• Specialization for Bodybuilders

    by Puma

    Specialization – newly rediscovered word that brings excitement to the faces of bodybuilders. Hope giver and massive builder. Learn the basics and advanced concepts.

    Basic specialization

    In order to start talking about specialization, we must be clear on what is not specialization. To be precisely – what workout does not have any signs of specialization. Originally at the very beginning of modern era bodybuilding, which was clean, not bastardized with doping – most of masters and gurus [forget about “coaches”, not that time period] where strongly promoting whole body workouts per every workout. Here comes divisions – some were prescribing whole body for life time, some only till you master “intermediate level”, some only for beginners.

    It went usually like this:
    1. 3 times per week the same whole body workouts -> AxAxAxx
    2. 3 times per week two whole body workout -> AxBxAxx next week BxAxBxx
    3. 3 times per week different whole body workouts -> AxBxCxx

    Usually such progression lasted 1-2 years. Of course that is only example, much simplified. The idea behind this is simple – train big exercises, do most important things, master the basics and watch your body as it “mysteriously” grow in every muscle part without any kind of isolation exercises [or only a few]. That worked than, that still works now, why nearly nobody uses it now – you will read in another article.

    So our grandpa - bodybuilder, or intelligent modern bodybuilder trained whole body all the time. Then after year or two he is big as a bull but yet some body parts are bigger, some are also big but visible lagging [notice the phrase “also big”]. At this time – some change must be made.
    We bring the gun out and start specialization… day.

    Yeah, no mistake here. Specialization day – one day dedicated especially to one problem. Now you understand why modern day approach brings too big guns for fresh starters like train each body part one time per week. It’s like pointing nuclear warhead to kill an ant. Too big stimulus, used too fast on untrained body shortens progression period. Simply –it is not optimal. Everything got its place but be patient.

    How exactly looks like specialization day? It also got progression. For example:
    Level 1 – by body position – upper body / lower body
    Level 2 –by region – whole limb leg or arm
    Level 3 – by joint regions – biceps + triceps + brachialis + brachioradialis
    Level 4 – by joint and function – biceps + brachialis + brachioradialis
    Level 5 – by muscle – biceps

    Keep in mind that I mentioned the most obvious ones – in fact you can mix and multiply it to nearly uncountable number.
    The good rule of the thumb is to start with level one, and progress higher if NEEDED. In fact, if you trained only whole body for long period [1-2 years], introduction of extra upper-body specialization day will evenly blast your chest, back, biceps, triceps etc. etc. Reason is simple. More dedicated work + additional volume + new exercises. It gives you another long term progression.

    And the golden rule still applies – respect new stimulus. Use it to the full, don’t over use, and never bring new one too fast if the last one is still giving the progress.
    Of course, there will come time when single day progression will temporarily meet its progression limit. Sometimes even you don’t need to go all the way down if only biceps is lagging. Observe and react but don’t overreact.
    Single day specialization is for beginners after the “middle” of their “beginners trip”.

    Enhanced specialization

    That is something that is often forgotten. We see people doing specialization once per week, triple per week, but nearly never two times per week. That is sad cause it is not such demanding on CNS, regeneration rate is better and in fact you can stick with it as long as you want. When the workout schedule is programmed with intelligent fashion – you can use two times per week specialization for whole year around [if needed!!!].

    As in one day per week specialization, also here we have got many sorts of gradation.
    1. Doing the same workout two times per week
    2. Doing the same key exercises two times per week but different accessory or isolation
    3. Doing two different workouts based on orientation for example horizontal/vertical
    4. Doing two different workouts based on muscles involved [back width/ back tight]
    5. Doing two different workouts based on muscle head [p. major sternal emphasis/clavicular emphasis]

    That is only one aspect. As a title stated – we are talking about enhancing basic specialization, so we must bring bigger guns.

    Training problematic area two times per day or simply – AM/PM. Gradation:
    1. One time per weak – but two times a day [using single day gradation]
    2. Two times per week [using double day variations x 2]

    There are few common approaches. Doing the same training four times – that was Gironda’s favorites. Training different AM and PM twice in the weak, and training using four different workouts. Plus of course a random mixture off all above.

