If At First You Don't Succeed... Modify!

I hope this article will answer some of your questions regarding prioritized training and training modification.
I recently received an e-mail from a young gentleman who was concerned that his chest was over-powering the rest of his body. He asked if he should quit training chest for a few months and let the rest of him catch up. My reply: ABSOLUTELY NOT!

Sean, this is for you and all those like you out there.

Almost every bodybuilder in the world, from the beginning amateur to the well-seasoned professional has one or more muscle group(s) that is outstanding or otherwise dominanat. Here are a few examples: Tom Platz: legs, Lee Priest: biceps, Pam Anderson: boobs.

These attributes or genetic blessings can sometimes do more harm than good because they put your body out of proportion with the remaining muscle groups. Not only can this make a bodybuilder have to work harder on everything else, but it can also lead to less-than-desirable rankings.

From the above two pictures you can see that these two guys are absolutely blessed but your eye is drawn to one particular area. This is good on the beach but not so desirable on the posing stage. With that in mind, I am going to make a few suggestions to those of you who are suffering from geneticgiftitis.

Step 1: Assess The Situation

The first place to start is the mirror. Take a good look at yourself and determine if you have a particular bodypart that is more pronounced or what that appears to lag when compared to the others.

Quick Explanations:

  • Proportion is comparison of one muscle group to surrounding muscle groups (chest in proportion to shoulders).
  • Symmetry is comparison of one side versus the other (right versus left).

The two are very different but equally important in bodybuilding.

As you can see with the above pictures I made a little progress in my lower half as far as overall size because I looked at the photo on the left and tried to improve. Once you have checked yourself in the mirror, move on to Step 2.

Step 2: Determine Genetics vs. Poor Training

One theory is that you might have oversized biceps because that is the only thing you train. I had friends like this in high school. Always doing curls, never doing squats. This might get the attention of the girls when you are fully dressed but boy will you be embarrassed at the beach when you don the speedo. You will look like a pyramid turned upside down.

What you need to figure out at this point is whether or not your dominant part is due to genetic makeup (fiber-type, muscle origin/insertion, muscle length, bone structure, etc.) or training neglect (skipping other body parts). Once you have done this, move to Step 3.

Step 3: Assessment Of Training Philosophy

At this point you need to get out that training journal that I have harped on you about for 6 months and look at what you are doing in you program. If you don't have one, you are SOL. Take a look at when you are training either the dominant or lagging muscle group. Also, determine how you are working it (reps, sets, number of exercises).

Finally, are you training it with another body part? If so, are you doing it before or after the other muscle group? Now, move to Step 4.

Step 4: Fixing The Problem

This is the section that is most crucial to improving your physique as well as your competition results. Right now we know not only what the problem is but why it exists. Now we have to modify our training.

Change Training Days:

    If the involved muscle group is lagging try moving it up in your weekly program. For example, I was having difficult getting my biceps and hamstrings to catch up with my quads and triceps so I moved them to Monday, the first day in my program.

    This puts you training the undersized muscles earlier in the week when you are hopefully a little more energetic and eager to train the hell out of your body as well as limit the possibility that you might miss training it.

    If the muscle group in question is dominant move it down in your program (later in the week). This will give you a chance to focus on the surrounding muscle groups that need to be trained harder and with greater intensity than you have been. You can also try training the dominant muscle with another uninvolved muscle group to split up the time spent working the particular muscle.

    Please note that I am not advocating lowering your intensity or frequency if you have a dominant muscle group. I am encouraging changing how you train it.

Change Reps, Sets, Number Of Exercises:

    In order for this method to work best you really need to look at how you are training. If, for example, your quads are not growing are you doing too light a weight, doing too few/too many exercises, or are you just slacking.

    In order to effectively stimulate a muscle for hypertrophy and, therefore increase in size, you need to work it properly. Some muscle groups like the pectorals are predominantly made up of larger Type II-b fibers, grow faster, but fatigue quicker. Other groups, like the calves and trapezii are constantly working and have smaller Type I fibers that fatigue slower but are harder to make grow.

    If a muscle group isn't growing correctly try to use heavier poundages, perform fewer repetitions (6-10), or do a wider variety of exercises. This will stimulate the larger Type II-b fibers to hypertrophy and increase the overall size of the muscle. The traps respond well to this type of training because they are considered postural muscles and are at work constantly throughout the day.

    If a muscle group is over-powering the surrounding muscles try to increase the number of repetitions (10-12) while using slightly lighter weight. Also, try to cut back one exercise and focus more on "problem areas". By performing more repetitions you will be emphasizing the smaller Type I fibers. This is a good idea for chest or quads because the muscle will not get smaller, per se, but will get harder and more defined thereby improving your overall physique.

Change What You Work It With:

    I think a common mistake among a lot of bodybuilders is that they try to focus on training related muscle groups together. For example working chest with triceps and back with biceps. This is what is known as "push and push muscles" or "pull and pull muscles".

    One problem with this philosophy is that you are already working the secondary muscle groups (triceps and biceps) when you do the primary muscle groups (chest and back). I noticed that when I did this, my triceps were always too tired to hit them really hard after chest and my biceps were already tired from pulling during the back exercises.

    To get around this barrier, work an unrelated and smaller muscle group with a larger group. For example, I will do calves with chest and forearms with back. Note that forearms are involved with back exercises but they are a stabilizing muscle. They will be fatigued after a good back workout but will require a little special attention to get them to grow.

    Another approach is to have a light and heavy day. If you go ahead and work triceps with chest try doing a lighter, higher repetition triceps workout at the end of your chest program. Then, on a separate day work your triceps either by themselves or with a non-related muscle group. I will do a light triceps program on Tuesday (2 exercises, 3 sets of 12 reps) after my chest program and then on Sunday I do triceps first and then work calves.

I hope this article will answer some of your questions regarding prioritized training and training modification. Feel free to e-mail me with questions, comments, or anything else.