T Nation

Arms N Shoulders


Hey fellas,

I have a Lurch build (ie a big chest and back but smaller arms and shoulders). My chest and back grow like weeds, but my arms just don't seem to respond as well. Strangely, I don't have the same problem with my legs... calves and thighs grow in good proportion.

Anybody else have the same problem? Any tricks to combat this?

What do you think is the best way to specialize in arms and shoulders for a month or so while maintaining everything else?



First thing that needs to be open is HOW you currently train arms/shoulders and how you have in the past. For me, Thib's superhero program (dunno if it is still around) got my shoulders up to speed with the rest of my body.


The best way to improve a lagging/stubborn body part is to increase training frequency for that body part.

Most of the time a lagging bodypart is non-respondant because your nervous system is inefficient at recruiting the high threshold motor units of that muscle group.

Muscle activation is a motor skill, much like a golf swing. And the key to motor learning is frequency of practice. In other words if you 'practice' recruiting a muscle more often, it will be easier to make it grow.

For example, when I was a football player (8 years) I would train legs 2-3 times per week. Then I became an olympic lifter (5 years) and I would train legs at every workout (5-7 days a week). So for the better of 13 years I trained legs at a high frequency. For that reason I'm super efficient at recruiting the leg muscles and thus I can do next to nothing (3-4 sets of squats every 10 days) and my legs grow.


Interesting... thank you.

Would you suggest total body workouts then, maybe 4X/wk but just doing a few sets for my strong points and then blast the hell out of my arms and shoulders? How would you organize this?

I currently train using poliquin's 5-day split (chest/back, legs, arms/shoulders). I make up my own routines alternating btw strength and hypertrophy focus.


I have written an article called 'The specialisation bible' which gives out a few clues about how to set this up properly.

Here are some of my updated thoughts on this subject:

''Specialized bodybuilding

The most logical approach toward bodybuilding is a specialized one: you should focus all your energy on stimulating as much muscle growth as possible in a few muscle groups at a time (1 or 2 muscle groups) while the rest of the body is trained for maintenance or at least is training using a very low volume of work

It may sound odd, but only because it goes against what tradition conveys. But if you think about it objectively it really is the only logical way to approach bodybuilding.

Facts ...

ï?­ Everybody has lagging muscle groups or structural flaws that warrant putting more emphasis on certain portions of the body. The difference between weaknesses and structural flaws is that a weakness is simply a muscle that is underdeveloped compared to the rest of the body whereas a structural flaw refers to a proportion particularity that needs fixing. For example a narrow clavicle is a structural flaw that make you look narrow and blocky even if your shoulders are not proportionally weak. In that case you will need to put even more emphasis on the delts to compensate for the narrow shoulders.

ï?­ The body has a limited capacity to adapt to training stress. Let's call this adaptation energy (soviet terminology for that concept) or growth resources. The fact is that you are limited by your own physiology (hormone levels mostly) when it comes to building muscle mass. By focusing on a few muscle groups at a time you are thus able to use the whole adaptation energy toward building these muscle groups while maintaining your muscle mass elsewhere.

ï?­ The more you can train without exceeding your capacity to recover, the more you'll grow. If you want to bring up a lagging muscle group you must stimulate it more without going past the point where your body can't recover. The muscle tissue itself is hard to overstress/overtrain. It recovers relatively rapidly. The cause of overtraining is normally CNS drain or hormonal imbalances. The hormonal and nervous systems take a longer time to recover and are affected every time you train. So to bring up a lagging muscle group you must do more work for it without increasing the overall workload for the body. If you increase the overall workload for the body you risk stagnation by draining the nervous system or screwing up your hormones.

ï?­ Maintaining a muscle group requires much less stimulation that building it in the first place. So don't worry if for a few weeks some muscles are put on a maintenance training load, you will not lose any size. In fact, chances are that you will actually grow because these muscles will finally have time to recover from the high loading you placed on them in the past.

ï?­ Intelligent specialized training always yield better results in the area you are focusing on. Take powerlifting for example, bench press specialists always bench press more than their full powerlifting (who do the squat, bench and deadlift) counterparts of the same level. And the difference is often very significant. So in order to bring up a lagging area, specializing on it is the best solution for fast results.

ï?­ When focusing on a bodypart or two you must increase the workload for these focus areas. However you want to perform as much of that workload in a fresh state. This means that you can't increase the volume of a session too much. So the best way to specialize on a muscle group is to increase the training frequency for it.

ï?­ Splitting the workload over many weekly sessions also allows you to use more different training techniques which will stimulate growth via several pathways.

