Weak Point Training: 3 Points of Attack

Weak Point: An obvious imbalance that creates an inefficiency, one factor that is single-handedly limiting progress, can cause lifts to stall at particular points of the movement) or can cause deviation in setup that leads to a missed rep.

It’s become trendy to focus on weak point targeting as a primary means of driving your numbers up. The problem is that this approach is not as well suited for newer or less experienced lifters. When you are unfamiliar with the lifts, untrained and lacking in muscle mass and basic coordination, everything is weak which means that there is no justification in isolating a single piece of the puzzle. At this stage,  your best bet is to focus on the fundamentals and use broader, non-specific training approaches to develop a well-rounded and symmetrical base that will contribute to optimal efficiency as you become more specialized.

 For those who have been training for some period of time, have developed some amount of strength, and have a solid grasp on the main barbell movements, you may find that there is an obvious imbalance that is keeping your lifts artificially low. As bench presses become increasingly competitive, it’s not uncommon for the upper back or rear delts to lag behind. Lifters will develop quad weaknesses that cause the hips to pop up prematurely on squats and deadlifts. Sloppy movement execution in training will make it increasingly likely that you’ll get out of position on the heaviest of attempts.

 There are two main categories of weaknesses that I want you to think about. The first is one causes the lift to stall out at a particular portion of the movement. We generally break this up into three phases; weakness at the start, weakness halfway up and weakness close to lock out. Identifying these points assumes that your positioning is stable throughout the entire movement and that performance is limited by lack of force production and not sloppy execution. 

 The other category of weaknesses are ones that affect positioning. The most optimal method of moving a weight from point A to point B will involve some specific setup that takes advantage  your leverages through a deliberate technical approach. When certain supportive muscles are exhausted before the main movers are, you drift out of your most advantaged set-up and end up  missing the rep as a result.  Examples of this are when you lose your brace on a heavy deadlift,  have your knees cave in on a heavy squat or elbows flare out on a bench press.

If you’ve identified any one of these as a problem that you’re dealing with, the next step is to figure out a plan of attack.  You have three options, you can drill perfect practice with the main lifts, you can include variations that target that movement pattern or you can find which muscles are weak and train them in isolation.

A.) Perfect Practice

 Perfect practice is what you should be doing anyways. This is why it’s important when you’re starting to always keep a high technical standard for yourself. Never let efficiency suffer because you were desperate to lock out one more rep. By finding out how to root your body into the ground and maintain tension and control throughout the entire lift, you develop deliberate intent.  Those who ignore this usually rely on blind aggression and end up crossing their fingers and hoping for the best every time they max out.

 If you’re already somewhat developed and are experiencing a stick point or some inability to hold position, you can always include more volume work that greses has the groove, so to speak. This can be more time spent warming up more back off sets or more submaximal sets around your top working weight. More technically specific programs like the ones that utilize very high frequency are a huge benefit in this way. The frequent touches you get throughout the week make sure that your technical proficiency steadily increases and the weight continuously climbs as a result. If you have never ran a high frequency program and are suffering from technical breakdown, I recommend giving it a shot. Running your main movements 3 or more times a week with a submaximal routine will result in many quality touches and a completely new understanding of the movement. And every successful quality touch you do will contribute to strengthening whatever weakness  is holding you back, be it from an individual muscle or lack of general coordination.

 When drilling technique it’s best to find the optimal position first and make sure that execution with it is automatic.  Tempo and control has to come first, speed and power and aggression should only be introduced after this. Many warm-up sets and cool down sets can be an asset here especially if you control the descent and pause at the most exposed position. You’ll be surprised at how quickly you get a receptive understanding of how your body handles that position and which muscle groups / movement patterns are responsible for maintaining position and executing the lift. Sheiko, Heavy/Light/Medium, and DUP templates are all examples of high-frequency programs that will help with this.

