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Muscle Adaptation

How to Improve Weak and Stubborn Body Parts

By Sal Di Stefano on Oct 16, 2018 3:45:00 AM
10 Minutes Reading Time


Resistance training has many features that give it advantages over other forms of exercise. It speeds up the metabolism faster and more effectively. It’s extremely modifiable (free weights in particular mold themselves to the person regardless of size or height or even strength and fitness levels). Resistance training can also be modified to fit a wide range of different types of goals from endurance to strength and even agility and mobility. My favorite feature, however, is the ability for someone to use resistance training to literally shape and sculpt their body as they see fit. Someone can place special emphasis on any part of their body and, like an actual sculptor, change how their body looks according to their aesthetic goals. No other form of exercise does this. If you like running a lot you will use the same set of muscles most of the time. The same is true for swimming or yoga or Pilates or basketball…pretty much all other forms of exercise. With resistance training you have MORE control over how your body looks.

That all being said, its important to note that its not easy to mold and shape your body even with resistance training. Talk to anyone who has trained with weights consistently for longer than a year or so and ask them what their “weak body parts” are. No doubt you will get a clear answer. Most people who train with resistance training can rattle off one or two or maybe even three “stubborn” body parts. So, what gives? If resistance training is the best way to sculpt and shape the body, then why is it that so many people who train with resistance have these weak or stubborn body parts? Below I list the most common reasons why you may find that some parts of your body just don’t seem to respond and what you can do about it NOW to get things progressing. 

Not doing the right exercises

This is the most common one. For example, when I hear people tell me they can’t build their legs or their butt I often ask them what their routine looks like. At least half the time they don’t include the most effective lower body exercises in their routine like barbell squats, deadlifts, lunges and hip thrusts. There are a tremendous number of exercises that exist per body part but they are NOT all created equal. Some are far more effective at building and sculpting than others. If you have a weak body part and you aren’t doing the best exercises for that body part, you may never see your efforts pay you back with progress. Below I list the most effective exercises per major body part. You should be doing at least 3 of them for your weak or stubborn areas.


Bench Press (barbell or dumbbell)

Incline Press (barbell or dumbbell)

Incline Fly

Flat Fly

Parallel Bar Dips



Rows (barbell or dumbbell)

Pull Ups

T bar Row

Cable Rows



Overhead press (barbell or dumbbell)


Rear Fly

Kettlebell Press

Z Press

Upright Row 

Legs and Glutes

Back Squats

Front Squats

Bulgarian Split Stance Squats


Leg Press


Barbell Curls

Dumbbell Supinating Curls

Hammer Curls

Preacher Curls 



Close Grip Bench Press

Skull Crushers

Overhead Tricep Extension

Tricep Pressdown 

Abs and Core

Roman Chair Sit Ups

Active Planks

Leg Raises

Physio Ball Crunches

Cable Side Chops

Not Training Frequently Enough

Thanks to modern science we now know how long the “adaptation signal” lasts after exercise. After you work out (if you’ve done so effectively) you send a stress signal to your body which says “we need to become stronger in order to withstand this stress next time.” When you build muscle, your body is literally preparing itself so that next time you don’t stress yourself nearly as much with the same workout. Your body is adapting and we can measure this by measuring the muscle building process through something called muscle protein synthesis. 

After exercise muscle protein synthesis spikes quickly and stays elevated for 24-48 hour and then it quickly drops. For many people it goes back down to baseline at 72 hours. This means that if you are training your weak body part once or twice a week you are missing out on tons of adaptation potential.

You should be training your weak body parts a minimum of three to four days a week to keep your weak body part in the adaptation space. You don’t even have to train with more exercises necessarily…simply take the total number of exercises and sets that you do once or twice a week and divide them so that you can train three or four times a week. This more frequent approach is much more effective at getting the body to change and respond.

Poor muscle connection

This one is REALLY insidious. You may be doing all the right exercises and train the right amount of times during the week and you may STILL see little to no return. If this is you then you might be suffering from poor muscle activation. In other words, your target muscle may not be firing fully or effectively even with the best exercises. 

Here is an example…let’s say someone wants to build their butt. They do all the different variations of squats and lunges and all they end up with is bigger quads and hamstring…but no butt growth. This is because their quads and hamstrings are doing all the work while their glutes do very little. If this sounds familiar don’t fret…I have a solution. It’s called PRIMING.

Before you do your workout for your weak body part do some slow ISOLATION work. Pick an isolation exercise and focus on slow full ranges and motions and, most importantly, the SQUEEZE. Get that muscle to fire and turn on BEFORE the workout and you will find it much easier to feel the target muscle when you go through your regular workout. Below I will list my favorite priming exercises per body part. 


Leg Extensions


Leg Curls


Hip Bridges or Donkey Kick Backs 


Pull over


Cable flyes 




Concentration Curls 


Rope Pressdowns


Slow Crunches

There you go. Apply the above advice to your weak body parts ands watch what happens. If you biggest issue was lack of connection give yourself a few weeks…it can take a while to “turn things on.” Have fun and train hard and enjoy sculpting the body YOU want.

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Sal Di Stefano

Sal is one of the hosts of the Mind Pump Podcast. At the age of 18 his passion for the art and science of resistance training was so consuming that he decided to make it a profession and become a personal trainer. By 19 he was managing health clubs and by 22 he owned his own gym. After 17 years as a personal trainer he has dedicated himself to bringing science and TRUTH to the fitness industry.

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