Bodybuilding is the pursuit of physical perfection — or at least getting as close as you can. Whether you’re an active competitor pursuing your pro card or just want to put on some muscle for beach season, proportional muscular development is just as important as overall mass.
Leaving certain body parts behind can harm the overall package you bring to the stage as a competitor. For casual gymgoers, there aren’t many good reasons to let aesthetic weak points develop. Catch them early, tackle them with force, and your physique will be all the better for it.
Here are a few common weak points in bodybuilding that you might want to evaluate for yourself; plus how to bring them up to snuff.
Common Bodybuilding Weak Points
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Defining “Weak Points” in Bodybuilding
Generally speaking, weak points refer to any aspect of your physique that may not have as much size or definition as other muscles, especially those in close proximity. Think having noticeably small biceps compared to your triceps; the two muscles of the upper arm should be roughly the same size.
But before you fret and fuss over the supposed weaknesses of your physique, understand that lagging muscles or body parts don’t disqualify you from being a bodybuilder.
This is particularly true if you’re into muscle building as a recreational pastime. It’s not realistic to embark on, or sail through, your gym career in picture-perfect proportion. Everyone has physical strengths and weaknesses.
However, if you’re an aspiring or active bodybuilding competitor, you should probably seek out a qualified coach and have them assess your physique. They’ll bring a keener eye and a more objective perspective than you yourself might have.
A well-developed pair of pecs can tie your entire upper body together. That said, your chest training should be a bit more than endless sets of the barbell bench press if you want to build up every nook and cranny.
Why It Matters
A good chest can steal the show both at the beach and on the bodybuilding stage. Since your pecs are quite literally at the heart of your torso, they’re often the first muscles the eye is drawn to.
However, it’s possible that your upper chest development hasn’t quite kept up with that of your pectoralis major (the larger compartment of the pecs). A weak upper chest is put on full display during poses like the most muscular, side chest, and even the back double-biceps at the highest levels of the sport.
How to Fix It
Conventional wisdom — you may have heard it passed down in weight room lore — that you need to work on an inclined surface to target your upper chest, or pectoralis minor.
This is certainly true to some degree, but it doesn’t paint a complete picture of how to target your upper chest while you lift. Firstly, some studies suggest that a high incline (up to 40 degrees) might be more effective than a low incline. (1)
But other research on EMG activation has demonstrated little difference in upper chest activation between flat and incline pressing, so your mileage may vary. (1)
However, you should definitely consider including some close-grip work to target the pec minor specifically. One of the tissue’s functions is to flex the upper arm, so lifts like the close-grip bench press or low-to-high cable crossover are well suited to the task. (2)
In bodybuilding circles, the calves are often regarded as notoriously “stubborn” — resistant to the same training stimulus that other body parts respond to just fine. However, they’re a muscle like any other, and thus contribute to the overall package you present with your physique.
That means you have to train your calves, especially if you consider them a weak point.
Why It Matters
In addition to simply being a trainable muscle (which is good enough of a reason on its own), your calves are also the only large and visible muscle below your knees. While they may be small compared to the quadriceps or glutes, you can’t “conceal” underdeveloped calves since they literally stand on their own.
In addition to being obviously spotted on a bodybuilding stage, undertrained calves may hamper you athletically as well. The calves play a significant role in vertical force production, agility, and stride cadence while you run.
How to Fix It
The calves aren’t immune to the physiological effects of muscle hypertrophy, despite what you might hear. That said, their supposed “stubbornness” is couched in real science, at least partially.
Some studies have illustrated that the calves (particularly the soleus muscle) can be composed of over 90 percent Type I, slow-twitch fibers. (3) This makes sense from a biomechanical perspective, since your calves literally carry you around all day and thus must endure a lot of work.
Other research has more or less confirmed that slow-twitch fibers aren’t as sensitive to hypertrophy as their Type II, fast-twitch cousins (3) — though this difference isn’t significant enough to justify throwing in the towel by any means.
Your best course of action might be to train your calves in a way they aren’t already accustomed to. Heavy, focused reps with a slow eccentric cadence and explosive tempo on the way up might work well. You’ll probably have to do some experimenting along the way, though.
Building an impressive physique is about developing specific muscles, true enough. But you also need to consider your silhouette as well. The general shape of your physique is your first impression as a bodybuilder, and the coveted v-taper might just be the most integral aspect.
Why It Matters
From the revered “X-frame” look in open bodybuilding to the “V-frame” in men’s physique, a good shoulder-to-waist ratio is absolutely critical if you’re pursuing aesthetics.
Not only will a good taper highlight the muscularity of your upper body, it’s essential to creating visual “flow” as well — encouraging the eye to move naturally across the body. If you’re a physique competitor, this quality will vary in importance depending on your division.
How to Fix It
First and foremost, understand that your taper is, to some degree, out of your control. Athletes with broad clavicles and a narrow pelvis will naturally have a more pronounced taper. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t take action to address it if it’s a weakness of yours.
