leg day with some curls and triceps extensions to increase the quality of your arm training. Now your arms can get the best of your well-rested efforts while your more developed legs are largely unaffected.
This can be quite useful as long as you are careful to ensure that you do not ruin your fundamentals in the process. For example, it would not be too smart to completely hammer those triceps before bench pressing, or to kill your quads with leg extensions before squatting.
BLOOD FLOW RESTRICTION
While this technique is probably thrown around more often than needed these days due to its trendiness, blood flow restriction (BFR) training can be very useful in certain situations.
In essence, this technique involves using some type of cuff or tourniquet around your selected limb to maintain arterial flowing of blood into the muscle, while limiting the venous return.
To learn all about this technique, it’s origins, history, usage, and limitations, here is a great read by The S&C Research Review which includes a very complete resource section on the topic – https://www.strengthandconditioningresearch.com/blood-flow-restriction-training-bfr/
For the purposes of dealing with lagging body parts, using BFR essentially allows for you to accumulate volume at much lower loads. A main benefit of using lighter weights is that you can reduce the amount of stress on the joints, which can become a cumulative problem when specializing.
Another benefit is you generally do not have to worry so much about breaking form or technique. With lighter loads and the metabolic accumulation from BFR, the risk of joint injury is much lower and the muscle will be forced to work. As mentioned in the previous section, at the end of a long training session it is easy for motivation and focus drop a bit, which can hinder your ability to perform clean and purposeful reps.
Using BFR should not completely replace traditional accessory movements training (barring injuries or illness), but it can be valuable tool when you are attacking the same joint for many weeks at a time.
A FINAL WORD ON HOW TO IMPROVE LAGGING BODY PARTS
As mentioned at the start of this series, this is not the only way to do things, but it is a sound and proven methodology that has helped our clients.
Sure, you will probably hear stories of other effective strategies which are drastically different. However, many times what actually occurred probably was encompassed in the concepts discussed in this series (often just a creative way of increasing volume on the target muscle).
So as always, please complete your personal research by first reading through all three of the articles as mentioned. Also, listen to our 3DMJ Podcast episode all about lagging body parts for further context and explanations of how myself, Brad, and Alberto handle these situations with ourselves and our athletes. I’d also encourage you to seek information from other sources if you need further insights or feel skeptical about any of this information before you take any course of action.
And finally, the main point I’d like to get across is you need to have a plan in place to implement, a method to record your data while carrying out this plan, and a way to assess whether or not your efforts “worked” or not. Please bear in mind that even if your lagging body parts did not respond as you would have liked (assuming you had realistic expectations), your experiment is still a success as long as you have the data to show for it.
Be your own scientist, run your own experiments, and don’t forget to have a little fun while you’re at it.