Brad Borland is a strength & conditioning specialist, cancer survivor and the founder of WorkoutLab.
We all have them and we all hate them - lagging body parts that just won’t respond to our greatest efforts. No matter how hard we try: adding more volume, strip sets, higher reps, lower reps, heavier weight, better form - the list can go on. Our experience dictates that the dreaded G word (genetics) is our master and we have no choice but to succumb to its demands.
Does it have to be this way? Will we be forever shackled to this notion that there simply is little we can do to break free? Can we rebel and finally rise above our limitations and make some serious progress regarding packing on muscle to those lagging body parts?
As a serial optimist I say yes! There will always be uncharted territory when it comes to finding ways to break through plateaus and get those weak areas growing again. Sometimes the solution is simpler than you think. All it takes is an honest assessment, a well thought and thorough planning session and a strict adherence to execution.
One or two sessions of specialized training in your weak areas won’t cut it. For many, performing a marathon session once a week focusing on that specific body part might not be your ticket to gains-ville. You need a long-term, specific plan of attack that will slowly but surely result in significant and lasting gains.
Below are a few distinct techniques to use when the normal stuff just doesn’t work. Some of these are no brainers, but when it comes to installing it into the grand scheme of a program, they can illicit great reward.
10 Unique Ways To Challenge Lagging Body Parts
#1 - Go High Frequency
This is singularly one of the most powerful factors you can implement into a routine. The body is incredibly adaptive and by increasing the frequency you train a specific area, you instantly gain an advantage of more potential growth.
Once feared as overtraining, training at a higher frequency increases not only the number of growth stimulus per given period but also increases protein synthesis for improved recovery. Keeping volume in check, training a weak area every other day is a great way to spur more gains.
#2 - Limit Rest Between Sets (Try Rest/Pause)
This is an old favorite yet often misused technique to “trick” the body into performing a set number of reps with more weight than it is used to subsequently adding more muscle and strength to your frame. For example, start with a weight you can handle for 4 or 5 reps.
Perform 3 reps and then set the weight down for 15 to 20 seconds. Perform another 2 or 3 reps and then set it down again for another 15 to 20 seconds. After 3 or 4 bouts like this you will have completed 10 or so reps with a weight you could only get 4 or 5 times.
#3 - Increase Intensity With Staggered Sets
For those time-conscious trainers out there adding a few additional sets is a tough order. That is where staggered sets come in. Simply adding in a few sets during your rest periods for other body parts will not only save time but also increase the intensity level.
Just be sure not to add in crucial links for the heavier lifts. For example, it would be wise not to add in biceps work during a back workout as the biceps act as an important link for pull-ups, pulldowns and rowing movements.
#4 - Turn Up The (Blood) Volume
Though not actually affecting the cross sectional area of the muscle fibers directly, pumping blood into the muscle can help bring more nutrients to the area thereby increasing activity of specific hormones and amino acids. In between regular workouts of a certain body part, you could perform three or so sets of high reps increasing the blood volume each day until your next training day.
This will keep the area “primed” with blood and will serve well going into our next point.
#5 - Make It Hurt
Keeping the last point in mind, there is another aspect of high rep, blood volume frequent training. One possible reason for a body part’s lack of response to normal stimulus is the poor nerve innervation activity. Simply put, there isn’t an extensive communication network to the muscle.
One tried and true way to remedy this is by subjecting the muscle to pain (the good kind). By performing high reps frequently you can cause a burn in the muscle which will raise lactic acid levels and help create a better, more effective nerve connection to that muscle. Better connection means more stimuli.
#6 - Go Low Rep With Heavy Sets
You may often find yourself performing high reps, strip sets and countless other high volume techniques to get those stubborn areas to grow. What you may need in actuality is some low rep, heavy work. Combined with more frequent training, going heavier with low volume often will have carryover to other areas creating a stronger foundation.
#7 - Train A Body Part Every Day
We’ve all heard of the legendary story of Arnold training his calves every day for two years before they grew to the diamonds they eventually became, but did you know he used the same technique for his posterior deltoids? He would store a pair of dumbbells under his bed and when he would get up each morning he would perform sets of bent-over dumbbell raises. Why not give it a try?
#8 - Power Through With Explosive Exercises
High reps, low reps, heavy weight, frequent training all have their place, but another unorthodox technique to try is some power work. Jump squats, box jumps, bench press throws (on a Smith machine) and even some kettle bell work can work wonders all the while adding something fresh and different to your program. Increasing power to certain areas can be an effective way to give it some much needed shock treatment.
#9 - Get Functional And Try Something Different
Another unique way to kick those stubborn areas in the arse is to add in some functional moves such as ring dips, tire flips, Turkish get-ups, farmers walks and medicine ball moves. These are not only functional in nature but will make your whole body strong and cause it to work as one unit instead of separating body parts into their own individual workouts.
#10 - Start Over And Get Some Rest
When all else fails, your final Hail Mary pass could simply be to take some much needed time off and give your body some adequate rest. You could possibly be overtraining that area and it needs time to catch up and mend. This will also allow you to take a step back, reassess your training and diet and come back smarter and stronger for your next series of workouts.
I've hit a plateau and I'm simply not cutting anymore and my body parts have stopped responding. Your article has just convinced me to go to training every other day, I have been running GVT for the last couple of weeks but only my hamstrings seem to be benefitting from the volume of the work. I'm scared to train a body part everyday but I think full body work three times a day alternating volume is back. Thanks Brad
Very well written article! Everything on this is ABSOLUTELY effective. Thank you very much.
Thank you, Sasha!