January 29, 2012

Neglect Nothing - Tips For When To Train Smaller Bodyparts

A Chain Is Only As Strong As Its Weakest Link

Failure to develop any muscle, regardless of the goal, is a mistake that will likely catch up with anyone at some point, and negatively affect future progress, or worse yet, contribute to injury. Among the most common neglected muscle groups are the abs, calves, and forearms. Actually, in regards to the abs, some people completely overtrain their abs, while the rest seemingly forget about them.

As it relates to strength training, every single muscle has a purpose, whether it be to propel the body into motion, lift weight, or provide stability so other muscles can generate force to propel the body, or lift weight. Generally the muscles responsible for providing stability so that other muscles can lift weight are neglected, but what a lot of people don’t realize is that if stability is compromised in anyway, so is force production.

For example, if the rotator cuff muscles (primarily the ones responsible for external rotation) aren’t strong enough to stabilize the head of the humerus (upper arm bone) during heavy pressing movements, the amount of weight that can be used will be limited.

It’s not necessary to devote an entire training session to develop a commonly neglected, small muscle group like the abs, calves, or forearms, in fact, more than enough volume can be provided by prioritizing these muscle groups either before, during, or after training a larger bodypart.

The abs and calves in particular can be trained at the beginning of any workout, with few exceptions.

The abs are needed to provide core stability for any movement that is performed from a hang (pull-/chin-up), or those in which multiple muscle groups are involved, and if any are not doing their part, the outcome is negatively affected (squat variations, deadlift variations), so exhausting them prior to a workout involving these movements may prove to be counterproductive.

The calves are needed to provide stability for any movement in which the feet are to be driven into the ground (squat variations, lunge variations, deadlift variations, press variations), therefore exhausting them prior to a workout involving these types of movements may also prove to be counterproductive.

The forearms have greater limitations in terms of being trained before a larger bodypart, as they are required in most cases to hold onto the weight so that the other muscles can do their work. If the forearms are fatigued, and as a result the weight cannot be held, then any muscle trained after the forearms are exhausted will suffer. On the other hand, if the forearms are that much of a priority, training them beforehand will ensure they are completely taxed by the end of the workout, and just might be an effective way to force growth upon them.

During – AKA Staggering

Staggering is the most efficient way to increase the volume for a smaller bodypart, as it does not tack on extra time to the total duration of the workout. Staggering consists of performing a set for the smaller bodypart requiring extra attention in between sets for a larger bodypart – instead of resting, that time is used to perform a set for the smaller bodypart, and if done correctly (the same rules apply for each bodypart above) it should not affect performance for the larger bodypart being trained. This increases the density of the workout (more work is performed in what would be the same amount of time), which is not only an effective way to increase the volume for the smaller bodypart, but also contributes to burning more calories, and creating a more visually appealing physique (as a result of the positive effect burning more calories has on body composition in most cases).


Any smaller bodypart requiring attention can be trained after a large bodypart, but the problem with this approach is that the sheer exhaustion of the workout can negatively affect how much time and effort is put in to developing the smaller bodypart. In most cases, fatigue is a determining factor, and most people simply choose to put off doing the work needed for another day, but this turns into a habit, and ultimately nothing gets done. That, or they will choose to do an exercise for the bodypart they know they should be training, but since they’re doing it because they are forcing themselves, and not because they genuinely want to do it, the effort is minimal, and so is the result. Also, if the smaller bodypart was worked to some degree during the workout, then it’s not possible to train it with the intensity needed to get optimal results, therefore choosing to train a neglected bodypart after working a larger bodypart should be the last option chosen (although something is better than nothing).

We All Have The Same Amount Of Time

The most common complaint people have when it comes to explaining why they have failed to train a certain bodypart is that they just don’t have the time, but at the end of the day, we all have the same amount of time. No person on this Earth has more, or less, than 24 hours, every single day. Yet some choose to use their time wisely, while others are unaware of how much is lost doing nothing. If you’re at the gym already to train a larger bodypart, there’s really no reason for any bodypart to be neglected, as long as you follow the options presented above. The smaller bodypart can be trained as a means of warming up, or staggered between sets for the main bodypart being trained, or worst case scenario, trained at the end since you’re already there. If absolutely necessary, and it’s the only way in which the smaller bodypart receives the attention needed, then an entire day of training can be devoted to it, in which all small bodyparts are trained together.

It Doesn’t Take Much

The key is to simply train the neglected bodypart 3-4 times a week until it is up to par, making sure to sequence it in a way that performance for whatever else is being trained will not suffer.

A few years back, prior to his crowning of Mr. Olympia, Jay Cutler mentioned in a bodybuilding magazine, that in his quest to become the greatest bodybuilder on the planet, he carried a “neglect nothing” mentality when it came to his training. This mentality consisted of devoting just as much time to training forearms (performing wrist curls with 185 lbs!), as he did any other bodypart.

Granted, not everyone has the luxury of working out for a living, but the point here is regardless of your goal, it is of paramount importance to focus on developing each and every single muscle group to the best of your ability. From a strength perspective a weakness will hold you back from making optimal gains, and from an aesthetic perspective a lack of development just makes your physique look incomplete.

If you have any questions regarding neglected bodypart specialization, feel free to contact me at ben@paramounttraining.ca. I'm available for online consulting and personalized program design, as well as one on one training if you are located in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).

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