When you’ve been hitting the gym consistently (and training as hard as you possibly can), a lagging muscle group or lift can be infuriatingly frustrating 🙃
You’re bound to wonder: “Should I throw in more exercises to the mix?” and “Should I train 7 days a week, instead of 5?”
While upping your training volume may seem like the logical next step, the truth is that it isn’t always necessary, or the best thing to do. At least, not without first examining other variables.
In other words: increasing your training frequency (or load) should always be thought of as a “last-ditch” attempt to “force” growth in a lagging muscle or lift. So, what are these variables you should be looking at, specifically? Continue reading to find out.
#1: Relook your exercise form
First things first. How’s your form? Are you sure that you’re activating your target muscles on a particular exercise?
To illustrate, let’s say you’ve been trying to get the lats bigger by doing the seated rows and the chest-supported dumbbell rows – but haven’t been seeing much muscle growth in the region at all.
It may be worth filming yourself while performing these exercises.
Why? Well, although your theoretical understanding of optimal lat activation may be strong (e.g., 45-degree elbow angle and not pulling past the torso), it may not necessarily translate to how you perform the exercises. So, reviewing your training footage may help you spot problematic form. And that allows you to fix it.
The same tip applies to a lagging lift, too.
For instance, let’s say you’re struggling to progress on the bench press. Maybe the issue isn’t that you aren’t getting stronger – but you’re over-relying on the shoulders to carry the load (instead of activating your chest). Address that, and your numbers are sure to skyrocket.
#2: Restructure your routine
Here’s something to think about.
Think back to when you were a student – and only had a day to prepare for your Biology and Accounting quizzes (happening on the same day).
How would you allocate your study time?
Chances are, if you’re like the rest of us, you’d have dedicated more time to the subject you’re poorer at.
So, why do things differently when it comes to muscle growth? Just so you know: research consistently shows better growth in muscle groups that are “prioritized” in a training session. Meaning?
If you want to grow your shoulders, you can't leave your shoulder presses or lateral raises to the end of your routine. You should do them first – when you're full of energy and capable of pushing your sets close to failure. And yes: the same goes for any lagging lifts. Always place them first in your training routine (i.e., if you suck at the overhead press, do it first).
#3: Put thought into exercise selection
Pull up your training program. Now, look at all the exercises you’re currently doing for that lagging muscle group of yours. Do they fulfill the following requirements for optimal muscle growth?
- Complete muscle profile: We're talking about muscle anatomy here. A good example is the biceps. If you want “aesthetic-looking” biceps, you'll have to bring up the appearance of its short head, long head, along with the brachialis. Muscle growth in these "components" requires different exercises. For instance, you can best target the short head with concentration curls, the long head with incline dumbbell curls, and the brachialis with hammer curls. So – does your training plan cover your lagging muscle group's complete profile?
- Different resistance profiles: There are 2 primary types of resistance profiles. The first is when an exercise puts the most tension on a muscle (i.e., works it hardest) when it's in a lengthened state, and the second is when the muscle is in a contracted state. Take, for instance, the gluteus maximus. An exercise that works it the hardest when it's in the contracted state would be the hip thrust. And one that works it the hardest in the lengthened state? It'll be any of your split squat variations (e.g., Bulgarian split squat, front foot elevated split squat, or even lunges).
So, once again, comb through your training program. Your exercise selection should make sense – and account for both “muscle profile” and “resistance profile”.
#4: Pay attention to other lifestyle factors
Of course, training-related variables aren’t the only ones you should be looking into. There’s also your lifestyle to consider. Sometimes, all it takes for you to “force” growth in a lagging muscle group or lift is to simply:
- Hit your daily protein intake requirement: Protein gives your body the building blocks it needs to repair muscle tissues – so they become bigger and stronger over time. So, make sure you’re hitting a protein intake of anywhere between 1.6 grams to 2.0 grams of protein per kg of body weight daily. And don’t worry, protein doesn’t have to cost a bomb. Find out how you can get your protein in on the cheap here.
- Get enough sleep nightly (i.e., 7 to 9 hours): Adequate sleep allows your body to secrete optimal levels of growth hormones responsible for muscle recovery and growth. Meaning? Skimp on sleep, and you’ll see poor muscle growth and strength gains. If you’re always tossing and turning in bed, you might want to check out this article.
- Keep your stress levels low: Stress is bad news for muscle growth. It hurts your body’s ability to recover after a workout, compromises your immune system, and causes emotional exhaustion. That’s why you want to keep your stress levels minimal. Find out how you can do so in this article outlining 5 science-based stress-reduction techniques.
As you can tell, exercise programming can be more complicated than you first thought. You can’t simply mix-and-match exercises you wish – then hope for the best. If you want optimal muscle growth across all body parts, you'll have to account for exercise selection and order.
Overwhelmed by the thought of it?
GymStreak’s here to help. Our AI-enabled personal trainer app customizes your training plan based on your fitness goals and “best practices” relating to optimal muscle growth, so you can bid farewell to lagging muscle groups or lifts – for good.
If that sounds good to you:
Lehman, G. J., Buchan, D. D., Lundy, A., Myers, N., & Nalborczyk, A. (2004). Variations in muscle activation levels during traditional latissimus dorsi weight training exercises: An experimental study. Dynamic Medicine : DM, 3, 4. https://doi.org/10.1186/1476-5918-3-4
Simão, R., Spineti, J., de Salles, B. F., Oliveira, L. F., Matta, T., Miranda, F., Miranda, H., & Costa, P. B. (2010). Influence of Exercise Order on Maximum Strength and Muscle Thickness in Untrained Men. Journal of Sports Science & Medicine, 9(1), 1–7.