It seems like I have been talking an AWFUL LOT about specialized training as of late, and with good reason. A number of my competitor clients are currently offseason, and as I always say, your pre-contest season is actually formed during your offseason.
It’s where you set the stage (no pun intended lol), for how well you will do, and how much your body will evolve between one season to the next. One of the quickest and best techniques that I use to help bring up lagging parts is through specialized training. You’re probably wondering a.) what the heck it is, and b.) how the heck it can help you! Ok, then! Let’s dive in.
What IS Specialized Training?
In a nutshell, specialized training is a program set up where you take one or two body parts – usually your weakest parts – and you crank up the volume and intensity with the idea to produce growth. It’s a highly effective way to improve any lagging part and bring symmetry, and balance to your physique. The good news is that this type of training isn’t limited to just competitors. Absolutely anyone can do it! And I like to throw it into a client’s plan even if they don’t compete, particularly if they ask specifically to work on improving certain areas of their body.
How to determine what to focus on?
This part is actually quite simple. For competitors, you want to take current photos. Wear something where you can clearly see your body, and do them in the poses for your body facing all angles.
From there you need to HONESTLY assess your physique. If this part of the task is too personal, then ask someone you trust – maybe a trainer or coach, a local judge, or fellow competitor – who most importantly UNDERSTANDS THE INDUSTRY VERY WELL, and ask them to critique your physique.
Be open to the criticism, and try not to take what anyone says to you personally. In order to improve you’ve got to keep an open mind and let someone else point out your flaws – because that’s EXACTLY what the judges will be looking for. You know the shape and the silhouettes that do well in your division – or the division you aspire to.
So the goal is to match that, and bring your shape up to be closer to that ideal. What I suggest, to go even further, is for you to really study the industry.
Study ALL of the divisions. Because when you start to become more knowledgeable about what’s happening in the other divisions, then it’s easier to know what you need to do – as you’ve now developed a sharper eye.
For those who are not competitors, and you want to take a specialized approach, many of you have ideals in your mind of how you want you look. So do the same process of taking photos, and evaluating your physique against your projected ideal. See where you need to improve and then proceed from there. Once you see what your weak areas are, you want to now sit down and write out your specialized training game plan.
Setting Up Your Program
Now, here is where the fun begins! I’m going to tell you right now, if you’ve never done a specialized training approach before, you will be a little freaked out by the amount of volume you’ll be hitting in the gym.
I typically like to focus on ONE or TWO – MAXIMUM – body parts at a time.
And if it’s two body parts it’s usually a larger compound muscle (like back for instance) and I pair it with a smaller accessory muscle (so biceps, triceps, or shoulders etc). But no matter what, it’s always two muscles that I want to and NEED TO bring up and improve.
Now keep in mind, you absolutely do NOT have to do two muscles.
You can keep it to one – that’s entirely up to you. The main thing is that you want to pick a muscle that you know hat you that you want to focus on, and one that you don’t mind doing for a period of a few weeks. Once, I’ve decided on the muscles to be trained, then comes time to schedule the workouts. Typically hitting that muscle 3x a week is ideal.
So let’s take a back specialization plan as an example. Here’s how I’d set that up.
Day 1 – Back
Day 2 – Chest/Triceps
Day 3 – Back
Day 4 – Shoulders and Legs
Day 5 – Back + Biceps 2
Days Off/Week usually between Days 2 and 5. T
his kind of set up will allow for a great deal of recovery between workouts. I might even go as far as breaking down the training day even further like this:
Day 1 – Back Width (all exercises focused on the lats)
Day 3 – Back Detail/Thickness (all exercises focused on the middle back)
Day 5 – Mixed training (Both width and thickness) + Biceps
I’d only focus on biceps once a week because they are getting hit indirectly every time you train your back.
And here’s one more way you can break down the set up for that muscle.
Day 1 – High rep training
Day 2 – Low rep training/heavy strength
Day 3 – Power Training/explosive lifting
The possibilities are endless. And in fact let’s say in the first example above, you did that set up as your base split for the entire program.
Then example 2 above, you performed your workout for about 4 to 6 weeks with that set up in mind, then after that period, you move the final example and follow that for 4 to 6 weeks as a progression of the work you’ve been doing. Working in this way brings some great challenges to the body – and forces it to grow and adapt. So mix it up, and get creative – allow yourself to step outside of the box.
What To Do With The Other Body Parts
Now, during this time, you simply want to make sure to train to maintain your other parts. Don’t neglect them, as you do not want to lose any muscle. Ideally, hitting them hard and heavy once a week is enough to simply hold onto muscle.
Another thing you can do is make sure that when you are training that part to hit it at every possible angle. For instance, if you’re going to train chest, during that workout be sure to hit flat presses, incline presses, decline presses. Work on the cables, free weights, body weight and whatever other variation you can come up with. You’ve heard of “use it or lose it”, and we definitely do NOT want that to happen.
So while on this specialized training program work to keep a challenge on the parts you are not training. You’ll find by the end of this process you’ll have a body that’s more balanced with improved symmetry. Your reflection will thank you for it too!
How Much Time To Spend In A Specialized Plan
As I kind of touched on above, a great specialized training program can last about 8 to 12 weeks for the most bang for your buck results. It’s VERY easy to overtrain with this, and this can lead to injury
So what I say to you is to always, ALWAYS, train smart and to listen to your body. During this process make sure you properly warm up. This will include at the least, a short bout of cardio pre-workout lasting about 5 to 10 mins. Follow that up with foam rolling and some dynamic stretching (stretching that moves you through an entire range of motion of a muscle using momentum – e.g. leg swings, dynamic chest stretch, etc).
Static stretching should only be done after your workouts (preceded by another round of foam rolling). I’d even go as far to say to get a nice deep tissue massage if anything starts to feel tight midway through the training cycle. The constant flexing may cause a few adhesions that are tough to get out with a foam roller – and a good massage therapist can get them out.
If massage isn’t in your budget. Pick up a pair of lacrosse balls, and use that to roll out tight areas. I actually own quite a few, and they do a FAR better job than foam rollers ever can.
They are especially great for those with strong, dense, and thick muscles. Here is the one that I have, I encourage you to pick them up and add them to your gym bag as well. By the end of your specialized training program, you should see some really incredible gains in the size, fullness, and shape of the muscle you were targeting.
As a side note, keep in mind that none of this is possible without the proper nutrition in place.
So be sure to eat in a surplus (5% on the low end, to 20% on the high end above maintenance) in order to see the most gains from all of this work. In the case for supplements, creatine has been shown to have AMAZING benefits in providing the body with the amount the body needs to produce tons of power while training. And this only further enhances growth.
A simple creatine monohydrate power is all that’s needed – nothing fancy at all.
So there you have it! My complete rundown on Specialized Training!