How to Fix Stubborn Muscle Growth

You train hard and you’ve put on a decent amount of muscle over the years. But there’s a problem: certain muscle groups are still underdeveloped compared to the rest of your physique. Maybe it’s your biceps, calves or shoulders. The problem could be in any muscle group.

You already train the big compound lifts along with isolation exercises that target those lagging body parts. If your biceps are puny, curls are the answer. If your calves are reminiscent of a pair of pencils, you do standing calf raises.

That approach might have helped a little, but it didn’t help much. Those muscles are damn stubborn. You can’t figure out what the problem is because 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps with isolation exercises is what all the biggest bodybuilders are doing.

So you mix things up and add more sets, reps or new exercise variations. Nothing worked. Now you’re at a point where you don’t know what to do. It’s time to blame your parents for passing on genes that aren’t conducive to bulging biceps.

As a trainer, my job is to find a solution to this problem. I made many mistakes in the early years as I used the typical bodybuilding approach to bring up my client’s lagging muscle groups. But over the last 17 years I’ve been able to put the pieces together as I collected data and experimented with an unimaginable number of protocols to target muscle growth. Most didn’t work.

It wasn’t until I realized this essential fact: each stubborn muscle group requires a unique strategy to make it grow.

If you’ve been doing standing calf raises for high reps to build your calves, it probably didn’t solve the problem because the calves grow best from an intense yielding contraction like when you land from a jump. The quadriceps require an opposite strategy: they’ll build fastest with high volume work that emphasizes the concentric (shortening contraction) phase. This is why cyclists build such impressive thighs.

Of course, Olympic lifters build massive quadriceps with a different approach. The Olympic lifts necessitate a full squat with heavy loads as part of the snatch or clean and jerk. But If I tell you to start doing heavy Olympic lifts 5-6 times per week like they do, it would be a poor solution. Your knees and joints would get beat up in no time.

To fix stubborn muscle growth, it’s necessary to adhere to the following guidelines:

1. Train with a higher frequency: no one would argue that 30 workouts will produce more growth than five workouts. Training a muscle group more often will result in faster gains, provided you can recover. You must increase the training volume for that muscle group without overwhelming recovery.

2. Avoid most isolation exercises: if curls were the answer, every guy would have big biceps. Professional bodybuilders achieved their status because they were born with the ability to quickly build large amounts of muscle everywhere. If you apply their training parameters to your stubborn muscles, it won’t solve the problem.

The exception to this rule is the deltoids. It’s one muscle group that will grow from isolation exercises. I can tell you the solution to small deltoids in one sentence: do 100 reps of the standing lateral raise every day. Within two weeks you’ll realize it works.

However, virtually every other major muscle group requires a unique strategy. What works for the calves won’t work for the quads. What works for the pectoral muscles won’t work for the biceps. The pecs respond well to high rep sets, whereas the biceps typically get smaller with that approach.

3. Use a progression plan: a muscle will only continue to grow if you make it do more work over time. If you start doing 100 push-ups per day your chest will quickly get bigger. But after a few weeks it’ll stop growing because the body already added all the extra muscle it needs to adapt to that demand. That’s why it’s necessary to start with just enough volume to stimulate growth, and steadily increase it from there.

My system for putting these three components together to target stubborn muscles is covered in my upcoming ebook, High Frequency Training, available October 16.

Stay Focused,

19 thoughts on “How to Fix Stubborn Muscle Growth

  1. Great article chad,

    have you ever used these guidelines with a client who wanted to add size to his neck? Do you think its possible?

    CW: I wouldn’t apply these parameters to neck training. That’s a tricky area to build and strengthen. I prefer static holds and maybe a few sets of weighted cervical extension thrown in the mix if there aren’t any cervical disc problems.

  2. Any chance you’d be willing to share the strategy for glutes and hamstrings? 🙂

    CW: Those will certainly be covered in the new book.

  3. Nice article Chad. I would have to agree with lateral raises. I’m working with John Meadows right now and he prescribes doing lateral raise-type stuff for something like, 5×10 w/ 20s rest between sets, multiple times a week. His medial/rear delt stuff is some of the most intense stuff I’ve done lately. Anyways, looking forward to the book. Make sure you send out an email as I’m going to forget!

    CW: Cool – thanks!

  4. Hey Chad – What rep range do you use for the 100 reps/day delt work?

    CW: Start with a load that allows around 30 reps for the first set.