If you want to train for a tapered look, you should prioritize hypertrophy in both the lats and deltoids. A wide upper back will naturally make your waist appear smaller, while developed shoulders literally broaden your torso.
Carrying extra body fat may also harm the appearance of a taper, since most people tend to hold fat around the waist and hips. If that’s the case for you and you’re specifically trying to improve your taper, consider entering a fat loss dietary phase.
Why It Matters
Arm thickness generally refers to, well, how thick your arm looks — particularly when viewed from the front. Although you generally show off your gains by flexing your biceps and triceps while turning to the side, your arms are also on full display in certain poses.
Think of the front relaxed posture, in which competitors spend a great deal of time onstage or between poses. It’s perfectly possible to have peaky biceps and horseshoe triceps when you flex them, but you can’t highlight those gains from the front.
How to Fix It
If you want your arms to appear thicker from the front, you need to look beyond your standard biceps curls and triceps pressdowns to get it done.
There are two primary muscles that, when developed, will help thicken your arms; the brachialis, which lies underneath your biceps, and the brachioradialis, which crosses the elbow joint laterally and contributes to the “meat” of the upper forearm.
You’ll also want to ensure that you train your triceps with as much (or more) intensity.
It’s perfectly possible to see well-developed triceps from the front, even if they lie on the backside of your arm.
If you don’t compete (or intend to compete) in bodybuilding, a posing routine isn’t really of concern to you. However, how you carry yourself certainly is and can affect the presentation of your physique tremendously.
Why It Matters
Every division of bodybuilding, from classic physique to women’s figure, has its own standards and practices regarding posing. Poses are the quintessence of the sport; it’s how you present all your hard work in the gym, after all.
Your posture works the same way, although it isn’t necessarily judged as strictly day-to-day. Upright, proud postures are sometimes correlated with higher perceived confidence, which is relevant to how physique competitors present themselves onstage. (4)(5)
Even if you don’t compete, proper posture often goes a long way toward displaying certain aspects of your physique like your chest and shoulders.
How to Fix It
First and foremost, poor posture isn’t necessarily correlated to pain, so don’t consider it a compulsory “thing” you have to fix from a health perspective. (6) Regarding posing, your best bet is to regularly practice the poses you’re required to hit on stage. That said, you can’t practice a posing routine that you don’t have built out in the first place.
If you’re looking to take the stage in the future, you should consult with a qualified coach to help you create a posing routine that works.
A “tight” waist generally refers to a combination of body fat levels and lower abdominal development or control. It is by no means a “weakness” in regard to general health or appearance, but is relevant (to varying degrees) if you train or compete in certain sects of bodybuilding.
Why It Matters
In addition to improving the appearance of the lower abdomen in general, a tight waist is also essential to the bodybuilding “X frame.” A trim waist relative to your lower body will highlight well-developed legs and lats in equal measure.
Waist size and tightness are also not necessarily the same thing. Arnold Schwarzenegger had a relatively wide waist when viewed from the front and is regarded as one of the greatest physique athletes of all time.
How to Fix It
If you want to bring in your waistline, you need to first discern what factors are in your control. The width and shape of your pelvis, particularly the shape of your iliac crests which form your hips, isn’t something you can change. Some athletes will have more pronounced waists than others simply due to their skeletal structures.
Further, the distribution of body fat isn’t something you can alter. Research has demonstrated that genetics determine where, and how, your body stores fat. (7) Holding extra weight in your waist or hips isn’t something you can change through training or diet — you’ll have to commit to a fat loss protocol to see general results there.
However, you may have been advised to avoid certain exercises for fear that they may inadvertently thicken your waist; particularly squats and deadlifts. However, the science doesn’t exactly support this idea.
Your external obliques, which sit on the sides of your abdomen, do contract isometrically during lower-body compound lifting. However, they’re quite low on the hierarchy of tissues taxed by those exercises, (8) so you shouldn’t worry too much about “accidentally” thickening your waist with squats and pulls.
Principles of Addressing Weak Points in Bodybuilding
Knowing your weaknesses is only half the battle. Once you’ve identified what parts of your fatigue may need a bit more love, you then have to address those weaknesses directly.
Stick to these guiding principles to ensure you’re using your time productively.
Train Them First
Bringing up a lagging body part or polishing your posing routine needs to be as much of a logistical priority as an ideological goal. If you want to direct as much effort into your weaknesses as you can, you should tackle them at the start of your training sessions when you have the most energy.
There’s no sense in recognizing that your calves might need some love and then sticking them at the tail end of a two-hour leg day anyway. In most cases, you’ll be too tired from the rest of the workout to apply meaningful effort.
Amp Up Your Frequency
Addressing a weak point might entail performing more sets, reps, or even entire movements. However, it can be a daunting prospect to stack that extra work on top of an already-long training session.
