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How Can You Strengthen a Weak Area?

This is an excerpt from Strength Training Anatomy Workout II, The by Frederic Delavier & Michael Gundill.

How Can You Strengthen a Weak Area?

Everyone has some muscles that do not develop as easily as other muscles. When faced with a weak area that is resisting growth, many athletes get discouraged and say that they have tried everything without success. But do you think that they have actually tried everything? To avoid this negative attitude, remember that there is always something you can do to build up a weak area. You can always find new combinations and new techniques to try.

Classic Strategies for Building Up Weak Areas

As mentioned, we all have muscles that respond well to training—and other muscles that do not. To balance out your physique, you need to attack weak areas head on. Here are the classic strategies for building up a weak area:

  1. Working the delayed muscle first at the beginning of a workout (when you have the most energy and are most focused)
  2. Doing more sets
  3. Trying to increase the weight

More Radical Methods

Often, these classic techniques prove inadequate because they do not attack the problem at its root. They can help if the development gap is small, but they do not allow you to build up a muscle that is truly delayed. If you are faced with hypertrophy disparities that affect your muscles, it is better to adopt more radical measures. Above all, building up a weak area requires a good understanding of its causes.

True and False Work Areas

You may experience two kinds of weak areas: true and false.

  1. A false weak area is a muscle group that is less developed than other muscles because of ineffective training. The lack of volume in a muscle group can be explained by a lack of training or by workouts done in a rush or irregularly. This is often the case for the calves or the thighs. In general, correcting this kind of underdevelopment is relatively easy if you train the muscle regularly and intensely.
  2. A true weak area is a muscle that does not get bigger despite serious work. We will be focusing on this kind of weak area.

What Causes a True Weak Area?

In theory, muscles should all develop at the same speed, because the hormones and nutrients responsible for anabolism are found in equal concentrations in every muscle. But in reality, muscle growth is influenced more by localized physiological changes than by overall anabolism.

Root of the Problem

True weak areas are caused by three main factors:

  1. Genetics
  2. Athletic history
  3. Difficulties with muscle recruitment


Genetics influences the structure of your strong and weak areas in five ways:


Because of genetic factors, we can divide the body into two parts. Some people have an easier time developing the upper-body muscles, while others find it easier to develop the lower-body muscles. People rarely have perfect harmony between the upper and lower body. Even people who seem to have a balanced physique will always have an easier time with either the upper- or lower-body muscles. This is a strong tendency that few people can escape.


We are not symmetrical. Some muscles are always more developed on one side of the body than on the other side.

Do not worry if you discover that one of your arms is bigger than the other. The difference is sometimes a fraction of an inch, and sometimes half an inch. Our skeletons are not perfectly symmetrical either. For example, one collarbone might be bigger than the other. This lack of symmetry changes the lever in all upper-body exercises, particularly exercises for the shoulders, chest, and back. Naturally, this will affect strength and will therefore affect muscle development. Skeletal asymmetry may also be at the root of injuries, especially when performing exercises with a long bar.

Short Muscles, Long Muscles

The length of a muscle is one of the primary factors determining how much it can develop. The longer a muscle is (that is, the farther it runs from its insertion points), the easier it is to build the muscle.

On the contrary, the shorter a muscle is, the more difficult it is to develop. For example, muscle length can vary with the calves, which are perched high up on the tibia, or the biceps, which end far away from the forearm. Unfortunately, because muscle length is determined genetically, you cannot lengthen a muscle.

Fibrous Density and Development

The more fibers a muscle has, the bigger it is, even without strength training. During exercise, a dense muscle will react better than the same muscle with fewer fibers. Fortunately, the number of muscle fibers can be increased using these methods:

> Traumatic training strategies such as accentuated negatives.

> Nutritional supplements such as
whey protein, leucine, and creatine. When used just after each workout, these supplements can stimulate the manufacture of new satellite cells. As you continue exercising, these new cells transform into muscle fibers.

Difficulty With Muscle Pump

A direct relationship exists between a muscle's capacity to get pumped during exercise and how fast the muscle grows. The more a muscle swells during a set, the more quickly the muscle will grow. Muscles that have difficulty filling with blood when you work them will always lag behind in development. You can improve this factor by using long sets.

Athletic History

You have the power to influence your genetics. If you played sports when you were younger, the muscles that you used most often in those sports will be the easiest to develop through strength training.

For example, if you did a lot of push-ups when you were young, you will be able to build your chest and triceps faster than average when you start strength train-ing. Having an athletic history helps you become successful in strength training.

If you never played a sport, or if your sport did not precondition all of your muscles, you can use sets of 100 reps to compensate for the absence of this fundamental work.

Difficulty With Muscle Recruitment

Weak areas are generally muscles that you have difficulty feeling and, therefore, recruiting during exercise. This difficulty can be explained by three phenomena:

Blindly Following Dogma

Beware of the many deeply rooted beliefs about muscle recruitment in strength training. For example, one such belief is that the bench press is only a chest exercise. Another belief is that the more weight you push during the press, the larger your chest muscles will become. For lifters who have good chest muscles, these two hypotheses prove correct. But these same beliefs are also the cause of many weak chests.

How many people who strength train spend time learning how to recruit their chest muscles as much as possible during the bench press? Generally, lift-ers just try to use heavier and heav-ier weights in the hope that they will finally be able to build the chest they want. Unfortunately, this tactic does not always work, and it becomes a waste of time. This is true not only for the bench press but also for other compound exercises such as the squat (for building the quadriceps) and rowing or pulling (for building your back). Just because an exercise is supposed to work the upper pectoralis muscle or the brachialis does not mean that the muscle you are targeting will be automatically recruited.

Intermuscular Competition

A recruitment competition takes place among muscles. In a compound exercise such as the bench press—which recruits the arms, the shoulders, and the chest—the most developed muscles are always recruited first. For example, a person who has strong arms or strong shoulders will overrecruit them during the press portion of the exercise, to the detriment of the chest muscles.

Common Competitions Between Muscles

>Powerful arms could prevent the growth of the chest, the shoulders, and the back.

>Big forearms can interrupt the development of the biceps.

>A strong chest could make it difficult to build up the shoulders.

>Good shoulders are an obstacle to building the chest muscles.

>If the back of the shoulder is very thick, it could interfere with back work.

>Prominent buttocks can restrict the recruitment of the quadriceps and the hamstrings.

Imperfections in Muscle Recruitment

Each repetition, each set, and each workout leave their mark not only on the muscles, but also on the central nervous system.

Taken together, these traces constitute your motor behavior. If the bench press works your shoulders and your chest too much every time you do it, this flawed recruitment becomes more deeply ingrained. This will aggravate the problem instead of resolving it.

Read more from The Strength Training Anatomy Workout, Volume II by Frederic Delavier and Michael Gundill.

More Excerpts From Strength Training Anatomy Workout II