Much More by Dennis Weis on Specialization Here:
It has been said that, whether they know it or not, all bodybuilders are specialists in one way or another. Be it for bulking up or trimming down, symmetry, or adding more peak to your biceps, specialization is the way to go.
Bodybuilding specialization is a method by which you work for advanced development of a certain muscle group or sector of a muscle that is lacking in size, shape, symmetry or muscular delineation. Specialization has many uses. You can use it to blast your way through a sticking point, to add variety to training, to renew your enthusiasm and avoid going stale, or simply to gratify the ego by changing the rate of your bodybuilding progress from ordinary to spectacular. It then becomes obvious to every bodybuilder that a sound knowledge of effective and intensive specialization is one of the secrets for adding sensational growth and strength.
Richard Simons, one of IronMan magazine's most prolific writers back in the 1960's, once told me personally all bodybuilders are specialists of one kind or another; they may specialize on a bulking routine, or obtaining definition, symmetry, muscular shape, health, athletic coordination, flexibility, basic strength, or on a particular bodypart. There are as many different kinds of specialization as there are bodybuilders. This is perfectly natural because bodybuilding, as a means of self expression, provides medium of expression for your individuality.
Theoretically, if you exercise all the muscle groups with equal intensity, over a period of time (months, years, etc.), all of the major and minor muscle groups should develop equally in proportion to their size and strength potential. But, you will soon discover that some muscles groups and their associated sectors are more responsive to training than others.
Basic multiple joint or compound barbell exercises such as full squats, bench presses, regular deadlifts, overhead presses, bentover rowing, curls, dips, etc., generally impose maximum muscle overload or tension in the midpoint of the exercise. For example, when doing the standard barbell curl it is mostly the belly of the biceps that is exposed to the resistance, while very little muscle tension is felt in the lower segment of the biceps at the beginning of the movement, or in the upper biceps at the contracted or extended position of the curl. It is very obvious then that it takes multiple compound and isolation exercises to develop maximum size and strength in the different sectors of a given muscle. Sometimes this can be accomplished within a regular training schedule and at other times it must be done through the means of priority or specialization training.
There are a number of ways to incorporate a specialization program into your training schedule.
1) Put your specialization program at the very beginning or a scheduled workout. Generally, your blood glucose, muscle glycogen and blood testosterone as well as your mental focus toward training are at their optimum levels at this time. As a result you will be able to apply maximum training effort to your specialization program.
2) Another very good way to structure your specialization program (if you have the time) is to perform it in the morning and then come back later in the day and complete the remaining workout for the other muscle groups you planned on working that particular day. This incorporates the double split training method.
3) Perform your specialization program on the days that are not scheduled for a workout. For example, if you train the total body on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, you can perform the specialization program on Tuesday and Thursday, or Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday.
Unless otherwise advised, specialization or priority training procedures should not be performed more often than every other day.
To begin seeing positive results from a specialization program you will need a minimum of four weeks focused training and in some cases much longer. This is only a rough general estimate, you will have to see for yourself.
Frank Zane's Method
If Frank felt that he had a muscle group that was lagging in size and strength and it was not where he wanted it to be, he would work the lagging muscle several days in a row per week for a two to four week period. When he had a lagging muscle group such a the back he would get in a heavy back workout on Monday of maybe 25 intense sets, then on Tuesday he would do another 15 sets but use different exercises to attack the same muscle area. On Wednesday he would perform 10-15 sets for the back again. On Thursday he wouldn't do any back work whatsoever. Then on Friday he would hit the back with another heavy workout. Saturday he would do just a little back work to get a pump, and Sunday would be a complete day off from training. Monday of the next week he would begin thus brutal attack on his back once again, continuing this approach for two for four weeks.
Arnold's Priority Training
On Monday, Wednesday and Friday barbell wrist curls (with the palms up) were done for 5 sets of 10 and supersetted with a calf exercise. After completing these supersets he would then begin his next forearm exercise which was reverse wrist curls for 5 sets of 10-12 reps supersetted with a triceps exercise such as feet elevated triceps dips on a bench. After these supersets were completed Arnold would then go on to the EZ bar reverse curls on the preacher bench for 5 x 10-12 again supersetted with a triceps exercise. This program was followed for a two week duration at the beginning of each of those three days workouts. Arnold has specialized on a lagging muscle for as much as nine months at a time!
