Sure, you may think you know what the “Weider Muscle Priority Principle” means. “Oh, yeah, I prioritize certain workouts — I make sure to do chest and arms three times a week, because I want them to be huuuuuuuge.”
And thus, an army of misshapen gym rats has been released among the snickering masses, giving a bad rap to everyone else who toils with aesthetic balance in mind. Yes, sleeve-busting guns and prominent pecs are cool, but all that work you’ve put into them is merely fodder for a punch line if the rest of your body hasn’t kept pace.
Not to just pick on the beach muscles, either. We all tend to have a favorite. Some embrace the contrarian spirit and focus diabolically on their backs and chests to the detriment of anything else. Others embrace the stomach-churning nature of heavy leg day, creating a pyramid of a physique — all foundation, tiny top. Perhaps you know someone with cartoonish forearms, or half-cantaloupe delts that bulge in the front and fall flat in the back.
In a sense, all these represent “prioritization” but certainly not in the spirit of the late Master Blaster’s intent.
The Muscle Priority Principle is instead all about embracing your least favorite bodyparts to train. Using this simple yet often ignored concept, you make sure to do your weakest, most underdeveloped muscle groups first in your training split, and first in your workouts, even making sure to give them their own dedicated training session if that’s what it takes to make improvements.
That way, you hit the muscle when you’re strongest, have the most energy, and can give it the full attention it needs.
A Case of the Mondays
Let’s flip the script and consider a hypothetical scenario in which your chest is actually a lagging bodypart and not a fave. (Hey, it happens — some guys have shoulders and triceps that respond with ease, while their chest gets quickly overpowered during heavy pressing movements.)
Because his chest is relatively weak, our subject doesn’t really embrace barbell and dumbbell presses, and instead has poured much more effort into widening his shoulders. His current split may look like this:
Monday: Shoulders & Triceps
Tuesday: Chest & Biceps
Thursday: Back & Abs
In this split, he’s hopping into the gym after a weekend, well rested and ready to tear into his delts and tri’s. It’s no wonder they’re growing like crazy. But Tuesday, he’s probably still feeling a bit of fatigue in his delts and arms as he tackles chest, meaning his intensity and the amount of weight he can handle suffers. The pecs fall further and further behind those Monday bodyparts.
How can he fix the problem? Here are two potential remedies:
Tuesday: Back & Shoulders
Thursday: Arms & Abs
Thursday: Shoulders & Triceps
Friday: Back & Biceps
Either option puts his most needy bodypart first in the week, all by itself. That means he can give those workouts 100 percent, with no lingering soreness or fatigue from any other training session, most importantly delts and triceps, which come later in the week. In both cases, his lagging chest gets the attention it needs and is sure to respond in short order.
Slice and Dice
Muscle prioritization isn’t simply about a whole bodypart either. Often, a portion of a bodypart lags behind the rest — think upper chest in comparison to the flat-bench-built middle pecs, or the missing medial head of your triceps that ruins your “horseshoe,” or a thick thigh without the teardrop shape flowing into the knee.
Earlier, the shoulders were mentioned, with the common problem there being an overdeveloped front head and a woefully inadequate rear head.
The solution? Prioritize, of course. Move the best exercises for the lagging portion of the muscle up to the front of the workout. To tackle the shoulder imbalance, front-load your delt workout with an exercise like the bent-over dumbbell raise, reverse pec-deck flye or reverse cable crossover, either as the very first exercise, or the second (right after a press).
You may also want to start or finish another unrelated workout during the week with a rear-delt movement — like tacking a seated bent-over dumbbell raise onto the end of a leg or arm workout.
The same advice goes for other bodyparts. If your upper chest is lagging, you sure as heck should be starting your chest workouts with an incline press. For that triceps imbalance, you’ll want to do a reverse-grip cable pulldown early on in your triceps session, as the flipped grip helps isolate the medial head. And thighs without teardrops require the leg extension — add it first as a warm-up before squats, and consider finishing the workout with one-leg-at-a-time extensions to failure, with a drop set for good measure.
Prioritize, Don’t Ostracize
Like anything, the Muscle Priority Principle can be taken too far to the extreme. In seeking to upgrade one bodypart, you don’t want to compromise the development of another.
That means balanced workouts. Remember, the priority principle is about what you do first or at least early on in a workout, but not as a replacement for a well-rounded routine. In other words, every major bodypart is a “priority” in a sense … some just more so than others.