ï?­ The body has both immediate and delayed adaptation processes. This means that you will have gains that will occur shortly after the stimulus has been placed upon the body, these are mostly neural adaptations and energetic surcompensation. Then you have the delayed adaptations which occur 1-2 weeks after after the last stimulus provided that enough recovery time is provided. This simply means that if you specialize on two muscle groups for a 4-6 weeks period, you will have gains in strength and size during the spec period but also when you stop this blitz period and give the muscle time to recover, regenerate and rebuild itself stronger.

ï?­ There is a phenomenon called â??strategic deconditioningâ?? which refers to drastically reducing the amount of stimulation received by a muscle for a short to medium period of time. During that time the muscle size and strength can be maintained with minimal loading but more interestingly it is possible to increase that muscle's trainability by underworking it. Trainability basically refers to a muscle's responsiveness to training. The higher its trainability is, the more easily a muscle can grow. Strength training is a wonderful way of stimulating the muscles to grow. But eventually, as a muscle is accustomed to receiving a physical stimulation its responsiveness to training decreases. Like every other system in the human body, if a certain stress is placed upon the body it eventually stops being a stress and the body doesn't have to adapt to it. In our case it means that the training will not force the muscles to grow. This is in part why you gain faster after a break period: the muscles have restored part of their trainability and training represents a stress once again. By dropping the volume to maintenance loading you are basically accomplishing the same thing: you are restoring the muscle's trainability; you are making them â??beginner's musclesâ?? once again but without having the downside of losing mass which occurs when you take a period off training (the maintenance load allows you to keep your mass while making the muscles more responsive).

ï?­ These last two points are at the crux of specialized training as a system. Most people fear that dropping the amount of stimulation for certain muscles groups will make them shrivel to nothing. Nothing can be further from the truth. Actually alternating periods of â??specializedâ?? and â??maintenanceâ?? training for a muscle group is the best way to keep it responsive over the long run and thus have continuous gains. By always training each muscle group to the max you are actually shooting yourself in the foot: constant intense stimulation will lead to a decrease in trainability and thus making your muscles grow will become next to impossible without having to resort to super intense methods which might very well put you over the recovery edge, and it's a downward spiral from there.

As you can see, specialized training as a system is the most logical way to build the body as fast as possible and to avoid plateaus. It is also the best way to individualize your training strategy to fit your particular needs.

The basic specialization rules

1) The best approach is to use a high frequency of training for the focused muscle groups. Three weekly workouts performed on non-consecutive days (e.g. Monday, Wednesday, Friday) is ideal.

2) To maximize your results each of those three weekly workouts should focus on a different type of stimulation.

3) The rest of the body is worked at maintenance level (1 exercise per muscle for 3-4 sets of 6-12 reps for example). Don't take these sets easy though, still give it all you've got. The idea is to perform a lot less work but still make it hard work.

4) Split the â??rest of the bodyâ?? in one or two workouts. A weekly schedule could look like this:

Monday: Spec workout 1
Tuesday: Half of the rest of the body
Wednesday: Spec workout 2
Thursday: OFF
Friday: Spec workout 3
Saturday: Second half of the rest of the body
Sunday: OFF

5) Don't specialized random muscle groups: go for your most obvious weaknesses.

6) The optimal way to utilize specialization as a training system is to perform 8 weeks of spec training (two four week blocks, different muscle groups for each block) followed by 2 weeks of generalized training.

7) It's best to avoid pairing two large muscle groups in one specialized block, the overall training stress could end up being excessive. Rather select one major group and a smaller one. Good pairings could include:

ï?­ Pecs and Triceps
ï?­ Back and Biceps
ï?­ Delts and Traps
ï?­ Quadriceps and hamstrings

8) Ideally you want to avoid putting pecs/triceps & delts specialized blocks back to back since this might cause overwork of the shoulder joint. A pec/triceps or delts/traps block should be followed by either a generalized phase (if it's time) or by a back/biceps or quads/hams phase.''


Most people tend to be either torso dominant or arm dominant, so whats the use of a chest and tricep or a back a bicep specialization?


The article the Coach was talking about is here:


The Specialization Zone, thought i'd save you some time looking for it :slightly_smiling:

Funny quote from it lol


Funny, I was thinking to myself when reading the article that this is all well and good for triceps and biceps, but I don't know if I could handle three intense weekly sessions training legs! Better get fired up for that month.


Specializing for a month is probably why they aren't in proportion. Do what's neccessary for as long as necessary. If they are your smallest muscle group work them using bodybuilding principals until past the stage that thats no longer the case. I highly doubt your chest got out of proportion in a month.

Over the course of weeks and programs
Prioritize them,
Vary Frequency
Vary Reps
Vary weight
Hit from Various angles.


Good point. Thanks.