Specialization training will normally last 6 to 8 weeks before mental burnout (and near overtraining of the muscle group) is experienced. When you become aware of this condition you are advises to take a three week layoff from your specialization training before embarking on another priority program for the same muscle group, or any other muscle group for that matter. This will give you the opportunity to recuperate fully and come back from the near overtraining, and your mental attitude toward your workouts will become more focused for your next phase of specialization.
The remainder of your training program, aside from your specialization techniques, should follow this guideline. If you are an intermediate or above bodybuilder you should decrease the number of sets you are doing for each of the non-specialization muscle groups by one half. For example, an intermediate bodybuilder who is doing 8-10 sets per major muscle group (quads, back, chest) and 5-7 sets per minor muscle group (delts, triceps, biceps, forearms, calves, hamstrings, neck, abs) will do only 4-5 sets for the major muscle groups and 2-3 sets for the minor muscle groups.
Specialization techniques require the intermediate man to do 10-15 sets for a major and 7-10 sets for a minor muscle groups, using 3-4 exercises. Advanced bodybuilders can do more.
Choose exercises that will be the most result producing for the muscle group needing specialization. Work your weak areas, and don't specialize on your strong points. Be willing to to do work with exercises you may dislike, if they are what you need. Maintain a positive mental attitude and willpower to make the specialization program work for you.
It is always best to do a variety of different exercises from as many different angles as possible to stimulate maximum size and strength gains from a lagging muscle. You can specialize on a target area and use different exercises every two weeks.
Specialize on only one muscle group at a given time. For example, you should not attempt to do priority training for chest and back at the same time. You can, however, work biceps and triceps or hamstrings and quads together if need be.
Appraise the muscle needing priority training. Does it need more size, better shape, or a combination of these? Once you have answered these questions honestly, it is time to begin planning and implementing your specialization program, but only if you have made a truthful critique of your physique.
For general development (size, strength, and shape), an intermediate bodybuilder can choose two multiple joint (compound) exercises and two isolation exercises for a major muscle group. For minor muscle groups, go with two compound exercises and only one isolation exercise. Advanced can of course handle more.
For maximum isolation and sculpting of a muscle group the intermediate bodybuilder might want to go with one compound and three isolation for a major muscle group. One compound and two isolation for a minor muscle group.
Another alternative is to select all isolation exercises if size is not all that lacking in the muscle group.
Compound exercises can use rep schemes shown in Phases A to D in the Training Guide below. Isolation exercises should use rep schemes from only Phases B to D.
The Training Guide
Phase A - Power, 4-6 reps
Phase B - Strength, 8-10
Phase C - Size, 12-18
Phase D - Muscular Endurance, 20-40
% of Max:
Phase A - 84-92%
Phase B - 80-90
Phase C - 70-80
Phase D - 60-70
Phase A - 5 seconds
Phase B - 4
Phase C - 3-4
Phase D - 3
Rest Between Sets:
Phase A - 4-5 minutes
Phase B - 2-3
Phase C - 1-3
Phase D - 1-2
For a more extensive guide see the book "Mass." [I think I have that lying around somewhere . . . later.]
Methods of Specialization
There are numerous methods of specialization, such as the One Day 24 Hour Blitz. This particular program was researched by Gunnar Sikk and published in the April 1989 issue of MuscleMag International.
One of the most radical, but result producing methods of strength and size specialization I have come across is the 30 Day Fifty/Fifty Continuity Method. This is a little known training idea that can work as a means of forcing rapid gains in muscle separation, size and strength naturally. It is somewhat similar to Zane's and Arnold's method of specialization, with the main difference being that this is a 30-day program. It demands that you train the muscle group needing specialization, be it a major of minor group, six consecutive days per week, using light to moderately heavy poundages, low sets of four to seven (occasionally going to a maximum nine set limit).
To clarify this in more detail, you will begin the program by doing a total of four sets for the prioritized muscle group on each training day during the first week. During the second week you will do five sets per training day, six sets during the third week, and seven during the fourth week. Advanced men can start at five sets per day and accumulate to eight.