B.) Targetting Patterns

 Assuming you’ve already done years worth of perfect practice and achieved a high level of specialization, you will eventually still find that there is one limiting factor holding your lifts back. No matter how good you are, there is always something that can be improved. At this point you can look to either targeting weak areas from a holistic standpoint by looking at entire movement patterns or by finding and isolating individual muscles that you believe might be lacking.

 Targeting movement patterns means incorporating more work that stresses you at that particular position of the lift. If you miss at the start you spend more time around the start of the lift. If you miss the lockout, you spend more time with the bar close to that spot. When considering possible variations, remember that the way you reinforce any of those positions is by making yourself more disadvantaged. 

Specialty bars can be extremely useful when incorporating weak-point specific work into your program.

Starting position:

If you have trouble breaking weight from the bottom of the lift in a squat bench and deadlift deficits are the most commonly prescribed solution. By taking the movement through a fuller range,  you increase the training stress on the relevant muscles in a way that they have not experienced before.  Youyou can also incorporate work that holds a pause at that particular position either by pausing your squats and bench presses at the bottom of the lift or by stopping the bar on a deadlift an inch before it reaches the floor and holding it. General hypertrophy is also a pretty useful method for increasing starting strength. Larger pecs generally lead to more comfortable changes of direction on the bench press and the same is true for the musculature of the legs and hips when it comes to squatting and deadlifting.

 Midway up:

For those who have an incredibly stable start but seem to miss attempts halfway up, training at this range without the typical momentum that the bar has on it usually works the fastest. Regardless of the weight on the bar, the midway of the lift always has momentum from the initial acceleration of the start. By taking this away either by pausing at that position moving at a tempo we’re setting the bar on blocks or pins to start halfway up you can dramatically increase a training stress in a way that your body is not used to. In pretty short order you’ll find that you get stronger with each workout at this position.

 For the lockout, the same rule applies. By drilling your lock out without any bar momentum that is setting the pins from a dead stop or pausing at the top the muscles of the shoulders and triceps have to work much harder in a bench as do the muscles of the glutes midsection and upper back to lock out a heavy deadlift. Elevated presses and deadlifts are common options for training the lockout as is accommodating resistance using bands or change so that the week is heavier towards the top.

For those who find themselves getting out of position on their heaviest lifts,  supplementary work that changes the bar position can be a big asset. For instance front squats and safety bar squats taxi upper back in the midsection much more heavily. If your shoulders dump on heavy squats these might be useful assistance exercises to prevent that from happening in the future. Good mornings and rdls can teach you how to maintain a strong brace during a deadlift. And as always Temple and pause word can be used to make sure your hips don’t rise prematurely as they’re inclined to in a squat or a deadlift.

C.) Targeting Muscles

 Targeting muscles individually is probably the trickiest.  Utilizing variations of the main lift at Target movement patterns at least ensures the training is similar enough to carry over to the main lift regardless. But getting individual muscles to grow especially in a way that will carry over to the main lift is not quite as straightforward. The easiest way to recognize and inefficiency is visual. If you have a relatively wide chest but very disproportionately small arms it stands to reason that your triceps might need extra work in a bench press and generic tricep work might be the ticket. Disproportionately small quads are pretty easy to spot as are lagging glutes lats and deltoids.

 The thing is that all of these muscles should be getting some regular attention anyways. The people who typically have to incorporate this type of work later on or the ones who hyperfocus on the powerlifts and don’t include enough rowing overhead pressing or direct midsection leg or arm work. If you do have a noticeable deficiency it can be as easy as finding a machine the targets a lagging muscle and going to town for several weeks but if you had included some general developmental work as a staple in your training at least during base volume phases, you would have avoided this problem altogether.

 Remember that targeting weak areas is a compliment to your main lifts and not a replacement. A common mistake with weak point training( besides starting too early before you are fully developed) is to have it replace the key parts of your programming that got you strong in the first place. Find throughout the week when it makes the most sense to incorporate this type of training whether it’s directly after doing the main lift or on another day and be careful to chart the outcome at the adaptations for movement variations don’t always happen the way you want. Trial and error will always be involved.

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