CURRENT METHODS THAT DIDN’T WORK
If you are reading this and have been lifting for any amount of time, then you most certainly have fallen victim to the critical nature of body dysmorphia – aka, ‘forever small syndrome.’ There is something inherently broken in a lifter’s mind that prevents them from ever being satisfied with their body. That’s not to say they can’t be happy with their body, or they aren’t comfortable in their own skin. But there is always that voice. For some that voice could be very loud. For others it may be more of a whisper. But make no mistake, it is always there. That voice telling you, “Damn, I need to get/wish (insert body part here) was bigger.”
Surely if you’ve been in the iron game long enough, you’ve heard of weak point training. After all, EVERYONE has weak/lagging body parts. And there is no way gym rats haven’t figured out a way to solve this problem yet…right?
Of course, they have! ‘You just have to increase your frequency! Yeah, that’s it. Just train it more often. Even though you already train it and for some reason it doesn’t grow or get stronger. Just keep doing more of that. That..will…work?’
‘No, that’s not working??? Hmmm. Well then you just have to hit it with more isolation exercises! Yes, that’s it!’
Almost had them stumped for a second. But the problem is your stronger more developed muscles are “overpowering” your lagging muscles and not letting them do their job. So, the only logical answer would be to isolate that muscle to make sure it’s the only one that can do the work! Problem solved.
‘Anymore brain busters?’
The fact of the matter is that for some, the above protocols have worked. And they might work for you. But there are also instances in which these protocols don’t work. I know. Because they didn’t work for me and my nonexistent shoulders. I increased the frequency, added the isolation exercises, blah blah blah. I did it all. I tried it all. At my biggest, I reached 208lbs at six feet tall – so it’s not like I was just small. I had good size, but the shoulders – or lack thereof – remained. This is where the weak point training methods came about.
I started lifting in 2008 when I was 16. So, like 99.99% of people who started lifting before the ‘information age,’ I started on a bodybuilding split – chest, back, shoulders, arms, legs - rinse and repeat.
I always hit my shoulders hard because they were my weakest body part and I would read and educate myself on training and different methods professionals’ use – trying to discover the big secret to all my lifting woes and stubborn muscles that just wouldn’t grow the way I wanted them to.
Nothing worked! So, naturally there was only one explanation – genetics.
I proceeded along with my training for years. Still loved training. Still trained harder than anyone around me. Still obsessed with it as much as ever. I just stopped giving my shoulders all the extra time and effort. Why waste the time and energy in the gym if it doesn’t give me any return on investment? And guess what? My shoulders stayed the same. The extra work made them no better and taking it away made them no worse.
It wasn’t until a year ago that I unintentionally stumbled onto the solution to this problem. A beautiful thing I’ve learned in my 29 years of life is that the purest and most genuine things will come to you when you aren’t looking for them. And last year when I made a change to my training, the last thing I was considering or trying to do was resume and win my battle with my stubborn shoulders…
THE weak point training methods discovery
Last year, I was going through a lot of life stress – and like most iron addicts – I deal with stress by lifting which is just more stress. Wasn’t long before I started to get banged up and run down.
But I needed to train! So, I needed to figure out a way to be able to train hard, train often, push myself to keep my mind sharp, but not overly beat my body up and drain my system in the process.
Body weight training checked a lot of these boxes. I could train hard and push myself, but the nature of bodyweight exercise is that it’s not overly taxing on your nervous system. In addition, proper execution of bodyweight exercises promotes efficient movement and can be therapeutic and restorative in a lot of ways. SCORE!
After I had gotten started, I made the goal of being able to stick a handstand. Not against a wall or with the assistance of anything else – I mean open floor, pop down, stick it and hold it for as long as I want. Total and complete control and balance.
Thus, began the journey of the handstand. For the better part of the next 6 months, I started practicing for 10-15 and sometimes even 30 minutes in the beginning of my workouts 3-4 days a week. Employing different methods and drills. Trying to do it and letting myself fall over and over and over again (I mean, that’s how I learned to stand on my feet as a baby, right?). My sole focus and all my attention were on nailing this damn handstand – zero attention being paid to my aesthetic look.
But after a couple of months, I noticed something. MY SHOUDLERS WERE DEVELOPING! My delts were more capped and rounded than they had ever been in my life. I couldn’t believe it. At the time I just assumed it was the frequency. I was practicing handstand stuff multiple times per week. And obviously the frequency is part of this equation – the stimulus must be there in order to grow. But frequency never worked for me in the past, so why would it work now?
It was indeed the handstand work that did the trick, but not for the reasons I originally thought or that you may be thinking right now. Keep in mind, I have been doing calisthenics for months at this point. No more shoulder presses, no more lateral raises. None of the stuff you’ve seen or would prescribe someone who wants to grow their shoulders. I was doing terrible handstand practice and regressing to pike push-up holds when I was sick of falling on my ass.
Yes, I was doing these things frequently – obviously something must be done for it to work. BUT it was more the nature of what I was doing that made all the difference.
What do I mean by that?
