By Jeremey DuVall Men's Fitness
Small arms, tiny legs, a flatter-than-usual chest—every guy has a part of their body they want to improve. Unfortunately, some muscles seem more stubborn than others, and a lack of progress is disheartening. Could it be the exercise choice? Maybe. The wrong amount of sets or reps? Maybe it’s that, too. The good news is that it’s fixable.
We took the five body parts that most guys have the hardest time growing, pointed out what could be going wrong, and laid out an action plan to getting back to making measurable gains.
The Weak Point: Biceps
A set of sleeve-busting arms is typically first on the wish list of most guys venturing inside the walls of a gym. Even with an endless array of bicep curl variations, the size or definition just isn’t there. The lack of results leaves many frustrated, and their attention turns more toward the curl rack for isolation exercises and away from main exercises like chinups and rows.
The Fix: “The biggest mistake people make is to train them too heavy for too few reps,” says Lee Boyce, a strength and conditioning expert. Rather than cranking out sets of five on barbell curls, work your biceps throughout your routine with higher rep sets of rows, pullups, and other pulling variations. Not only will these exercises torch your biceps, they’ll also build up your back giving you a well-rounded look.
Exercises to Help: Drag curls are a great change and new challenge for your arms. Although they use a smaller range of motion, drag curls are excellent for adding definition and size. By keeping the weight close to your body the entire time, they isolate the bicep and reduce the potential for cheating by swinging the barbell out and away from your body.
The Weak Point: Shoulders
The shoulder joint is the most vulnerable joint in the body. It also happens to be one of the most frequently trained joints in the gym since it’s involved in every pulling and pushing exercise out there. When trained incorrectly, all of this strain can lead to injury down the road sabotaging gains in size and strength.
The Fix: Relying too heavily on barbell exercises for shoulder size could result in injury. To keep your shoulders injury-free, Boyce recommends varying your grip. If you have issues, an overhand grip likely isn’t the best for you. Boyce offers some advice, “Try using a neutral grip [palms facing in] when pressing to put the shoulder joint in a more suitable position to bare load.” Outside of fixing your grip, focus on loading up the appropriate exercises. At a certain point, adding 10 extra pounds to your lateral raise isn’t going to offer that much benefit. Boosting your shoulder press by 10–20 pounds is a completely different story.
Exercises to Help: For building up the shoulder joint, Boyce recommends the seated shoulder press since it has the ability to isolate the shoulder joint with heavy loads. To get the biggest bang, slow down the lowering portion of the exercise.
The Weak Point: Chest
The chest is an area that can make or break a physique. Despite having a ripped six-pack, a flat chest can ruin your muscular appearance when you throw on a shirt. The problem? Most guys spend countless days in the gym focusing on the bench press with mediocre results at best.
The Fix: Building a bigger chest requires both high- and low-rep sets. This helps to hit all of the muscle fibers and develop strength and definition. Focus on hitting the chest twice a week with a bigger, multijoint exercise at the beginning of your routine and an isolation exercise toward the end. A great example would be a dumbbell chest press and incline cable flye. For the main pressing exercises, stick with a neutral grip as it tends to alleviate and prevent shoulder pain.
Exercises to Help: The squeeze press is terrific for building size as it combines the actions of a press with a flye. To make matters even better, it uses a neutral grip to lessen the stress on the shoulder joint.
The Weak Point: Calves
A smaller lower body is typically the culprit of neglect usually seen in guys who prefer working their upper body four days a week and skipping out on leg day. However, in some cases, guys can work their legs overtime and still get mediocre results, especially in the calves.
The Fix: Direct calf work is crucial to building up growth. Despite this fact, most guys focus solely on squats and deadlifts in their quest for a larger lower body. The calves are composed of both slow- and fast-twitch muscle fibers, meaning in order to hit the entire muscle, you have to train with both high-rep and low-rep sets. Incorporate both at the end of your workout for a boost in size.
Exercises to Help: Rest-pause sets are a must-try for overloading the calves and spurring growth. Set a comfortable weight that allows you to perform 10–12 repetitions with proper form. Rest 15–20 seconds then repeat. Aim to complete four to five sets. To hit both heads of the muscle, incorporate both standing and seated calf exercises in your routine.
The Weak Point: Forearms
A pair of muscular forearms can sure look impressive, but we’re not just talking about aesthetics. Solid forearm strength will help with a variety of different sports and in other areas of training.
The Fix: According to Boyce, “The biggest mistake people make is direct training to the forearms. They’re assistant muscles, so they don’t need to be trained as prime movers for them to grow.” That may seem a bit counterintuitive, but Boyce isn’t saying to neglect your forearms. Instead, don’t rely on wrist curls as your primary muscle builder. Instead, stop using bandaids to cover up a weak grip. Avoid using wrist straps to help out your forearms on deadlifts and rowing variations. Rather than searching for isolation, train with heavy exercises that challenge your grip for more growth.
Exercises to Help: Farmer’s walks are a simple and effective method for building up your forearms. Although they may look simple (just walking around holding a set of dumbbells), they’re extremely challenging with the right amount of weight. If your gym doesn’t have dumbbells heavy enough to make the exercise challenging, wrap a towel around the grip for an instant boost in difficulty.