When choosing what movements or methods to include in training programs, many people often look to weak areas or what they perceive are weak areas. The thought process is pretty cut and dry—train what is weak and you'll become strong. However, it isn't always that simple.

Just looking at weak muscle groups or even weak abilities may not be enough when considering what's holding back performance. In this article, I'll examine a couple perspectives as to why it may not be as simple as it seems.

When I was fairly new to powerlifting, I read many articles from Westside about training weak points. Of course, as new as I was to the sport, I didn’t necessarily have any one weak point. I was in the same boat as many other lifters. Everything was weak and needed work. However, I worked on what the articles said and focused on triceps, the posterior chain, lats, and other areas. I really only drilled these areas. I also started perusing the internet where many people were discussing this whole weak point idea as “training what you suck at.” This led to a new problem of coming up with exercises that were extremely difficult but that didn't necessarily have much transference to anything. Anyone who jumped on the Zercher squat and kneeling squat bandwagon may know where I'm going with this.

I ended up running into a couple problems. Because I was so focused on certain areas, I neglected others, so I didn’t develop completely at a time when I should have been focusing on everything. I also started worrying about things such as rotating exercises and I tried to make everything harder than what was necessary to succeed at the competitive lifts. The things that I did do may have strengthened certain areas, but they didn't make me better at doing what I needed to do in competition.

Understand that this isn’t necessarily a shot at the programming system I was using at the time. It's more of a shot at my implementation of that programming system. We can make exercises as difficult as possible, but if it doesn’t fit the particular needs of the lifter or athlete, it may end up being a waste of time.

Many times we try to point to a particular muscle group when trying to figure out what is holding back progress on a movement. We drill that particular group and go back to gauge progress in the desired movement only to realize that no positive correlation occurred. We're then left wondering what happened.

While I had worked on drilling my triceps for a long time to improve my bench press, I developed a weakness in the range of motion off my chest. Many people told me that this was because I had become weaker in the pecs and front delts. So using the compartmentalized approach that I was using, I started to drill these muscle groups with a variety of accessory exercises. However, this never really translated to a bigger number on the bench press. It wasn’t really the muscles that had become weak. I had become weak in the range of motion.

bench gabriel naspinski simplify ladewski schillero PLE 081914

Let me explain. I'm a short-armed bench presser with a very high arch whether benching in a shirt or raw. In fact, many people who have watched me bench have jokingly said that I'm pretty much doing a two- or three-board press range of motion when I bench to my chest. If we examine joint angles, I'm calling on my triceps to do a large portion of the work even when I bench to the chest. There really isn’t a whole lot of movement at the shoulder joint due to the range of motion and the angle, which is why my triceps training didn't work. I trained with limited range of motion exercises (board presses, rack lockouts) and then did accessory movements that didn’t have a similar structure to the competition bench press. I became weak in the range of motion. I really should have trained with more movements to the chest that had a similar structure to bench pressing (benching with various grips) or that emphasized the weak range of motion (paused benches, isometrics, benching with limited range of motion from the chest to halfway up).

There are way too many things occurring during human movement to think that we can point and click to one muscle group and isolate it through accessory work that is different biomechanically or even biodynamically depending on the load. How dependent is the display of strength on body position? Well, consider this. On page 85 of Fundamentals of Special Strength Training, Verkhoshansky states the following:

  • Pronation of the forearm decreases the strength of the arm in flexion by one-third.
  • While lifting the barbell, an insignificant bend in the arms decreases lifting force by 40 percent. A rounded torso decreases lifting force by 13.3 percent and tilting of the head an average of 9 percent.

This isn’t to say that localized accessory work is useless. This type of work is of great benefit to novice strength trainers because they need to train to make structural adaptations in the working musculature of their desired movements. It's also of use to those with more experience as a form of GPP or as active recovery between intensive training sessions, granted the loading is structured appropriately.

However, when looking at movements, it's more important to find the weak ranges of motion in the actual movement. Then find ways to train that particular segment in a fashion that features a similar biomechanical structure to what occurs in the movements.

Technique trumps everything. For a long time, people read articles from a particular lifter or coach and thought that the particular technique being endorsed was the only way to lift. From this, they designated weak points that they felt needed work and compartmentalized to develop these areas. However, not everyone is the same. There are a variety of body types, positions, and joint angles. It's important to determine which particular technique best suits the individual. Some may squat with a closer stance or head position. Some may bench with a different grip or deadlift with a different amount of flexion or extension in the back. This is something that will fit that lifter's particular anthropometry.

Look at the different techniques used by many lifters. Konstantin Konstantinovs is one of the best deadlifters of all time. He pulls with a rounded back. Apparently, it isn’t halting his progress. However, some advocates of “training what you suck at” may try to say that his posture is due to some weak muscle group and say, “Imagine what he could do if he corrected this!” Another example is Steve Goggins. His squat form has a great degree of lean. However, it doesn't seem to disrupt his ability to put up record numbers.

gabe simplification bench PLE smitely ladewski schillero 081914

If a lifter is displaying a technique that isn’t orthopedically sound, it may be in the lifter's best interest to correct this. For example, a lifter may have a great degree of knee valgus in the squat to where it appears an injury could occur. In this case, corrective exercises combined with technical work could be used to fix the technical issues and lessen the likelihood of injury. However, when it comes to technique, we have to remember that everyone has differences. Because of this, it's important to work to the strengths of a particular individual as long as it's done in a fashion that isn't dangerous.

Think of it like this. In a team sport like football, we have many different offensive attacks. To make these game plans work, it takes certain types of players to fill the roles for each position. A team that runs a smash mouth offense and focuses on running the ball will have different types of players with different types of strengths/skills than a spread, pass first type of offense. It would be silly to try to “correct” the weaknesses of the first group of players to fit the profile of the second group.

We often see this problem when a coaching staff is brought into a program that has all the previous staff’s recruits. Usually, the first year or two isn't overly productive because the players don't fit the profile of the offense. This is similar to a lifter who is best suited for a wide stance, sit back squatting style attempting to “correct” this and force himself to be a close stance, high bar style of squatter. If the style doesn't mesh with his anthropometry or strengths, it may be a waste of time.

Displaying strength in a given movement isn't a simple matter that can be corrected with a few sets to pump a particular muscle group. An analytical approach that views joint angles, range of motion, anthropometry, and individualities that may inhibit the ability to display strength is needed. It isn't as simple as just performing difficult movements. In order to correct problems in a movement, the lifter needs to understand where and why he failed and that this failure may not be related to a single muscle group.


  • Verkhoshansky YV (1977) Fundamentals of Special Strength Training. Moscow:   Fizkultura i Sport.