Not everyone is blessed with genetically gifted body parts, the vast majority of us will have one or two stand out muscle groups, a few that are average and then some that are considered lagging. A typical lagging body part for some males are calves (or legs as a whole) and some females despite following specialised routines are still stuck with flat backsides.
When you first get into exercising and hit the gym it’s easier to favour doing the exercises that you enjoy and these tend to be the mirror and beach muscles, arms, chest, shoulders and abs get favoured whereas your back and legs get neglected. Carrying on with this you will eventually get to a level where you have certain body parts more developed than others and this leads to lagging body parts.
It’s not always through training choice however that you can end up with lagging body parts, as mentioned earlier, genetics play a big part and if you don’t have favourable muscle insertion points and the right muscle fibre makeup then these lagging parts will become more and more noticeable the more advanced you get in your training.
These body parts are by no means doomed to be a weakness of your physique, treating them the same as other body parts however will not see results come so easily and therefore you need to apply specific training methods to lagging body parts in order to see improvement.
Prioritise The Lagging Muscle Group First
We’ll use the same example of calves because they are a common victim of being last in the priority list, calves, in general, are difficult to build due to the higher number of slow-twitch muscle fibres and some people have high attachment points meaning the calves appear smaller to look at. It’s rare that you’ll see someone start their routine with calves, they will more commonly be seen towards the end of a workout when you are already tired and therefore can’t train them with the same intensity or volume as you would if they were first in the workout.
Whichever muscle group you place first in your workout is the one that will take priority and you will, therefore, be able to place most of your effort on it. The first tactic when looking to build up a lagging body part is to place it first in your routine and prioritise it as the muscle group that you will expend the most energy on.
If you have lagging biceps and usually do a few sets of curls after your back workout then you need to either prioritise that and do it first (which will have a knock-on effect on your back workout) or move it to another day entirely. You’ll then need to increase the volume and dedicate 2-3 exercises to target different parts of the muscle group, the bicep, for example, is made up of two heads and also has a muscle group that rests below it (brachioradialis), therefore you would need a minimum of 3 exercises targeting each head separately in order to fully develop the bicep. This is true of most muscle groups but especially in a lagging one that needs to be prioritised.
Increase Training Frequency
Another tactic to employ to bring up a lagging body part is to increase the training frequency of the muscle group, this basically means if you currently train the muscle once per week then you need to up this to 2-3 times per week instead.
Most muscle groups fully recover 48 hours after the previous training session, therefore if you are only training one body part per week then you are leaving a lot of training potential on the table. If you train a heavy squat or deadlift session for example then it might take more than 48 hours to recover from this, for a lagging body part, however, you will need to make sure you are recovering quickly and training as frequently as you can.
Muscle develops during rest and recovery, the workout is just the stimulus and trigger point for muscles to recover and grow bigger and stronger than before. You need to train them frequently to stimulate the muscle but not annihilate it, therefore training a muscle group 3 times per week will logically see your progress quicker than if you only trained it once per week. Note that this isn’t a universal truth, deadlifting heavy 3 times per week will be difficult to recover from and could see a stall in progress due to the difficulty recovering so think of these frequent workouts as stimulating and not annihilate.
Reduce Training Volume For Other Muscle Groups
If you are prioritising a lagging muscle group then you can’t expect to maintain the same volume for your stronger muscle groups, this will likely lead to burnout and difficulty in recovering from sessions. Your lagging body part should be the priority for your workout and your other body parts should have volume reduced but not stopped completely. If you perform 8 - 12 sets for your lagging body part in a session then your stronger body part should be between 3 - 6 sets.
Your more developed body parts will go into maintenance mode whilst you focus on bringing up the lagging body parts, you will therefore not be going for strength records or employ advanced techniques for hypertrophy like drop sets or loaded eccentrics for the stronger body parts.
To bring up a lagging body part you need to be prepared to prioritize it for 3 - 6 months at a minimum! If you have a lagging body part due to neglect then simply upping the frequency of training and prioritising the body part will see relatively quick progress once it gets sufficient stimulus. If however, the lagging body part is due to poor genetics then you need to accept that it is going to take longer to develop and bring up to par with the rest of your body. In these instances you will need to commit a longer period of time to prioritising the muscle group and stay dedicated to the process, it will be a longer timescale but necessary to see the results.
About the Author
Simon Byrne is a Health and Fitness writer producing content for the supplement industry for the last 5 years with a focus placed on improving body composition. He is a certified Nutritionist through Precision Nutrition (PNL1) and a Level 3 Fitness Instructor.