When you first get started with resistance training it’s probably best to train everything evenly. Here are some tips for building a balanced upper body and a balanced lower body.
This way you can see which body parts respond best to resistance training, and its also important to see how your muscles respond to resistance training in general.
Not only is there is a large genetic component to how your muscles respond in general to weight training in terms of how much muscle you can build overall, there is also a genetic component as to which muscle groups respond well to training and which ones don’t.
This is why you will see some people who it seems like simply just touch weights and they build a substantial amount of muscle, and then some people have to work 20 times harder to eek out a fraction of that. And then you will also see people who have freakishly large arms or a large chest.
Naturally, we think they are doing something special, but most of the time it just turns out that those particular muscle groups respond well to resistance training.
Basically they could be training those muscle groups a certain way, which causes them to grow more than others. There really is no way of knowing, unless you track and try it out for yourself.
For example, I have fairly big arms and legs.
I bring these up because I believe they are largely due to how I trained my arms, and then genetically my legs (particularly my quads) respond very well to resistance training.
Back when I first started lifting weights I would do curls literally everyday. So I attribute my arms to doing curls until I couldn’t anymore when I was younger, and potentially a genetic component.
As far as my legs go, they just naturally respond well to resistance training. I can thank my genetics for that.
My training partner on the other hand has delts that are very responsive to training, so he doesnt have to do much to see them grow.
The point of this is that if you see someone with a large muscle group and you inspire to look the same, its probably not a great idea to take advice from them, as they simply are doing what works well for them in terms of their genetics and how they train that muscle group.
Thats why mimicking your favorite Instragram trainer or bodybuilder probably isnt the best course of action to look like them.
However, there are some fundamental principles you can follow if you are wanting to build up certain muscle groups.
1. Do less volume for other muscle groups.
Your body only has so many resources to allocate to building muscle, and part of it goes to recovering from training.
So before you start doing more sets or more workouts for a muscle group you are wanting to bring up, first drop your volume for a muscle group that you either don’t want to grow anymore OR simply responds well to training.
For example, as I mentioned earlier my legs are very responsive to training. I also don’t have much interest in growing them more. I do want to bring up my upper body though.
So instead of keeping my leg volume the same and just adding in more volume for my upper body, I simply lowered the volume for my legs.
Remember your body doesnt have an unlimited amount of resources so you can only do so much. So by lowering my leg volume I am freeing up a large amount of resources for my body to prioritize my upper body.
This allows for more productive upper body training.
If you are wanting to bring up your arms, and your chest responds well to training, then you could just lower your chest volume and see what happens.
What this does is free up resources for your arms and since you don’t need as much volume for your chest to either maintain or grow it you can get away with this.
Start here. A common mistake people make when a certain muscle group is lagging is they automatically just add in more volume for that muscle group. That is a potential strategy (as you will find out), but it should not be your first step.
2. Increase your volume for that muscle group.
Once you have lowered your training volume for a muscle group (or groups) that respond well to training and you find that a particular body part is still not growing like you would like, then you can look at adding in extra volume for that muscle group.
For example, maybe you were doing 12 sets of biceps per week, and you lowered your chest sets from 12 to 8. You do this for about 4 weeks and notice that your biceps still arent growing, then you can look at adding in about 2-3 sets and go from there. So you are now doing 15 sets of biceps per week.
Increasing your volume is one of the main ways to build muscle, especially if you are having trouble growing a particular muscle group. However, you can take this too far, so its important you slowly increase your volume over time instead of making a huge jump from week to week. So going from 12 sets in one week to 13,14, or 15 in the next week is better than going from 12 to 20 sets from one week to the next.
3. Increase the frequency in which you train that muscle group.
So you increase your training volume for the muscle group you want to grow, but it still is NOT growing like you would like.
Like I mentioned earlier, increasing your volume is one of the main ways to build muscle. However, you can take this too far. Studies show that after about 10-12 sets on average per workout there are diminishing returns in terms of muscle growth.
Basically, you can train a muscle group too much in one session and what happens is your body will spend more time recovering from training for that muscle group than it will actually building new muscle. This is a problem.
However, one way to combat this is by increasing how many times you train a muscle group per week.
So if you are trying to grow your quads and are only training them 1x per week, look at splitting up your current volume into 2 sessions.
For example, lets say you are doing 12 sets of quads in a session and they just are not growing. Well then you could split that 12 sets up into two sessions. So maybe you do 6 sets on Monday and then 6 sets on Thursday.
This is why training a body part only one time per week probably isnt best for most people.
In saying that, each muscle group can be different.
Smaller muscle groups like your delts, biceps, calves, forearms can be trained up to 3-6x per week.
Larger muscle groups like your quads, hamstrings, chest, back are probably better with frequencies up to 2-4x per week.
Just like with increasing your volume, its best you make small changes.
So if you are training your quads 1x per week, don’t go into 4x per week because you heard increasing your frequency can help.
Its better you go from 1x to 2x per week and then go from there.
One of the reasons increasing your training frequency can help is because it allows you to have fresher sets, which will lead to more quality sets over time.
4. Train it first in your session.
If you have a muscle group you want to grow and it isn’t. See when you are training it in your session.
I fell into this trap when I first started learning about programming. You hear “you need to do your compound movements first”. This is partly true, especially if it comes to strength or something that is more performance-oriented. However, in terms of building muscle, you should train whatever muscle you want to grow when you are the freshest.
This again allows for the most quality of sets and reps.
So if you want your biceps to grow and you are training it later in the session because it’s a smaller muscle group, then move your biceps to the beginning of your training session when you are most fresh.
5. Training that muscle group earlier in the week.
Just like with training the muscle group first in your session, its also important to train a muscle group you want to grow earlier in the week.
So if you are happy with your chest and it grows fairly easy, but your biceps are lagging and you want them to grow, then train your chest later in the week and place whatever muscle group you want to grow at the beginning of the week, even if it is a small muscle group like the biceps.
Again, this ensures you are training this muscle group you want to grow when you are the freshest.
People will complain about a muscle group lagging, but then you look over their training and the muscle group that is lagging is always trained later in the week and later in the session.
This why blanket statements can be hurtful in the fitness industry, if you have something you want to work on you need to prioritize it.
6. Find exercises that work best for that muscle group.
This is another trap people get themselves in when trying to grow a muscle group, which is trying to force exercises because they heard they are the best for so and so.
The classic is the squat. I used to fall into this trap, thinking oh you just need to do so and so exercise and all your problems will be solved.
“You want big legs? Just squat.”
I remember someone (he actually coached other people during this time) giving me trouble because my leg workout was more than just back squats.
He backed this claim by telling me that he knew a professional bodybuilder that grew his legs by just squatting heavy.
Of course, this guy who told me this no longer is a coach, oh, and he had multiple injuries from lifting weights. Shocker.
These blanket statements are what can really hurt people.
Yes the squat is a GREAT movement and most people should learn how to do it, and should be able to have the basics down.
However, if you are trying to grow your quads and they aren’t growing, then its time to start experimenting and finding something else that works.
In saying that you should give exercises some time.
This is why with online clients we have them stick with the same exercises for at least 4 weeks at a time so they can really nail down the technique and dial it in for them.
If you have a certain exercise that really feels great for a particular muscle group, keep it in.
Start from the top and work your way down this list. Once you get to the last one I promise you will see whatever muscle group you want to grow, finally start to grow.
It really just comes down to prioritizing whatever muscle group you want to grow and stop following generic programs you find online. This is where having a knowledgeable coach is so helpful.
BUT you must also be patient.
If you want more help to grow a certain muscle group then hit this link to apply for online coaching and lets get to work.