Many people who are just starting to train and who have maybe six months to a year of training behind them start to become a bit more critical of their physiques. They see progress in their arms but feel as though they are not getting anywhere with their chests, or they are really happy with their chests but not seeing the same results in their legs. Or, they’re starting to see some results from their training and are feeling good; until they begin comparing their physiques to the guys they see around them. Unfortunately, they usually compare themselves to guys who have been training for years. Either way, these people who are still learning the ropes of bodybuilding can get discouraged rather quickly if they don’t understand how our bodies are made, how muscle is built, and where genetics come into play.
Are Your Lagging Body Parts Really Lagging?
Very often, when guys start looking at certain body parts and thinking that those muscle groups aren’t responding to training, one of two things is going on. The first is that they are comparing large muscle groups (which respond more slowly) to small muscle groups (where you can often see results more quickly). The other is that their chest or arms (for instance) aren’t really lagging behind, the guys just want a bigger chest or arms and they want them now.
There’s nothing wrong with getting excited and wanting to see results, as long as you don’t sabotage yourself by comparing apples to oranges. In other words, don’t expect the same results in the same time frame from your chest as you do your triceps and don’t expect to train for six months and have a chest like the guy across the gym who’s been training for five years. Not only has he been training longer, but his genetic makeup is probably totally different from yours.
Genetics, Genetics, Genetics
This is extremely important for you to understand: we all have different genetic makeups. These genetics affect not only how our different muscle groups respond to training, but also how they look in comparison to our other muscle groups. Genetics also come into play when it comes to body fat. And, the way your muscles look has a lot to do with how much fat you’re carrying.
I’ve seen hundreds of guys who don’t really look like they have huge arms, but if you measure their biceps they’re actually huge. This is because they are huge all over. But, because of their bone structure or their body fat level, their arms just don’t jump out visually. On the other hand, I’ve also seen hundreds of guys with tiny waists and slim legs whose arms look gigantic in comparison to the rest of their bodies; until you measure them.
Genetics and Muscle Insertion/Muscle Structure
Another influence of genetics that you need to understand is in the way your muscle is structured, particular when it comes to insertions. People have certain insertions that can distort the actual size of the muscles that surround them. For instance, they might have really tiny insertions at the wrist or have small knees. The guy with the small wrists is going to look like he has much bigger forearms and the guy with the small knees is going to look like he has massive quads and calves. These guys with small insertions have that really defined look, that dramatic definition between, say, their calves and their thighs. On the other hand, a guy with larger insertion points or more body fat may look huge, but huge all over rather than sharply defined contrasts between body parts. These are the guys that seem to have one massive arm with no transition between biceps, triceps and so on. When you’re evaluating your own body, it’s important to take these things into consideration. It could be that your calves seem to be way ahead of the rest of you, but it’s only the illusion created by small knees. Or you might feel like you’re not seeing enough contrast and definition, but it’s because your body fat is a bit high.
Is It More Muscle or Less Body Fat?
Several years ago, when I was still pretty new to bodybuilding, I learned firsthand the difference body fat made in how much muscle I saw. I went from eating all of the time, packing as many calories as I could into my body, to a couple of weeks of eating far less. In that couple of weeks, I saw (for the first time) that “V” taper from back to waist to arms. For the first time, I could also really see my insertion points and some definition. My muscles looked much bigger and the difference in my physique was dramatic even though I hadn’t added any more muscle; I actually weighed less.
Don’t Fall for One-Size-Fits-All Hype
You can go on the internet and find all kinds of people that will tell you that a particular exercise will give you that peak on your biceps or a certain routine will give you that sweep on your quadriceps, but think for a minute. If the same exercise or the same routine could get the same results on every body, wouldn’t we all look more alike? Look at the lineup of competitors in a bodybuilding and physique contest. They’re all in incredible shape, yet their bodies and their shapes are very different. This is even true at the Mr. Olympia contest, the very highest level of bodybuilding competition on the planet. Although their physique are without a doubt awesome, they aren’t perfect. Some can use a little more peak on their biceps or a bigger, fuller upper chest (sound familiar?). Don’t you think if you could just do this exercise or that routine to solve these challenges, the best professional who have been training for 15 years or more would have done it already?
Because of genetics, your body has a certain potential to look a certain way. Yes, you can influence your definition and proportion to a point, but you are limited to working with your own genetic makeup. That doesn’t mean you can’t look amazing. It means you’re going to look amazing within the limitations of your own body structure. For instance, if you’re naturally small-waisted, you can get by with a smaller back and still look huge. If you’re thick-waisted, you’re going to need to build up your back more to get the same look.
What Your Options REALLY Are
So essentially, you have two likely options if you feel you’re disproportionate or that certain body parts aren’t as pronounced as you’d like. If body fat is the issue, you will need to drop some body fat to see the results of the work you are doing. If you naturally have larger wrists, elbows, knees or what have you, then you’re going to need to add more muscle to the nearby muscle groups before you’ll see the proportion you’re looking for.
In the second case, it’s likely that you just need more time. If you are doing everything you’re supposed to be doing with your training and are eating the right diet, you don’t need to change everything up; you just need to give it more time. “Keep on, keepin’ on!” is what encourage my Mass Machine to do.
Now, if you do have some fundamental flaws in your training, you may have to change things up some. Maybe you’re only training that lagging body part once every week. Maybe the weights you’re using are too light or your execution is poor. In these cases, you are not progressively overloading the muscle enough to get the results you want and you will need to focus more on working that area properly. If that’s the case, find someone you trust, someone who has more experience, to take a look at what you’re doing and point out any inconsistencies or flaws. If you can’t find someone to help you right away, pull out your phone during your next workout, record a few sets, and start studying the footage. Maybe you need to train that body part twice a week or maybe you need to start progressively adding weight. Maybe training that body part once a week is fine and you just need to get better at what you are already doing. If your execution is poor, it won’t matter how often you train that part or how much weight you are using because you’re not going to be targeting and engaging the muscle or muscle group properly, so be sure that your intensity and execution are spot on. They have a lot more to do with results than the specific exercise does. Don’t assume you are doing the exercises “good enough.” Even the best in the world never make that assumption. They always strive for a higher level no matter how much success they’ve achieved in the past. This brings me to the most important part of any training protocol: stay completely focused on the part you are training. Do the last set with the same mental intensity that you did your first set and make proper form and execution your top priorities. If you do these things, you will get the results you’re looking for.
By understanding and paying attention to everything I have discussed in this article you will be one step closer to bringing up those lagging body parts. Remember, building muscle is a science and an art and understanding your genetics and these important steps I’ve discussed and how your individual body works will help you achieve your ultimate goal. Go to the Forum section if you need me to clarify any of this up for you. You can even post videos of you doing some exercise from your YouTube account and I will take a look at them. I’d be happy to help you out.