The first 50% of your training for the prioritized muscle group will be for strength and size, and can be performed on alternate days such as Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Select one compound exercise which will work the belly of the chosen muscle. For example, if you wanted to train the biceps you might go with the standing barbell curl. You then go on and select your rep scheme, perhaps Phase A from the training guide above (4-6 reps)
To avoid crashing it will be very important to vary the training loads and exercises chosen on a rotational basis within the week as well. Monday's schedule has been mentioned (standing barbell curl). On Wednesday you might go with the seated barbell curl and phase B (8-10 reps). Friday you might wish to go with regular grip chin-ups and a Phase C (12-18 reps) selection. Then on Monday of the following week you go again with the standing barbell curl and use Phase B (8-10 reps). Wednesday the seated barbell curl for 12-18 rep sets, and Friday you might use the regular grip chin-ups (weighted) for 4-6 reps.
Generally speaking, the Phase A, B and C rep schemes should be used for compound exercises. These sets should all be pushed to the max with heavier poundages whenever possible. Remember, you're working to gain size and strength with this method.
You can go with pyramid reps, triple drop methods, etc. One method that can work very well here is a variation of the Rest Pause Method. For example, begin by warming up with 60% of your current 6-rep max in the standing barbell curl for 8-10 reps. Now jump to a poundage that that will allow you to perform six solid hard-work reps. Perform these and then rest for 60 seconds. Continue on in this manner for the total number of sets required be it for weeks 1, 2, 3, or 4, maintaining the 60-second rest between each set. If at any point during your sets the rep count drops below 6, decrease the poundage only enough to ensure performing the basic 6-rep goal.
Another variation of this method is to find a poundage that you can do 10 reps with. Now add 10% more weight to the bar. You will do 10 reps on each set (still following the set count for each of the four weeks), but the secret to accomplishing this is the length of the rest periods between sets, and taking deep breaths between the later reps. After you have completed your first set take a 30-second rest. Now, on each additional set add 15 seconds to your rest period, all the while taking as many deep breaths between later reps as needed to complete the full 10 rep set count. After the second set you will be resting 45 seconds, 60 seconds after the third set, 75 seconds after the fourth, and after the fifth 90 seconds, and so on.
The remaining 50% of your training for the prioritized muscle group is structured for the development of separation and hardness. During these exercise sessions on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday you must use only isolation exercises. You must shift your focus on these days to what quality is lacking in the prioritized muscle group. For example, if you are working on biceps peak you will forego the size exercises of the other three days, the barbell curls and chin-ups, instead using spider curls, dumbbell cramping concentration curls and the like.
On these days during weeks one and two an intermediate bodybuilder could do his sets in the following fashion, for example: during week one do one isolation exercise for 1 set of 10 with 65% of max, a second set of 10 with 75% of max, and finally a third and fourth set with 80% max for 8-10 reps. Pyramid the weight. During the second week of training add a fifth set with 80% for 8-10 reps.
Beginning with the third week, assuming you want to work on biceps peak during this Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday section for the month, perform spider curls with a barbell (if you use a barbell one workout, use dumbbells the next . . . keep varying things with this method). Do 2 sets of 8-10 reps, resting about 2-3 minutes between each set. Immediately (without any rest) after you have completed the second set of the spider curls, perform one set of dumbbell cramping concentration curls. Rest and repeat the entire process as described. You will have one set left in your schedule and you can finish off with some high rep cable curls, 20 to 40 reps.
Another option here is to go from one exercise to the next without delay, varying the rep scheme between Phases B, C, and D until you have completed all the required sets, 4 to 7 depending on the week. Or you could use the Up and Down the Rack method on some days. Variety on these three days can make a huge difference in your training.
Biomechanical changes with regard to the speed of the negative and positive phase of consecutive reps in a set can be important to your progress in specialization training. Perhaps every third workout it is a good idea to do the first half of your reps in a set much slower and more determined than usual, taking five to 10 seconds for the positive phase and the same for the negative. But this shouldn't be done with more than one or two sets of the routine.
After this 30-Day Fifty/Fifty Continuous Method is completed, stop and go back to a regular training schedule.