Specialisation for Lagging Body Parts: Grow Your Weakest Muscles

Oct 11, 2016 | fitness

Editor’s Note: This post is written by strength and body shape specialist JC. JC is a writer, fitness enthusiast, former athlete, strength training and diet consultant. He has over 10+ years experience in the field of fitness and athletics and he began strength training at the age of 14.

Have you experienced a setback or injury that caused your training to take a back seat for a while? Ever had to lay off of pressing or another particular movement and noticed a significant reduction in muscle size? Perhaps you have been training for a while and notice that certain muscle groups have developed or are developing faster than others.

Everyone is different and genetics play a huge role in how we all develop in terms muscle growth. For instance, my quads and glutes will grow if I just dream about squatting, however my shoulders and calves are a different story. I have to give them some extra attention and effort when planning my training to ensure a proper stimulus.

In today’s article I will cover body part specialization and how you can use it to your advantage when building a well rounded physique. I have been a student of Lyle McDonald‘s work for about 2 years now and what I am presenting today is an assemblage of information I have gathered from his forums about training and in this case, specifically for hypertrophy.

Who Should Do A Specialization Routine?

Intermediates and advanced level trainees. This method is not suitable or even necessary for the beginner. Newbies should be doing a simple, full body strength training program to build a solid foundation first. Once they get stronger and have the fundamentals in place, then they can up the volume and switch to an upper/lower split more so focused on hypertrophy. Once they have progressed even further, they can opt to do a specialization cycle when necessary.

How To Set Up A Specialisation Routine

Pick two body parts only: When setting up this type of programming you should only pick two body parts to specialize at any given time, no more. Your focus, intensity and volume must go towards the areas you want to improve. All you have to do for the rest of your body is low volume maintenance work. Each cycle will last about 6 weeks in length, then it’s time to back off the volume and work on bringing up another set of muscle groups.

Work the lagging body part first: and your goal is to provide the best growth stimulus possible for the following 6 weeks. You do this by aiming to add more weight to the bar each workout. The goal is to progress as much as humanly possible during this time frame (whilst maintaining great form of course).

Your first movement will be a heavy compound: Use either 5×5 or 4×6-8 with controlled reps. Rest about 3-5 minutes in between sets, then follow up with an isolation type movement for 3×8-12 with 60-90 seconds rest in between sets. By doing it like this you accomplish 2 goals: heavy tension stimulus + fatigue stimulus.

When doing your maintenance work, stick with 2-3 sets x 6-8 reps: This is enough volume to maintain what you have previously built without overtaxing your body. Remember, you want the excess nutrients consumed to go toward building the muscle groups in which you are aiming to improve.

Let’s say you wanted to bring up your chest and hamstrings for the first specialization cycle. I would set up your training using an upper/lower split.

Chest and Hamstrings Emphasis

Your training schedule would look like this.*

Monday – Upper

Tuesday – Lower

Wednesday – Rest

Thursday – Upper

Friday – Lower

Saturday – Rest

Sunday – Rest

*If you are pressed for time, you could of course make this an every other day routine split up over two weeks:

Week 1 – Upper/Lower/Upper

Week 2 – Lower/Upper/Lower


Here is what your workouts would look like.

Monday/Thursday – Chest Emphasis

Bench 5×5*

Dumbbell Flyes 3×8

Row 3×6-8

Lateral raises 2×8-12

Bi/Tri 2×8-12

*Repeat on the following upper day or swap out with another movement such as incline presses or weighted dips. Movements shouldn’t vary much as you will need to track progress.

Tuesday/Friday – Hamstring Emphasis

RDL 5×5 – These will make your glutes grow too.

Leg Curl 3×8

Leg Extension 3×8-12

Calves 3×8

Trunk 2-3×10 of whatever abdominal movement.

Remember, this should be done for no more than 6 weeks. Your first few workouts should be slightly submaximal to ensure you continually ramp up the weight over the specialization cycle. Once the cycle is over you would pick another 2 body parts you want to bring up. So on the next cycle you might focus on lats and quads and drop the previous specialization movements to maintenance work as per the workout example.

After you get a few specialization cycles under your belt, rinse and repeat or if you are satisfied with the results, you can always move to a regular hypertrophy training split such as DC Training or Lyle’s Bulking Routine etc.

Nutritional Requirements During A Specialization Cycle

This part of the equation is just as important, if not more important than the training portion.

We can go about this two different ways: Carb/calorie cycling ala structured overfeeding or the traditional dietary approach.

Structured Overfeeding*

On your training days you will be in a caloric surplus, while on your off days you will simply eat at maintenance. Training days will be higher carb and rest days will be moderate carb/fat. This method seems to be the most popular with the guys I work with due to their fear of gaining any amount of fat. I must say that this method may not yield the maximum rate of muscle gain due to limiting calories on rest days but you cannot have your cake and eat it too (you can with the traditional method).

Here is a sample of what a typical training and rest day would look like for a 180lb(81kg) male with a maintenance intake of 3000 kcal.

Training Days 3600 kcals(+20% maintenance)

240g protein(3g x kg bodyweight)

480g carbs

80g fat(20% kcals)

Rest Days 3000(maintenance)

240g protein

240g carbs

120g fat

Rest days are set to zone proportions for ease of calculation. I am not too concerned with the macro nutrient ratio you opt for on rest days as long as your protein intake remains static.

*This dietary approach is more suitable for females due to lower rates of muscle gain, but your total daily calories will differ depending on the individual. To determine your daily caloric allowance click here.

Traditional Dietary Approach

This is easy and does not really need any explanation. You would simply eat 500 kcals over maintenance daily in hopes of gaining about 1lb(~.5kg) per week.

Daily Intake 3500 kcals(+500 over maintenance)

240g protein

455g carbs

80g fat

So there you have it, a detailed approach to body part specialization.When you begin your first training cycle, make sure to follow the guidelines and allow plenty of time for rest and recuperation; you will definitely need it.


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