Developing Weak Chains: Why Exercise Selection Is So Important


Nobody Is Perfect

As you all know, making size and strength gains over the long-term means getting stronger. If you get stronger, do more work and can recover sufficiently from this work, then you are going to see awesome progress in your strength development. It’s a sure thing! Getting stronger means two things: lifting more weight and being able to handle more sets/reps for a given weight. Overtime, both of these qualities will need to increase if you’re looking for long-term weightlifting success.

Being able to efficiently achieve this only happens when your muscles can optimally work and function together as a single, unified system. If not, you will never make progress. This is one of the things that many people in the gym tend to overlook in the pursuit of strength: the fact that your body works as a whole when it comes to strength development. Working as one system means that your muscles work in a highly coordinated, chain like manner to allow you to overcome resistance. If something in this system or chain doesn’t function, is out of place, is weak or is missing, then your ability to develop your strength capacity over time, will suffer.

The System As One

Whenever you overcome weight in the gym, a series of muscles (think of it as a chain) will be working together in a highly coordinated manner to allow you to produce the force necessary to overcome that weight. The thing is, if there is a weak link anywhere in this chain; your ability to produce optimal force will be significantly hindered. Usually what happens is, this muscle chain will change its working to accommodate any missing or weak parts. The problem is this usually results in sub-optimal, force production capabilities of the body. Yes, you might still be able to move the weight, but not in the most optimal and safe way.


  • Rather than doing always the standing military press, there are many different variations you can change to: sitting shoulder press, kneeling shoulder press, behind the back shoulder press – all reinforce each other and work to strengthen key muscle groups involved in pressing performance: core, back.

When people stall in their weightlifting progress they tend to quickly assume that their nutrition is at fault. Ok, this is the first thing to look at when you start hitting plateaus. Some people just don’t eat enough to keep up with the progress their body is making. After all, more gains means more fuel needed. That’s pretty logical, right? But, nutrition is not the only thing to consider as a limiting factor. In fact, a lot of people still continue to hit plateaus even when they are eating enough! I have experienced this myself. At this point you need to accept that your training program, is just not working for you. When it comes to adjusting the training program, most people will consider changing a few things like reps, sets, training frequency or, maybe even change the entire structure of their program altogether. This is usually a lot of trial and error, a lot of hair pulling and if I am honest, a lot of time and energy wasted. Time and energy you could have used to make some awesome gains.


  • Here shows a range of different exercises: conventional deadlifts, sumo deadlifts, behind the back shrugs, above the knee rack pulls – they all emphasise the posterior chain and complement each other.

After all this torture trying to find out just why your progress is disappeared, people still fail to consider exercise choice and selection as a decisive factor. While changing things like reps, sets and frequency might help to an extent, it’s usually a short-term solution and doesn’t really address the underlying problem: stubborn or weak muscle groups. They really do bring you down, and hold you down until you address them. In my experience, people don’t address these weak links as much as they should. Some of you might have been told that variation is a bad thing to have in your training, and that simple is best.

But let me tell you guys a secret: you are going to need to exercise some degree of creativity and implement some variation in your training in order to make long-term gains. I wish over the long-term it was simple and you could do the exact same stuff indefinitely, but unfortunately exercise biology just doesn’t work like that. Anyways, if you have tried everything under the sun to re-ignite your progress and you are still staring at the wall blind scratching your head, the chances are you are suffering from what I like to call ‘weak chain syndrome’. Yes, I made that up, but it’s quite fitting for the topic! In order words, your progress is simply suffering because there is a weak link somewhere (muscle group) in your force production chain. Good news for you is: it is dead easy to fix!

Fix Weak Chain Syndrome: The Rotation Of Exercises

The best way to fix my famous weak chain syndrome is to rotate your common exercises; by this I mean the flat bench, conventional deadlift and back squat, with similar variations. Trust me, there are a lot of variations out there to keep you busy! In my experience, it’s probably the most effective way of strengthening any weak links. I mean after all, they are weak links because their development and force capabilities lag behind other muscle groups in the same chain.

Now, some people might come with the argument and say: the best way to improve something is to keep practicing it. This is probably the worst advise for long-term progress. Although it’s true for most things, in weightlifting the situation is actually a little different. Yes, you can get better at exercises the more you practice them, but up to a certain point in your training this no longer holds true. Many people reach this stall point, but never actually successfully address the problem to overcome it.

Compound exercises such as the flat bench, back squat, conventional deadlift and standing military press are just mechanically too complex to say: just keep practicing them to improve over time. Why? So many muscle groups are working together (muscle chain) to carry the movement out. Not all these muscle groups will develop to the same extent, people may already have or develop muscle imbalances during these exercises or, movement compensations may ensure that certain muscles get stronger and others get weaker. Overall, weak links are not fixed, hence lack of progress by keeping the same exercises indefinitely. Yes, you can try deloads, change your training variables and tweak your nutrition, but you won’t be addressing the underlying problem.


  • If you are struggling to make progress on the flat bench, then the floor press is a nice variation to switch to. This is much harder and really forces you to utilise your upper body as efficiently as possible to bench the weight up. This really builds power in the upper body, especially the triceps which can be later transferred back to the flat bench.

When it comes to exercise variety, it doesn’t mean loosing performance. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to do an exercise to improve on it, especially if you switch out that exercise for similar variations that work to improve weak points in the same utilized muscle chain.

Many people are afraid of switching up their common exercises for other variations because they are worried about losing the progress they have made. Well, you really don’t need to worry about this at all! The beauty is, because you are rotating out your exercise for a similar variation, you are fixing weak links in the force production chain responsible these exercises. In other words, the improvements you make on one exercise will transfer over to a similar variation that uses the same ‘muscle chain’. This means that you will actually continue to improve, not regress. For instance, if my back squat stalls, then I can always switch to a combination of front squats, hack squats, Romanian deadlifts and banded variations  for a few weeks. When I come back to doing back squats, my progress will still go up. Not down as some people might have you believe.

Start Experimenting With Exercise Variations For Optimal Gains

If you find yourself stalling frequently on the main compound movements, then switching up these for similar variations might just be the catalyst you need to push you past stubborn plateaus. When it comes to progress, you need to be able to optimize your force production chain. In other words, you need to make sure that there are no weak muscle groups. If there are, your performance is likely to suffer, and any problems you do have, are likely to get worse: you know, things like muscle imbalances, movement compensations and all that stuff. If you want to improve in the bench, deadlift, squat and press movements then switching to the many variations of these, might just be what you need. Most of the time, these variations are harder, but they are better able to target and address any weak points.

If you have any questions about the article or would like to discuss further some of the topics mentioned, then please feel free to leave comments down below! 


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