When you first start training, each body part seems to get bigger and stronger from one workout to the next.
Well, enjoy that period while you can, because it lasts only a few months.
While you might make progress in some areas, many lifters find that every step forward is met by a step back. Gains may continue in your shoulders and back, but stand still in your chest and arms. What makes matters worse is that you really want a big chest and arms!
All of this can be discouraging, especially when you see some fast gainers who seem to add slabs of muscle through some kind of osmotic process just by being in the gym.
So what's Plan B?
Is It Really Lagging?
For one, you need to start with the process of muscle building. Progress in larger muscle groups like the chest, back, and legs is measured in years, not weeks. Many people don't want to invest the necessary time and effort.
The biggest, strongest guys you see in your gym have one thing you don't: a huge head start in terms of number of years. Comparing your progress to someone else's will only set you up for disappointment.
Some of that advantage may also be due to genetics. Some people have traits that give them a select advantage right out of the gate, whether it's nicely peaked biceps or genetically low body fat levels that show off a six-pack when they peel off their shirt.
For the rest of us mere mortals, it means we have to work out harder, and smarter.
Start by assessing your strengths and weaknesses and what you've done to address them. Sure, your legs might be small, but skipping leg day every other week because you don't feel like it is a sign that commitment, not genetics, may be to blame.
For many lifters already endowed with size, the problem is too much body fat, which makes a muscle look soft. A smaller man who is lean appears to be bigger than a larger man who is soft.
In my own experience, I looked much bigger—and better—when I weighed less and my body fat was low. The difference was that dramatic.
Sadly, the answer to bringing up a lagging body part is as elusive as choosing the right parents. You can go on the Internet and find all kinds of advice that suggests a particular exercise that will give you that peak on your biceps or a certain routine to bring out your quad sweep. Yet no matter how hard you try, you're limited by your DNA.
Because of genetics, your body has a potential to look a certain way—though you'll never know that ultimate potential until you try your damnedest to get there. Yes, you can alter your definition and proportion to a point, but you're limited to working with your own genetic makeup. That doesn't mean you can't look amazing. It does mean you're going to look amazing within the limitations of your own body structure.
Your genetic ceiling isn't the same as anyone else's. Clearly you won't know what it is until you've busted your butt in the gym, so giving up before you even try can be your first mistake. Still, you can choose exercises, formulate a training split, and maximize certain training variables that will increase a muscle's size regardless of your genetics. Learning how to train smart pays big dividends here.
And for a lot of men with endomorphic physiques (the politically correct way for calling someone fat), a reduction in body fat will go a long way toward actually making you appear larger. Bodybuilding is about illusion.
Strategize for Success
What are some specific ways to bring up a lagging muscle group? Assuming there isn't some fundamental flaw in your training—such as poor technique or not using enough weight—there are a couple of ways to reignite growth.
To start, you can train a lagging body part more frequently—say, twice over the course of your training split. So long as the target area gets sufficient rest, and you're eating and supplementing well, the increased work may give you the kick you need.
Increase the volume—sets, reps, and weight—for a target body part. Add exercises from different angles and use a variety of grips, foot positions, or both to increase stress on the muscle.
Train to failure. If you're not pushing yourself until you can't complete another rep with good form, your results will suffer.
Most importantly, stay completely focused. Do the last set with the same mental intensity that you did on your first, and make proper form and execution your top priorities. If you do these things, success will be yours.