Lagging body parts -- it’s something we all have to deal with, even the genetically gifted among us.
Be it arms, glutes, or shoulders, we’ve all faced the same situation that no matter how much we train a given muscle group, it just won’t seem to get any bigger or stronger.
What makes some muscles more stubborn or “slow” to respond to training than others?
We’ll answer that question and also tell you how you can bring up that lagging body part ahead.
But first, let’s discuss why some muscles may be more stubborn.
What Makes a Body Part “Lag”?
Whenever we struggle to perform in the gym, we default to blaming our genetics. And while it’s true that genetics does play a role in your appearance (height, muscle insertion points, muscle belly shapes, etc.) and performance, for the average gym rat, genetics are the limiting factor.
The real reason you’re having a hard time growing a particular muscle group boils down to one (or a mix) of these factors:
Performing the wrong exercises
Simply put, if you’re not performing an exercise that recruits a given muscle group, it’s not going to grow very much. While most lifters hitting the gym have a basic idea of what muscles are used during a given exercise, some people, especially beginners, simply do not understand what muscle groups are “targeted”.
Bringing up a lagging muscle group begins with making sure you have good exercise selection.
For example, if you want to grow bigger quads, you will want to prioritize movements that heavily stress the quads, such as high-bar squats, leg press, walking lunges, and step-ups. Romanian deadlifts, conventional deadlifts, and hip thrusts are all great exercises, but if your goal is bigger quads, knee-dominant movements like squats need to be prioritized.
Not using the right muscles to perform the exercise (poor mind-muscle connection)
Let’s say that you have a good selection of exercises included in your training program, and you’re giving them everything you’ve got during your workouts. The next thing you need to consider is how well you are performing the exercises.
In other words, are you using the appropriate muscles to perform the exercise?
For instance, many people will use a mix of pull-ups, chin-ups, and pull down in their training program to develop their lats. Yet, after weeks and weeks of repping out all sorts of pulls and chins, they have nary a millimeter of lat growth?
This scenario is all-too-common, and it generally stems from not actually using the lats to perform the exercise.
More often than not, people who perform lots of vertical pulling exercises, yet have fairly unimpressive lats, are performing the exercise primarily with their biceps not their lats.
In order for a muscle to grow, it must receive the proper “signal”, which in the case of resistance-training is tension.
Basically, if you don’t “feel” a muscle working during a given exercise, chances are you aren’t maximizing its recruitment during an exercise, which means you’re not getting much muscle-building bang for your exercise “buck”.
If you struggle to feel a particular muscle working during an exercise, you can experiment with slow eccentrics, negatives, pauses (isometrics), reducing the weight, and performing isolation exercises. Each of these tools allows you to build a stronger mind-muscle connection so that when you perform an exercise, you’re working the proper muscles.
Not Training with Enough Volume
Beginners pretty much respond to any sort of training stimulus, even as little as one set per week. However, the more days, weeks, and months you spend training, the more your body becomes adapted and resistant to change. This is why you have to constantly challenge the body to perform more work to improve, a concept known as progressive overload.
So, while one set per week may have been enough stimulate muscle growth when you were a newbie, after a few months of training, you will need to increase your total weekly training volume accordingly.
How much training volume should you perform?
According to the latest exercise science research, experienced lifters need to perform between 10-20 “hard” sets per week per muscle group.[,2]
These can all be performed on the same day, but in general, muscle groups respond better to more frequent training (2-3 times per week).
If you’re struggling to spark growth in a lagging body part, consider increasing the number of sets you perform each week for that body part.
Not Training Hard Enough or Heavy Enough
It’s something we know is important when it comes to getting results. You can perform all the volume you want, but if you’re not training with intensity, you will not get the best results possible.
When you heard the word intensity, you probably think of some muscle-bound meathead grunting and screaming as he heaves a ton of weight up and down. And, don’t get us wrong, you certainly do need to train hard when you’re at the gym, meaning you should be taking most of your working sets within 1-3 reps of concentric failure. This will ensure you’re providing a sufficient challenge to the muscles to make them grow.
But, intensity can also refer to how heavy a given weight is in relation to your one-rep max. Research has shown that you can build muscle using both light and heavy weights, provided you take those sets close to failure.
What exactly is considered “light” and heavy?
“Light” usually means the weight is 30-40% of your 1-rep max and heavy is 80+%. Above and below this range, you may spark some muscle growth, but the amount of fatigue generated by training at extremes isn’t worth the gains in muscle you’ll make.
The bottom line here is that when you’re training, make sure you’re using a sufficiently challenging weight for the exercise and push your muscles close to failure.
Training with too much volume
While some lifters may not train with enough volume or intensity, some take things in the complete opposite direction and go overboard with both the intensity and volume. And, it’s easy to understand why when you consider the current popularity of the #teamnodaysoff mentality and/or gyms that sell the idea you have to be drenched in a pool of sweat and sucking some serious wind in order to make progress.
And yes, you do need to challenge yourself in your workouts and push beyond your comfort zone, but there’s a big difference between challenging yourself and beating your muscles to a pulp.
When you overtrain, you create too much damage in the muscle tissue, and as a result, your body’s resources work overtime to repair the damage done as opposed to building and growing muscle tissue.
Volume and intensity are important to making progress in the gym, but there’s no need to go overboard with it and start performing 30+ sets for every muscle group in your body every workout.
Not eating enough
This may seem rather basic, but if you want to build muscle and bring up a lagging body part, you need to consume enough calories. You can train hard, but if you’re not giving your body the fuel it needs to repair, recover, and grow, you won’t grow bigger and stronger.
You would be surprised by the amount of lifters who say they’re “killing it” in the gym, but aren’t seeing results. Then when you find out they spend half the day fasting or not tracking their macros, it all makes sense.
The bottom line here is that if you want to grow, you will need to eat, which brings us to our last point...
Not sleeping enough
Sleep is vital to performance, recovery, and growth. Similar to training hard and eating right, without sufficient quality sleep, you will not grow bigger and stronger. It’s just that simple.
It is when we sleep that a cascade of anabolic hormones flood the body, repairing damage that was done during the day and building our bodies anew to be bigger, stronger, and faster.
Remember, you don’t grow in the gym...you grow the other 22.5-23 hours outside of the gym. Start taking your rest and recovery more seriously and you’ll start seeing growth in even the most stubborn muscle groups.
We all have to deal with lagging muscle groups, and while we want to blame our genetics, that’s usually not the primary driver of our struggles. Use the tips in the article to help identify what’s holding you back from seeing the results you want and what you can do to get the body of your dreams!
- Schoenfeld, B. J., Ogborn, D., & Krieger, J. W. (2017). Dose-response relationship between weekly resistance training volume and increases in muscle mass: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Sports Sciences, 35(11), 1073–1082. https://doi.org/10.1080/02640414.2016.1210197
- Haun, C. T., Vann, C. G., Mobley, C. B., Roberson, P. A., Osburn, S. C., Holmes, H. M., Roberts, M. D. (2018). Effects of Graded Whey Supplementation During Extreme-Volume Resistance Training . Frontiers in Nutrition . Retrieved from https://www.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fnut.2018.00084