You can get around this issue by kicking up your training frequency instead. This can look like training the target muscle twice or thrice per week, or even separating it from your standard workout entirely.
You can get a good calf or forearm workout done in a very short amount of time; it might be wise to adopt a two-a-day protocol if you’re dead set on fixing a weakness as quickly as possible.
Cut Back Elsewhere
If you’re currently working at or around your capacity, giving extra attention to a lagging part of your physique will thus necessitate that you pull back elsewhere.
Fortunately, you can maintain your existing gains with far lower volumes than it took to create them in the first place, provided you keep your intensity up along the way. If you want to address a weak point, reduce a portion of your training volume from your strongest assets and give some extra love to the weaknesses instead.
Manage Your Expectations
For better or worse, genetics play a tremendous role in bodybuilding at all levels; from local shows all the way up to the Olympia.
You should always be mindful of what weaknesses you can strengthen with smart training and which ones are partially (or fully) out of your control. For example, you can increase the size of your quads until the cows come home, but you can’t change the shape of your vastus lateralis, as muscle bellies are genetically determined long before you picked up your first weight.
Keep objectivity and rationale at the front of your mind when evaluating your physique for weaknesses.
Use Different Exercises
You might have some success at tackling a weak spot (or preventing it altogether) by using a variety of exercises in lieu of sticking to just one or two movements.
Some research has demonstrated that an assortment of several different lifts is more effective for growing a given muscle than just one exercise alone; even when equated for total volume and intensity. (9)
Practically speaking, this means you should be open to using an assortment of movements to create hypertrophy at a weak point, and not to rely on one exercise alone.
Muscular proportion and flow are integral to the presentation of your physique. You should strive to develop your weaknesses just as hard as you strengthen your strengths. That said, lagging body parts or poor posing doesn’t disqualify you from being a bodybuilder.
- You can address many common weak points by manipulating training variables such as intensity, volume, or frequency.
- Tactical exercise selection is a great way to zone-in on muscles that need some extra love. Find the right tool for the job.
- Certain aspects of your physique are determined by genetics and thus mostly out of your control. Don’t sweat what you can’t change.
If you’re aiming at the physique stage, your best bet is to seek out the mentorship or services of a prep or posing coach. They can make measured, objective evaluations of your physical status and prescribe changes accordingly.
Lift Better, Look Better
Your bodybuilding journey is long and arduous. What starts as a few sets of bench presses with your friends may have evolved into a lifelong pursuit or even a potential career. You shouldn’t have to put your progress on hold to retrace your steps.
Identifying and attacking weak points or underdeveloped muscles early can save you many, many hours in the long run. That said, don’t let perfect be the enemy of good; strive to be the best athlete you can be, but don’t get hung up on the details at the expense of the big picture.
1. Trebs, A. A., Brandenburg, J. P., & Pitney, W. A. (2010). An electromyography analysis of 3 muscles surrounding the shoulder joint during the performance of a chest press exercise at several angles. Journal of strength and conditioning research, 24(7), 1925–1930.
2. Barnett, Chris1; Kippers, Vaughan2; Turner, Peter1. Effects of Variations of the Bench Press Exercise on the EMG Activity of Five Shoulder Muscles. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: November 1995 – Volume 9 – Issue 4 – p 222-227
3. Dahmane, R., Djordjevic, S., Simunic, B., & Valencic, V. (2005). Spatial fiber type distribution in normal human muscle Histochemical and tensiomyographical evaluation. Journal of biomechanics, 38(12), 2451–2459.
4. Weineck, F., Schultchen, D., Hauke, G., Messner, M., & Pollatos, O. (2020). Using bodily postures to reduce anxiety and improve interoception: A comparison between powerful and neutral poses. PloS one, 15(12), e0242578.
5. Körner, R, Schütz, A. Dominance or prestige: A review of the effects of power poses and other body postures. Soc Personal Psychol Compass. 2020; 14:e12559.
6. Barrett, E., O’Keeffe, M., O’Sullivan, K., Lewis, J., & McCreesh, K. (2016). Is thoracic spine posture associated with shoulder pain, range of motion and function? A systematic review. Manual therapy, 26, 38–46.
7. Schleinitz, D., Böttcher, Y., Blüher, M., & Kovacs, P. (2014). The genetics of fat distribution. Diabetologia, 57(7), 1276–1286.
8. Martín-Fuentes, I., Oliva-Lozano, J. M., & Muyor, J. M. (2020). Electromyographic activity in deadlift exercise and its variants. A systematic review. PloS one, 15(2), e0229507.
9. Fonseca, R. M., Roschel, H., Tricoli, V., de Souza, E. O., Wilson, J. M., Laurentino, G. C., Aihara, A. Y., de Souza Leão, A. R., & Ugrinowitsch, C. (2014). Changes in exercises are more effective than in loading schemes to improve muscle strength. Journal of strength and conditioning research, 28(11), 3085–3092.
Featured Image: Dusan Petkovic / Shutterstock