If you’ve been training for some time and made some good gains you’ll likely have one or more body parts that are lagging behind the rest of your physique. But rather than simply doing a few extra sets each week for these troublesome areas, it would be far more effective to use specialization routines to bring them up.
Specialization programs have other uses too. They allow you to target any specific areas of your body that you want to emphasize, and for intermediate and advanced trainees they can also be superior for overall growth as total body muscle growth becomes more difficult the more advanced you become.
So in this article I’ll explain more about specialization routines and why they are so effective; and I’ll also show you how to set up a specialization routine that will give you the results you want.
When you first start training you will likely add muscle to your whole body fairly rapidly and consistently. But after a while your gains will begin to slow down. This is partly due to the fact that you are getting closer to your genetic ceiling; but a more specific reason is that your body simply cannot continue to grow in response to the same stimuli.
More advanced trainees are generally stronger, and using heavier weights for the same number of reps is more taxing on the nervous system as well as the metabolic processes involved in recovery.
So as you become more advanced your ability to train for full body growth will begin to exceed your ability to recover from such training. And this will lead to extremely slow progress – or maybe no progress at all.
The way to combat this is to channel all your recovery ability into just one or two body parts, whilst putting the rest of your body on maintenance training. Then, after a few weeks, you can switch to another body part, and so on until you have brought your entire body up to the level you desire.
Another big advantage of specialization training is that your results will be very quickly noticeable. You might train for several months to put on 5 pounds of muscle, but if it’s spread over your entire body no-one will really notice. But everyone will notice if you put an inch on your arms, or add a significant amount of size to your chest. And you’ll notice too. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as actually seeing your results in the mirror, or in the way your clothes fit, rather than having to look for tiny changes on a tape measure.
How To Specialize
A specialization program is one in which you put your full focus into developing just one body part (or possibly two) for a period of 4 – 6 weeks, whilst simply maintaining the rest of your physique. This means you will train the target muscle with a higher volume and frequency than normal, whilst training your other body parts with a lower volume and frequency than normal.
So you’ll want to train the body part you are specializing on at least three times per week, and every other day would probably be better. You’ll also want to use a variety of exercises and rep ranges in order to stimulate all the muscle fibers. And you’ll want to do a high total weekly volume (around 30 – 50 sets), but a fairly moderate individual workout volume.
So for instance you might do a big compound exercise for 5 sets of 4 – 6 reps, followed by a smaller compound exercise for 4 sets of 8 – 10 reps, followed by an isolation exercise for 3 sets of 12 – 15 reps. And a different set of exercises would be chosen for each of your three weekly training sessions.
It’s also important that you hit the right level of intensity. As you’ll be training with both a high frequency and a high volume you absolutely must not train to failure, as this will simply be too much to recover from. It’s the total workload that will cause the increase in muscle size and strength; so make sure you’ve got at least one or two good reps left in you at the end of each set.
When you are specializing on a particular muscle group you should not be trying to improve any other areas of your body at the same time. Instead do just enough to maintain your size and strength, and no more. For most people two work sets per body part per week will do it. And again it’s important to stop your sets at least a rep or two short of failure.
You can do your maintenance training either by adding a couple of extra exercises to each of your specialization workouts, or alternatively you could do a brief full body workout once per week on a separate day to your specialization training.
An example of the former option is as follows…
An Example Specialization Workout Routine
This routine is designed to quickly add a lot of size to your chest, whilst adequately maintaining the rest of your body.
Bench Press 5 X 4 – 6
Incline Dumbbell Press 4 X 8 – 10
Dumbbell Flyes 3 X 12 – 15
Bent-over Row 2 X 6 – 8
Barbell Curl 2 X 8 – 10
Decline Press 5 X 4 – 6
Wide Grip Dips 4 X 8 – 10
Standing Cable Flyes 3 X 12 – 15
Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press 2 X 6 – 8
Triceps Pressdowns 2 X 8 – 10
Squats 2 X 6 – 8
Leg Curl 2 X 8 – 10
Incline Bench Press 5 X 4 – 6
Flat Dumbbell Bench Press 4 X 8 – 10
Pec Deck Flyes 3 X 12 – 15
The sets listed are your work sets, but always do warm-up sets first to properly prepare your body for the heavier work, as well as to reduce your risk of injury.
These workouts can either be performed once per week (e.g. Monday, Wednesday and Friday) or alternated on a day on, day off basis. So just do whichever you prefer and best fits in with your schedule.
As always, make sure you perform all your exercises with good form and through an appropriately full range of motion if you want to get the best results.
Follow the principle of progressive overload by increasing the weights you are using when you reach the top end of the specified rep ranges for all of your sets.
You’ll need to eat a good muscle building diet consisting of a calorie surplus with plenty of protein and a decent amount of carbs. However you don’t need as much of a calorie surplus when doing a specialization routine as you do when doing a total body development program.
And finally ensure you get sufficient rest and sleep, and don’t overdo other activities. Your muscles grow when you are resting, not when you are training.
So that’s how specialization routines can help you bring up a lagging body part, emphasize specific areas of your body, and even contribute to accelerated total body growth. Thanks for reading, and good luck in your training.
Photo credit: equilibriumnutricao, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Flickr