In the next couple of articles, we’re going to cover some of the training principles and methods, used by advanced athletes, that either compete, or just try to take their already established, solid base of muscle to the next level.
Usually, when you start talking about working out with someone, who has years of experience in the gym, you get to the point where you just HAVE TO ask them what their favorite muscle group is.
If someone that has a clear vision of their physique has to answer this question, they will certainly tell their LEAST DEVELOPED muscle group, instead of their “favorite” muscle group.
Of course, we all love international chest Mondays, but when it comes to bodybuilding competitions, you CAN NOT compensate for a lagging body part, by just increasing the size of every other muscle group.
In other words- You can’t rely on your strengths, to soak up the negative impression of your weaknesses. This is where we realize, we should PRIORITIZE that certain weakness.
However, the ‘Priority principle’ should be considered a broad training concept, which mostly includes more exercises and sets for the lacking muscle group, as well as training it first after rest day, first in the workout, etc.
When you apply this principle, you should also remember to do your basic, compound movements first and only then, you can proceed to the local, isolated exercises.
The main role of the priority principle comes during the off-season- The muscle building period, when your main goal is packing on more muscle mass, as well as targeting weak points, to achieve the “Wow effect” of aesthetics.
The simplest way to understand the idea behind this principle is-
Aiming for a more significant, frequent stress upon the relatively weaker muscle groups. You can hardly disagree with that, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
This phase, that implies a positive energy intake, is a premise to a successful hypertrophy stimulation for the weaker muscle groups.
The process can be stimulated by increasing the separate training parameters, as well as applying appropriate principles and methods.
Increasing the intensity to 80-85% of 1RM, using 5-8 reps per set, practically exceeds the limit of this parameter, when it comes to optimal hypertrophy.
This is due to the fact that further increase in intensity (90-100%), mainly develops the strength capabilities of the individual, but doesn’t optimally correspond with our main goal- Maximum muscle growth.
The next logical step we can take, is increasing the number of repetitions, completed in a working set, however, the limit here is exceeded when we reach 12-15 reps for the upper body and 15-20 reps for the lower body.
Increasing the number of exercises and sets for the lacking muscle groups, can also lead to a priority growth, but the boundaries here are reached when we complete 4-5 exercises, using 3-4 sets. This is due to the danger of ‘over-training’ the given muscle group.
This limitation of the separate training parameters, can easily be neutralized by smartly and optimally combining all of the approaches we talked about.
So, for example, if you’re at the point where you can easily and successfully complete 4 sets of 10 reps with 100 kilograms during the off season, the only logical step you could possibly take is increasing the intensity.
When you start doing 4 sets of 5-6 reps, using 110 kilograms, the direction of your potential capabilities aims at slowly and steadily increasing the number of reps you can do with this new weight.
As we mentioned above, the quantity principles used for prioritizing the lacking muscle groups are relatively well known and used, by people who have a clear vision of the physique they strive for, but they are also limited in the certain parameters, due to the increasing fatigue they cause.
At the same time, they highly depend on the quality and quantity of the food in your diet, and mostly, the biological stimulation and recovery.
When you compare the quality and quantity principles however, there’s a clear differentiation between their effectiveness.
The quality principles do not have a complete, direct effectiveness upon the desired goal of priority growth, but on the other hand, they are not as limited and they do not lead to a sharp fatigue and exhaustion.
A good example of a quality principle would be training your lacking muscle groups first in the workout. Another way to apply it, is creating a split based workout routine, that places the lacking group right after the rest day.
This is another good example of a quality principle.
When you lean your head forwards, you can prioritize the activation of the FLEXOR muscles in your body, by applying tension in your neck muscles, and vice versa- if you lean your head backwards, you prioritize the activation of the EXTENSOR muscles in your body.
Following this idea, you would have a better bicep workout if you lean your head forwards, while doing bicep curls.
Leaning your head backwards during squats and bench press, will cause greater stress upon the quadriceps and chest.
This might sound complicated, but a great example of the fact that nearly EVERYONE uses their tonic reflexes, without even knowing, is the exercise called “Parallel bar dips”.
Think about it- Do you ever lift your legs up closer to the body and look down while doing this exercise? This causes greater stress upon the pectoral (Chest) muscles.
When you reach the point of failure, you let your legs down and lift your head up to bust out a couple more reps – At this point, the focus falls on the triceps muscles, due to the fact they are not as fatigued, because of your neck’s position.
Consecutive dumbbell exercises
Last but not least, dumbbell exercises, in which each arm works separately and consecutively.
As an example, we can give the exercise “Dumbbell bicep curls”.
It is well known that these exercises impose starting off with your weaker limb first. This is due to the strive for an equal and symmetric development of the musculature, both strength and size wise.
The problem here is in the fact that the ‘weaker limb priority’, mechanically applies to other single-limb exercises, that require the completion of a full set with one limb at a time, these exercises are mostly: Concentrated dumbbell bicep curl, Triceps kickbacks, one leg hamstring curls, certain calve exercises, etc.
Studies show that during the exercise “Concentrated dumbbell curls” if you start off with a pulse frequency of 110 BPM (beats per minute), the frequency would go up to 160-165 BPM, at the point of failure.
This leads to an unequal starting point for both arms.
We notice a gradual increase of the activation, upon the cardio-vascular system, when we start off with the first limb, meaning, your second set starts with a fully activated cardio-vascular system, and completely preserved energetic substances in the muscle.
All of this, puts the second limb in a priority position, due to the more massive blood-filling (muscle pump), which is granted by the stronger blood flow, caused by the first set, using your stronger limb. This allows you to reach the optimal muscle hypertrophy, by activating even the smallest capillaries.
As a conclusion, we can say it is recommended that you start off the type of exercises listed above, using your stronger limb, and end them with the weaker limb respectively.
This way, we achieve priority growth, using the flushing principle, which we’ll talk about in the next article.
Another rarely used quality principle is meditation before the workout, in order to achieve greater focus while training.
This principle is mainly linked with the principles of progressive overload, isolation, split system, flushing, cyclicality, and it can be easily proven due to the fact it’s impossible to achieve priority growth without new stress (progressive overload), local accent (isolation), as well as making sure you have enough time for an intense workout and the recovery after it (split principle).
Massive blood-filling of the muscle (Flushing) and the appropriate choice of an optimal combination of building and shaping exercises (eclectic) are also key factors, when we are striving for maximum hypertrophy stimulation upon the weaker body parts.
Successful application of the priority principle, specifically in the gym, is mainly achieved by using the numerous, various methods.