  5. anxiously waiting your new book. I love the theory behind high frequency training–how can we apply observations of soccer players’ calves and mechanics’ forearms to our pursuit of strength and size? in the meantime, how can i bring up my only (in my humble opinion) lagging bodypart — upper chest?

    CW: Daily push-ups with your feet elevated is a good place to start. Specifics will be in the book.

  6. If this upcoming book is anything last your last few, it will rock

    CW: Thanks! I believe this is my best product to date.

  7. Chad this new book will be Available in ebook version? Thanks

    CW: Yes, downloadable ebook with video files.

  8. Wow!

    I am seriously amazed… not only at the great article, but also at the fact that just this very morning as I was doing one of the Huge in a Hurry workouts I literally thought to myself “man, these workouts are giving me great results, but my shoulders seem to be lagging a bit, I wish Chad would write something on it sometime, maybe I’ll send a email…” And here, just a few hours later is the answer I was looking for. The funny thing is that this isn’t the first time this has happened. Last year, when I was starting Huge in a Hurry, I had a bunch of questions about it, and just about 1-2 days later the blog post “Huge in a Hurry clarified” came out. And another time I was thinking about how I should incorporate body-weight workouts a bit more and then I checked my email the next day, and the blog post about body-weight workouts came out! Haha.

    Thanks once again Chad. I’ve learned so much from your material! Almost everything I’ve ever needed to know about fitness I’ve found in your books and articles. When people have asked me what I do when I workout, I simply tell them “just read anything by Chad Waterbury.”

    CW: Thanks!

  9. Chad,
    I am very excited about your new book. Will it be available in the iBooks store for Apple iPad?

    CW: At first it will be a .pdf with video links that you can purchase through Clickbank.

  10. Been a fan since HIAH. Can we expect a fair amount of training with rings? I’ve been huge into them since you first mentioned high-tension training.

    When you started mentioning the mind-muscle connection, it made me think of Arnold Schwarzenegger. When he did say, a set of arm curls, he said that he didn’t just curl the weight, he imagined the actually muscle fibers contracting and lengthening. I first thought this was goofy…but then I started thinking about the reality and how much the brain and nervous systems play in skeletal muscular movement. Do you actually believe size/strength can be gained simply by focusing on the muscle being worked? I’m thinking back to the pinky experiment you mentioned awhile ago here too…

    Thanks CW. I’m stoked for the new book.

    CW: Yes, there’s a lot of rings training in the book. Most upper body exercises use them. And yes the mind controls the muscle so whatever the mind wants, the muscle must do.

  11. Would this book be good for a sixty year old guy with some lifting experience?

    CW: They’re challenging workouts, but there’s plenty of info for everyone.

  12. Couple of questions for you. Will the program also be applicable to women also? Will there alternate exercises for someone who does not have access to rings (under the assumption there will be rings exercises)? Lastly, will there be the possibility of alternate exercises or variations of body weight exercises in case one isn’t strong enough to perform but maybe a rep or two of a certain bw exercise or they are to large to to a bw exercise?

    CW: Yes to all.

  13. very exited about your new book! can you explain the huge development in the legs of rugby player, especially the quads and the glutes?

    CW: Their calves are most impressive to me. It’s all that sprinting, stopping, turning, sprinting, stopping, etc. that really overloads the muscles.

  14. Good post Chad, look forward to the book..

    if say i did 100 incline press ups + 100 lateral raises a day for a few weeks (including a suitable weight progression), and gained size, what would you recommend i do to maintain that size if i switched to a ‘normal’ program and stopped the daily press ups etc?


    CW: You’ll be able to maintain the size if you keep training those muscles 3-4x per week with more traditional parameters.

  15. Hey, I’m always thrilled to read your information. You seem very objective which is of enormous value to me with all the information the exists.

    I have started to wonder how much exercise per week is best, not only in the short term, but for longevity? My goal is a ripped muscular body, but it needs to be and feel healthy – I feel that strength training doesn’t give the same energy increase as endurance training does. Is there a way to combine both in an optimal way? I have your book HIAH if referring to that helps.

    Thanks a lot!


    CW: Start with a full-body plan 3x/week like the HIAH programs. Then merge to 4x/week with HFT and add in extra mini-workouts for any body parts that need help. Another option is to do something like my Waterbury Challenge from last year as a way to really crank up your work capacity – that’s great for health and longevity.

  16. Great article and really interesting subject that many probably not deal with as much as they should, even though it sure applies to all trainees. Thanks and keep up the good work dude!

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