Five Ways to Target a Lagging Body-Part in a Personal Training Session by Gregg Slater

Bigger chest, rounder glutes, bulging arms.

Many clients will come to us with a particular body part they want to improve.

The most obvious solution to this, and the most common advice provided, is to increase the training frequency for that muscle group to drive up weekly training volume (hard sets in the 6-20 rep range as per Baz-Valle 2019). 

Increasing frequency is an excellent option for those attending the gym 4-6 times per week or those advanced enough to merit a “specialised” training block whilst putting other muscles onto “maintenance” volumes. However, the vast majority of personal training clients are not those individuals; they do not train regularly enough (2-3 times per week is a significant win form most) and too much time spent focusing on one muscle can mean less time for others, far from ideal when, well let’s be honest, everything needs to get bigger and stronger.

Programming for fixed time personal training sessions is a skill of its own. We need to be savvy with our session structure to help the client feel they are getting exactly what they want, whilst we skillfully, and often sneakily, deliver what they need (cue mental images of Dr Evil).

So what can we do in our PT sessions, often of fixed time and training frequency? 

Here are five tips you can implement with your clients to help bring up specific body parts, whilst not sacrificing overall progress.

1. Train The Priority Body Part First

Nothing groundbreaking here, but placing the priority muscle at the start of the session allows your clients to direct maximum effort and attention to those working sets before fatigue has a chance to set in. Not only does this show your client you’re considering their goals, but it should also translate into slightly better gains (Cardoza 2019).

2. Pair Unilateral and Bilateral Exercises

To maximise the total number of working sets within a personal training setting pairing two exercises, that don’t fatigue the same muscles, can be a great way to maximise training volume.

If we want to prioritise a specific body part, we can pair a bilateral exercise (for the priority body part) with a unilateral exercise for another body part.

Let’s take the example of a DB bench press (priority) and Reverse Lunge.

To help drive up the training volume for the chest, we will perform one set of the DB bench press for every one SIDE of the reverse lunge. So a typical block may look like this:

  • DB Bench
  • Reverse Lunge left
  • DB Bench
  • Reverse Lunge Right
  • DB Bench
  • Repeat.

As you can see, at the end of the block, I may accumulate four sets of pressing for only two sets of reverse lunges (each side).

3. Bookend Your Paired Sets

Bookending paired sets is quick and straightforward.

Within your paired set start and end on the priority muscle group, thus your typical 3 x 8-12 becomes 4 x 8-12.

Let’s take our previous example of the DB Bench Press and this time pair it with a chest supported row.

The block would look something like this:

  • DB Bench
  • Row
  • DB Bench
  • Row
  • DB Bench
  • Row
  • DB Bench.

That extra set done over 2-3 exercises over the training week can equate to adding in one extra exercise.

4. Make Use of Your Active Recovery

Utilising non-competing paired sets can help to manage local muscular fatigue; however, it can still generate a large amount of central fatigue.

To help manage this, we need adequate recovery. 

We can use the time between our main lifts to add in some isolation work for the priority body-part. Not intense enough to hamper recovery for the big lifts, but done with enough intent to help improve mind-muscle connection. 

5. Escalating Density Finishers

Escalating density training (EDT) is a form of superset that is performed over a short time block.

It is typically placed at the end of the session its a chance to push closer to failure, increasing metabolic stress, with low skill exercises. It works well with any manner of isolation exercises, and just 5 minutes is enough to leave your clients leaving with a great pump.

Here is how to use EDT:

  • Using a 15RM load, the client performs ten repetitions,  going back and forth between the two isolation exercises with minimal rest.
  • As fatigue rises the weight remains fixed, but the client drops repetitions, performing sets of 8,7,6 or even 5’s
  • The goal is to try and get as many good reps as possible within those 5 minutes
  • You can keep a “rep score” which the client will try and beat next week.

So there you have it. Five ways to help target a client’s lagging body-parts within a personal training session without sacrificing overall progress.

If you implement any of these, be sure to let me know.

Read More From Gregg Slater

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