6 steps to develop lagging body parts
Written by Mark Coles - Follow on Google+ | Facebook | Twitter
How often do you browse through social media looking at all the incredible physiques, and ask yourself why you aren't changing like that?
Have you got to a point where you have reached a plateau and think you’re just not destined for bigger muscles?
Well, you may think that way if you’re the kind of person who is happy to give in. It is not the case that only certain people in the world can build serious muscle mass - anyone can do it if they have the right knowledge.
I have suffered from all kinds of injuries, including a torn ankle ligament, a prolapsed disk and shoulder reconstruction. So when I started bodybuilding, you could say my body was slightly dysfunctional. The reason I’m telling you this is because if I can grow and balance out my physique, so can you. One body part I always struggled with was chest. What’s interesting to note is that just like many of you I’d tried nearly every trick in the book.
So why didn’t they work? When it comes to training and building muscle, most people focus on exercise choice, reps, load, sets and rest. But if these variables are always the answer, why isn’t everyone walking around with oak-like chests, boulders for shoulders and legs like Tom Platz?
What many people fail to understand is the importance of biomechanics and how individual we are. We are structures built of muscles, bones, tendons and ligaments. The goal when bodybuilding should never be to move a weight from A to B. If it is, your main focus is simply on what’s happening to the dumbbell, cable or barbell.
Your primary focus should always be the working muscle, and what’s happening to it throughout the entire range of an exercise. It wasn’t until I took a step back and started to assess my own mechanics and muscles that my body really began to develop. Now, I’m not expecting you to start reading anatomy books before you go to bed but I do want you to appreciate your muscles a bit more. So for the rest of this article, I’m going to share some of the main areas I focus on as a coach when I am a helping others develop weak body parts.
1. Improve your posture.
This is one of the main issues holding back most lifters with weak body parts. Rarely do I meet someone with a lagging body part who doesn’t have poor posture. In order to have balanced posture, your muscular structure needs to be balanced and strong from front to back.
Weak muscles create instability, and when placed under tension over active or stronger muscle groups will take over. With the very common rounded shoulders, you will often have a lot of instability. You will end up placing more tension towards your shoulders and triceps when you bench press rather than your chest. You can change your set up all you like, when you’re unstable it won’t make any difference.You need to work on strengthening the muscles that help stabilise your scapula and support thoracic extension (lower traps, thoracic extensors and rhomboids).
When you do focus on them, not only will your posture improve, but you’ll be able to press from a more stable base. This will result in more tension being placed more towards the pectorals. Posture isn’t corrected by standing better, it’s a sign that something is weak and needs to be strengthened.
2. Extremity execution
I doubt you will have spent much time recently looking at anatomy books, so let me share something with you. Muscles have an origin and an insertion, by that I mean at each end they attach to the bone with tendons.
Muscles have a fully lengthened range - think of the biceps when your arm is fully stretched out – and a fully contracted range – think of the biceps when you show off your guns.
To fully develop a muscle, you need to train it through its entire range (from the extremities). But most people aren’t prepared to drop their egos, and lift a weight that is appropriate for their strength level. There will always be parts of any movement where you’re weaker. If you learn to train where you’re weaker first, you will grow a lot quicker. However it’s easier to throw a weight past the hard parts of a lift to where it’s a little easier. This leads nicely to point three.
3. Improve your muscle control
Muscle control means always being in control of the load you’re lifting. Yet walk into most gyms and you immediately see weights being thrown around with little control. To grow, you need to stimulate as much of the muscle as possible, which means learning to lift with control. From the moment you move a joint, you need to be in control of the muscle you’re training.
You need to remain in control all the way to full contraction, and then at every part of the lowering (or eccentric) portion of the lift. This is where a training partner is helpful, because they can keep an eye on the lift from start to finish. I’m sure it will dent your ego to be seen lifting 50 per cent of what you normally do but you have to remember you’re in the gym to change your body and nothing else. You also have to remember that you’ve remained the same for long enough so what you’re currently doing isn’t working.
4. Know your active range of movement
Training beyond the point at which you have control of a muscle could cause injury as well as turn the working muscle off. You must learn what range you can control the load through and remain within it. Go beyond it and other muscle groups kick in.
For example with the chest press: you lower the bar and feel your pecs working until the bar gets about two inches away from your chest and then you suddenly feel your shoulders start to round and lose tension in your chest. At this point the load has switched to your shoulders, traps and triceps. This doesn’t work the chest and leaves your shoulders open to injury, particularly rotator cuff pain.
5. Learn to initiate
If I told you it’s important to start an exercise with the muscle you intend to work, you’d assure me you do. However, consider point three about muscle control. You have a fully lengthened and fully shortened range of a muscle. You therefore need to focus on developing the entire length. This is something that very few people think about.
When I ask someone to initiate with a working muscle, I mean they should contract it at the extremity before even beginning the lift. This ensures that the muscle that you’re trying to develop, is recruited at it's fully lengthened position. We're trying to grow muscle, so let's use all of it right. Consider the dumbbell biceps curl again.
At the fully stretched position, most people swing the dumbbell up for the first two inches. What they should do is contract the muscle in this fully stretched position, which is actually very hard. But if you don’t initiate with the working muscle, you allow other muscles to facilitate the lift. You also miss an opportunity to develop muscle tissue at the extremes of the range of movement.
6. Training frequency
Training a weak muscle frequently is popular, and rightly so – there's no denying that it really works. But there is no point training a body part more than once a week if you’re not stimulating it in the right areas. If you can’t follow all the points in this article, you will derive little benefit from just increasing training frequency.
A weaker muscle group can be trained more than once a week. But you only need to train it to the point where you fatigue. Let’s say you stick to all the principles in this article and you get nine sets into chest and you’re toast.
This is when you should stop. Don’t push on and do poor reps just to add volume. Leave the workout at nine intense and focussed sets then come back in 48 hours and do the same again. Instead of busting out 18 sets, with 50 per cent poor quality, in one chest session, split the volume into two perfect sessions. A muscle will grow if it’s stimulated correctly, so only focus on precise execution.
Developing lagging body parts goes way deeper than calories and training frequency. It comes down to how you execute each and every exercise. Training becomes so much more rewarding when you pay attention to your muscles and their function rather than simply shifting load.
To learn more muscle building techniques, pick up a copy of the popular 8 Week Physique