    There are a few things that you must keep in mind using two-days-a-week approach.
    - Separate the days evenly, for example ABxACDxx
    - Don’t mess with other body parts, for example don’t put biceps training day before back training
    - Training every body part two times per week is not a specialization, it is two-times-a-week normal training routine [actually damn good one].
    - You can combine specialization day with normal not specialized body par, for example chest + shoulders and chest + triceps

    Rules to obey if specializing two times per week with AM/PM style
    - Use the rules for single workout a day
    - Keep distance between both workout 4-6 hours [sometimes it can be a little more]
    - Use two peri-workouts meals a day [it’s specialization, not normal AM/PM]
    - Use more complex exercises/more weight demanding exercises in the morning
    - Use more factors, not only additional exercises [angles, volume, strength, TUT etc.]
    - Eat more nutrition on a specialization day [more work = more demand]

    Triple specialization

    Here we are starting with a really big stimulus. Total attack which must be time limited in order not to catch a fatal injury or burn out CNS. Usually triple specialization lasts 3-9 weeks [rarely people can hold for 12 weeks, but that are extreme cases]. Let me be clear – your body decides when to stop. Listen to the body, observe and react. There is no stiff limit. Doing 5 weeks once, doesn’t mean that it’s constant. Next time your body will react differently depending on the experience, exercises selections, diet, level of the lag, what have you done before etc. etc.

    With three days comes many flavors and variations, we can’t make single dimensional graduation.
    The most simple triple-a-week specialization is doing the same workout three times a week. Plain and simple. Nothing fancy. You pick few exercises that will fix your problem, pick proper rep ranges, arranges sets and viola – new “you”. The most simple weekly schedules:

    ABAxACx or ABxACAx

    Keep in mind – doing same lifts 3/week is simple but more CNS burning. Forget about 10 weeks. Most often you will say “pass” after 3-4 weeks.
    Step higher goes triple-a-week with two different workouts. It gives you more choices, more angles and more elasticity, gives you more time [not so CNS demanding and not so regeneration dependent]. Simple weekly schedule:
    Week I: A1 B A2 X C A1 X
    Week II: A2 B A1 X C A2 X

    Most often you will hit the wall because off too fast weight progression than real muscle [targeted] fatigue.
    Another step higher we have got typical bodybuilding full attack specialization. 3/week with three different workouts. That’s BIG approach. Often used too soon. It gives spectacular results and usually ends with excessive muscle fatigue. Simple weekly schedule:
    A1 B A2 X C A3 X

    This type of specialization brings many exercises in to play. Usually somewhere between 9 and 18.

    But don’t get yourself trapped. The idea behind specialization is to fix the problem, not to hide it for couple months and then repeat again. Wisely pick exercises, seek mind muscle, learn new things, re-learn big movements to get rid of old mistakes. It’s not “bring everything” but “pick what is best for your problem” approach.
    These where the most common types. Now, time for something “special”.

    Shadow Specialization

    Shadow specialization is a very odd, but yet great and working specialization. It uses the flush method. You train specialized and non-specialized body parts at the same workouts. Non-specialized goes first, specialized last. There is a logic behind that. Working specialized part after normal workout, will make overhaul smaller, yet the relearning purpose will be possible. If you seek mainly learning tool + mind-muscle but not big strength gains – that is a good way to go.

    Shadow spec have three types:
    1. Three same workout, for example:
    B+A x C+A x D+A E x
    2. Two different workouts, for example:
    Week one: B+A1 x C+A2 x D+A1 E x
    Week two: B+A2 x C+A1 x D +A2 E x
    3. Three different workouts, for example:
    B+A1 x C+A2 x D+A3 Ex

    As it was stated, it is not method designed for strength gain. OFC you will gain strength, but it’s not optimal. Another reason is simple – if you want to specialize with medium size body part like biceps or triceps, and you normally train them as a second body part of the day, and for various reasons you don’t want to change it, so why on earth you would want to move specialization on the first place? For addition frustration after specialization is over, when your strength will go down because of another in-workout placement? Think about it.

