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Should You Train Certain Muscles Differently For Maximal Muscle?

The short answer to this question is…

 

Yes and no.

 

Now, I realise that’s a worthless BS answer to you. So, I’m going to elaborate and hopefully give you a comprehensive answer so that you can understand how I reached the yes AND no answer above

 

Firstly, the thinking behind the yes part of my initial answer:

 

It is important to understand what makes muscles grow and to know that these underlying principles apply to ALL muscles. The elements that make a muscle grow are:

 

  • Resistance training (note it doesn’t have to be in the gym with weights – although that’s generally the most efficient approach) at a high enough intensity. This intensity has two components:
    • Heavy enough to be above a certain threshold of your 1-rep max for the body to be forced to adapt. This can actually be achieved with very high rep and low load resistance training but, as a general rule lifting above 60% of your 1-rep max for the majority of your training. Most people can get about 20 reps with 60%. And spend the majority of your time with loads between your 6- and 12-rep max.
    • Relative intensity is a metric of intensity related to your level of effort. Specifically, how close to failure you go. To build muscle you don’t have to go to failure but, you do have to train hard. On average, performing sets with 0-4 reps in the tank will put you in a position to build muscle. In my opinion, the vast majority of your training should be done with 1-3 reps in reserve at the end of a set for maximal long-term gains.
  • Consistently, performing enough training volume to stimulate muscle gains. Again, there is a spectrum when it comes to training volume. However, based on practical experience and the scientific research, doing 10+ sets per body part per week is a good guideline.
    • Gradually increasing this total training volume is also essential.
  • Training the muscles often enough to stimulate gains. Training a muscle 1 x week would be the minimum here. In most cases, hitting a muscle 2-3 x week would be superior.

 

Doing the above will help you to train specifically for hypertrophy. This specificity is important. In fact, it’s the key training principle. After that the next most important is progressive overload. Adhering to progressive overload for muscle gain really comes down to doing more muscle building training over time. So, it’s not necessarily chasing weight on the bar and trying to increase your 1-rep max. It should be achieved through a combination of incrementally lifting more weight for the same reps, doing more reps at a given weight, doing more sets of an exercise(s), doing additional exercise(s) for body parts, and/or training a muscle more often.

 

To review that overview on training I’ll steal a line from Aaron Brown of Myonomics when it comes to training for muscle gain. Ask yourself these three questions:

 

  1. Are we doing enough work? 2. Is that work hard enough? 3. Is this work being performed frequently enough that we can recover from the work we have done, without negating future work so much that the effects are a net negative?

If you can answer yes to all three questions you are in a good position.

 

From a training perspective, there are lots of other details we could get into but, the above points form the foundation of a good muscle building plan. These elements don’t change (in terms of the variables needed, not the magnitude of each one) no matter what muscle group we are discussing.

 

Once those are in place, you have created the potential for muscle gain. Whether you achieve your muscle building potential is dependent on your recovery. Specifically, your sleep and nutrition. In a nutshell, for sleep, get 7+ hours of uninterrupted sleep every night. Simple!

 

We can keep nutrition pretty simple too. You need a surplus of calories to gain weight. You also need sufficient protein to aid muscle repair and recovery and promote muscle protein synthesis (MPS). Two grams per KG of body weight per day is enough. You should consume enough fat to support optimal hormonal function. One gram per KG is enough to do this. Finally, you would eat the remainder of your calories from carbohydrates.

 

If you apply those sleep and nutrition principles to the above training principles you are primed for growth.

 

These guidelines apply to all muscles!

 

Now onto some of the differences.

 

Different muscles have different functions and characteristics. For example, the muscle architecture, force production capacity, fibre type, range of motion, and propensity to stretch under load will all factor into how a muscle is best trained for muscle gain.

 

As a rule of thumb, bigger, stronger muscles, that have a large range of motion (ROM), and are stretched significantly under load during exercise take longer to recover when compared to smaller, weaker counterparts. Muscles with a fast-twitch dominant fibre type also tend to take longer to recover.

 

The hamstrings are a good example of the former. Especially when trained in their hip extension (e.g., Romanian Deadlift aka RDL) function. They can produce a ton of force, over a large ROM in a stretched position. On the other end of the spectrum are the lateral delts. These are a relatively small muscle, which doesn’t have a large ROM, and is not placed under a significant stretch during training.

 

A simple illustration of this point is…

 

When was the last time your lateral delts were sore for days on end?

 

Same question about your hamstrings?

 

Assuming you train your hamstrings with sufficient intensity and volume and use exercises like RDLs I’m pretty confident you will have suffered some brutal muscle soreness after training them. This soreness probably hung around for a few days. I bet you have had the same thing with your quadriceps too. When it comes to your lateral delts, however, I’m sure you have a very different experience. You could probably train them 4 x week without issue. Hard hamstrings training 4 week on the other hand is unlikely to be successful.

 

A practical aside on high frequency hamstrings training:

 

Now, as a point of interest, if you did decide you wanted to train your hamstrings multiple times per week it is worth considering the organisation of your training week and your exercise selection. Say you did want to specialise on hamstrings by training them 4 x week on a Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. Doing lots of hip extension exercises which cause a lot of damage via stretch under load would likely be a terrible idea and a one-way ticket to constant debilitating soreness. Using leg curl variations, however, tend to cause much less soreness. So, using them for the majority of your training makes sense. It also would make sense to do these before hip extension days because they don’t cause so much soreness which makes it more manageable to hit the hamstrings again the next day. For example:

 

Monday – leg curls

Tuesday – hip extension

Thursday – leg curls

Friday – hip extension

 

This sequence means the hamstrings get 48 hours of recovery after being trained in hip extension on Tuesday and 72 hours after Fridays session. To give a bit more detail here I’d suggest picking an exercise which trained them in hip extension but, focused on overloading the shortened range/peak contraction on a Tuesday. Back extensions would be a good choice. While these work hip extension the load is lighter in the stretched position so muscle damage and soreness will be reduced compared to an RDL or goodmorning. Then, on Friday when you know you have all of Saturday and Sunday to recover you could perform either RDLs or Goodmornings. These will most likely cause a lot of soreness but at least you have a few days to recover before training the hamstrings again.

 

Back on topic…

 

So, I have identified that the underlying principle of what makes a muscle grow applies to all muscles, however, I have also pinpointed some difference between muscles which mean that certain muscle groups might be trained using different volumes, frequencies, and rep ranges.

 

As a result, a great muscle building training plan won’t be symmetrical. You shouldn’t hit every muscle with the exact same sets and reps the same number of times per week. Instead you should train each muscle in a manner which best stimulates it while adhering to the overarching principles of specificity and progressive overload.

 

If you want more in-depth analysis of exactly how to train each muscle group and 4 example workouts for each muscle group then grab a copy of the Body Part Bible now!

 

Within this detailed book I go in-depth on each muscle group and give you a summary of the best exercises, rep ranges, number of sets per week, and times a week to train each muscle.

 

I also give you four progressive training plans for each muscle group.

 

The book gives you 6 month’s worth of training plans all specifically designed to maximise your results for each muscle.  Even better, with the knowledge in the book, you’ll be able to design your own training plans in future based on the most up to date research on what makes each muscle grow as fast as possible.

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