Isometrics was the missing link this whole time. Let’s break it down…
Typically, when someone has a lagging body part, it is because it is poorly recruited. The reason you can never get that muscle sore, the fact that it never grows, or how it might hold you back from setting more PRs in certain lifts, is because you aren’t recruiting it well. There is a signaling problem.
You see, when we contract a muscle, the nervous system is the network our brain uses to communicate with our muscles. Sometimes the signal can be weaker in some spots than others. Could be your structure, limb lengths, leverages, mobility restrictions, pain, result of injury, etc. But at the end of the day, there is a signal that needs to be strong if we are to recruit the muscle to the best of our ability.
The signaling to my delts was weak as piss. One to two bars max. We’re talking T-Mobile from 10 years ago type of signals (people swear it’s gotten better but I’m not buying it).
Therefore, no matter what I did in the gym – no matter what exercises, intensity (weight), frequency, etc. – it never worked!
I can dial a number until I’m blue in the face – if the signal is weak, the call with drop. And that’s exactly what happened in my workouts. So, my traps and surrounding muscles would have to chip in to make stuff happen the best they could but at the end of the day, the call never ‘went through.’ And what we’re left with is time wasted, body beat up and goal unachieved (but at least I have yoked traps.)
This is where isometrics come to the rescue! If we’re going to stick with the cell phone analogy, then consider doing isometrics as putting up cell towers wherever we want.
And just in case there is someone reading this who doesn’t know what isometric means – it is one of the three primary muscle actions (along with concentric and eccentric). Concentric is the shortening of the muscle (curling a dumbbell toward your face during a bicep curl), eccentric is the lengthening of the muscle (lowering the dumbbell back down), and isometric is when there is no change in the length of the muscle. Could be the point between the other two muscle actions or a purposeful hold put somewhere along the range of motion of an exercise (think of pausing your bench press two inches above your chest and holding).
Now it has been proven long ago, by many strength coaches and practitioners who are much smarter than I, that isometrics improves motor unit recruitment – aka your ability to recruit and use a muscle.
But here is the real beauty in this – since there is no lengthening or shorting of the muscle during an isometric, there is very little if any muscle damage that takes place! This means that frequency can be extremely high, and we don’t have to worry as much about recovery (unlike adding loads of volume in the form of isolation and compound exercises).
So, during the process of “laying down more cell towers,” our brains can start to get through and talk to those muscles. Each day the signal gets stronger and more of what is being sent can be received.
What happens over a long period of time of being able to effectively communicate and talk to someone on a daily basis? You get to know each other, and you establish a strong relationship – a bond. You have someone in your life you can go to for help or advice. And this is exactly what happens in your body as well.
My shoulders are now the strongest they’ve ever been. I feel them contribute to other exercises and lifts like I never have before. And now that the signal and relationship is there, doing exercises that yielded zero results in the past, now leave me feeling that ever elusive day-after muscle soreness I was never able to achieve. My shoulders have been sore more times in the last year, than the last 10 years combined! And we’re talking the good sore. The sore that lets you know you did something and the signal to grow has been sent.
Now I understand muscle soreness isn’t the ‘end all be all’ as far as signs to let you know you had a good workout. But when you consider the types of workouts I did in my past to try and feel anything, only to be left feeling disappointed, it lets me know that a change has been made for the better. Not to mention the biggest piece of evidence of looking in the mirror and seeing it with my own eyes.
PUT IT TO THE TEST
Knowing how to fix something is one thing – I got that part covered for you. But you have to actually DO THE WORK – that’s where you come in. It’s time to take the information and apply it. Focus on one body part at a time. Choose an isometric that allows you to focus and generate tension in the targeted muscle group. Personally, I prefer bodyweight exercises for this. That way, you don’t have to worry about loading parameters or equipment availability. And what you will find with most, if not all, bodyweight exercises are the need to generate full body tension. This will allow you to generate more tension on the targeted muscle group (if you don’t believe me then do a push up with saggy hips – then do one with a locked-out core and tell me your pecs aren’t working harder).
Start your workout (after your warm up) with your isometric protocol. The isometric protocol can be done every single workout of the week. Two to three times per week (following your isometrics) your first main exercise should be an exercise for your targeted body part. For example, I usually had 2-3 upper body days per week. Given that my shoulders are upper body, I would start each upper body workout with a shoulder exercise (following my isometrics which were shoulder focused – usually handstand holds, pike push up holds, etc..). Outside of the isometrics in the beginning, and the first main exercise being the targeted muscle group, the rest of the workout should be business as usual. The isometric protocol was still executed on lower body days, but outside of the protocol itself, there was no extra attention given to the shoulders in those workouts.
Start with 20-30 second holds and try to accumulate a total of 3-5 minutes under tension. As 20-30 second holds become easier, increase your holds. Ideally, if you can begin holding max tension for 60-90 seconds for multiple sets, then your signally is getting STRONG. LFG.
Give it a solid six to eight weeks and let the isometrics do their thing. Training like a freak and bringing the intensity every time you train is still a pre-requisite. This protocol isn’t going to work for some casual gym goer who goes in to ‘check the box’ and go through the motions. This is for the lifters that are hungry. That want it. That get excited lying in bed at night thinking about their workout the following day. The Champions.
Never forget, You’re Capable of More,