    Three days a row

    It’s the most complicated and most hardcore three days specialization. Only for very advanced and wise bodybuilders. Logic is brutally simple – totally exhaust targeted body part by training three times in a row, than train other body parts for the rest of the week – 4 days of regeneration is a good time. Often this kind of specialization is used by switching the cycle duration from 7 days to 10 days [training one body part one time per 10 days]. It gives dramatically big muscle mass plus extra mind muscle connection. But beware!!! It’s only for the calmest and experienced bodybuilders. It will lead to fatal injury for all the rest. This method is not for every muscle. In fact it is designed for muscle groups. Best examples are legs, back or push chain.
    The whole idea is to train the most complex movements on the day one. Second day is accessory day, last day is light isolation and mind muscle day. Schedule goes like this:
    A1 A2 A3 x B C x
    Level of micro trauma is up the roof. Better don’t extend such training approach for more than three weeks. Actually, there are methods to overcome the problem. One of them is eccentric less training approach – this method is experimented in live style by coach Christian Thibaudeau on T-Nation.com. It’s worth reading thus it is using a little different aspect than classical three-days-a-row. The more data, the more knowledge – the better workouts and gains.

    Four days a week

    That is kind of odd. It is rarely used among bodybuilders. For power lifters or weight lifters it is a daily bread and butter – so no sensation for them [for most of them it is “easy” time]. But for us bodybuilders? 4 days is too much for most medium muscles. Yet if three days per week is too little for your bigger groups problem [bad movement, bad technique, bad mind muscle – total disaster] it is too little. We will talk about four-a-week in articles dedicated to strength and explosiveness.

    Five days a week

    That is a very “all-out” approach. It is rarely used. It must come from the serious reason, if not – it is another recipe for a disaster.
    The best example is experienced lifter who trained badly. The “biceps-chest-shoulders” guy who totally neglected back or legs trainings. He is too big to make him big “return to the basics” stuff. It is a rare problem but it exists so it is worth to mention it. Most often this guy will achieve too many injuries and he will be out of the trainings for life. But if he survives his stupidity, such approach is for him.

    The idea is simple. Train lagging group per every workout as first exercise. At first – only one exercise, then other muscle groups. Rarely a person will require two exercises per training – often it will be too much.

    In case of the back it can look like this:
    Monday: Chins + other body part workout
    Tuesday: Rowing + other body part workout
    Wednesday: off
    Thursday: DB rowing to clavicle + other body part workout
    Friday: Shrugs + other body part workout
    Saturday: Bent DB lateral raise + other body part workout
    Sunday: Off

    One exercise – but done with proper technique, with proper rep range for learning purpose, one failure point.

    Another use for 5-a-week is approach is for calves, forearms or grip strength. Most of people must train them often because of their fibers profile. Plain and simple. If your calves don’t grow – giving them one specialization day will do nothing. Try training them 2,3,4,5,6 times per week. It will do wonders.

    Final note and conclusion

    Specialization is a very powerful tool. It can do wonders in no time. But it must be properly used. It is too stimulus-rich method to use it just like that – there must be a real reason first. If one of your body parts is lagging, first look closer.

    If the lag comes from fatal body posture – go to Doc and grab rehabilitation program, because specialization in that case will do nothing for you.
    If the lag comes from bad technique – relearn the movement/exercise, because specialization will only temporarily fix the problem and then will make it worse
    If your workout schedule is plain dumb – change it, problem will fix itself.

    Proper specialization should give you strength, mass, reshape and experience. It is a good time to test-drive new exercises and methods. Play with rep ranges, methods [tempo, breaks, acceleration etc.]. Play with angles, try something new. But make it useful. Take everything what you can – new wisdom included.

    Remember – specialization should fix the problem for a long term. It is not temporal solution. If your chest is lagging, super growing on the specialization course, then it goes back to a normal “small” level – that is a failure. Don’t put chains on you. Don’t be addicted to a specialization. Doing spec 1-2 times a year is ok. But every other 6 weeks means only one thing – you are doing everything wrong. Find the real reason of the problem first.
    If you want extra change in the body – you make extra effort – for example more workouts per week or more volume. More work = more food demand. Pump up the nutrition intake on specialization day.

    And remember. If number of specialization trainings is higher than two – most often your body will not be able to produce the newly gained muscle mass. You will reach deficit. That is compensation gain that will be changed into the pure muscle mass after you switch to non-specialization approach.
    The additional “hidden” gain differs from method to method- depending of the specialization power. If it comes from normal three days a week specialization – expect 10-15% bonus. If from 3/week X AM/PM expect even up to 50% bonus.

    Bad specialization design and false assupmtions will give you nothing

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