Regular strength training can help build muscle and improve health. When performing a strength training program, people may find it helpful to train certain muscle groups together. This can help prevent overtraining and maximize results.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015–2020 recommend performing strength training exercises two or more times per week for optimal health. One important factor of strength training is targeting the muscles.
Various exercises may target different muscle groups. Muscles require both exercise and rest to fully function and generate strength.
To help improve these results, there are a number of muscle groups that may be best to work out together, while letting other muscle groups rest. This ensures that the body has isolated exercise and plenty of time between workouts to recover.
This article will discuss which muscle groups people can work out together and provide an example workout schedule.
The idea of strength training is to isolate and target a specific muscle. For example, when doing a bench press, one of the target muscles is the chest. However, there are also other muscles working in this motion, such as the triceps and the muscles in the shoulders.
Many targeted muscles work together with other muscles to function. Targeting one muscle may not fully engage these other supportive muscles, but they may be in use to some degree.
So, if a workout targets one specific muscle group, the groups that work along with that muscle are also getting some work.
Working certain muscle groups together may also provide more time for proper rest, which is also important. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommend exercising each muscle group twice per week, while also resting for a minimum of 2 days between workouts.
Anecdotally, this may also help with the mental factor of working out. Specifically, if a person knows that they will only be engaging one muscle group that day, they may be more likely to give it their all, knowing that they can rest that muscle group in the days to come.
There are more than 600 muscles in the body. When it comes to working out, finding ways to group and target major muscles may help make a workout plan simpler.
Some muscle groups make good pairs to work out together. These are generally muscles or muscle groups that work with each other. A person can work these groups one day, then move onto another muscle group the next day.
Regarding strength training, there are generally six muscle groups that people train and exercise. These six major muscle groups are:
- the chest
- the shoulders
- the back
- the arms
- the abs
- the legs
Although some people may include the hips, it is not as common to train this muscle group.
The above groups of muscles contain sets of individual muscles, which people may choose to further target. Popular muscles to target include:
- the hamstrings
- the glutes
- the quadriceps
- the biceps
- the triceps
- the delts
- the lats
- the traps
Some muscle groups work together to perform certain movements. For example, people may group muscles on whether they perform “push” or “pull” movements. Others may group muscles due to their location in the body, such as the many muscles in the legs or abs.
Some common muscle groupings may include:
The chest, shoulders, and triceps
These are known as the “push” muscles. This is because many exercises that target these muscles involve pushing resistance away from the body.
Many exercises, such as the pushup or bench press, will target these muscles together.
The back and biceps
These are the “pull” muscles. Many workouts targeting these muscles work to pull resistance toward the body.
Various exercises, such as pull-downs, will engage these muscles together.
This includes the quadriceps, the hamstrings, the glutes, and the calves.
The legs tend to get their own day for targeted practice. Various workouts will target one or more muscles during the exercise, and a good workout will include exercises to train all areas of the leg.
A few strengthening exercises that target other areas of the body will also work out the abs, though some targeted exercises will also do so.
One 2019 systematic review found that the difference in muscle mass was modest for those who worked the same muscles more each week. The authors also suggest that people can choose a weekly workout frequency per muscle group based on personal preference.
When first starting with a workout routine to build muscle, it may help to take it slow. This includes both the types of workouts a person does and how long they perform them for.
In many cases, when first starting out, it may be best to simply aim for a couple of muscle groups each day and focus on a few simple exercises that target them. This would also vary depending on how many days per week the person plans to work out on.
For example, a 2-day workout could include the legs, back, and abdomen on day 1 and the chest, shoulders, and arms on day 2.
Focusing on these groupings when creating a workout routine may help ensure that each group gets both work and rest throughout the week.
A 3-day workout could include:
- day 1: the legs and abdomen
- day 2: the chest and shoulders
- day 3: the back and arms
As a person becomes more comfortable with working out and their fitness level increases, they may benefit from a more targeted approach.
An example of a 3-day workout for advanced lifters may include:
- day 1: the chest, triceps, shoulders, and forearms
- day 2: the legs, separated into the glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves, along with the abs
- day 3: the back, biceps, traps, and lats
Many common workouts will already target many of these muscle groups on each given day. For example, the bench press targets the chest, triceps, and shoulders, making it ideal for day 3 of this routine.
People can also try to build around these natural muscle groupings and isolate where possible.
An example workout schedule may include the following exercises:
Day 1: The chest, shoulders, and triceps
- V-bar pull-downs: three sets of 10
- bench press: three sets of 10
- incline bench press: three sets of 10
- decline bench press: three sets of 10
- shoulder press: three sets of 12
- dumbbell fly: three sets of 15
- dumbbell lateral raises: three sets of 12
- tricep extensions: three sets of 10
- tricep push-downs: three sets of 10
Day 2: The legs
- barbell squats: three sets of 10
- deadlift: three sets of 10
- leg extensions: three sets of 10
- calf raises: three sets of 20
- dumbbell lunges: three sets of 12
- dumbbell stepups: two sets of 10 on each side
Day 3: The back, biceps, and abs
- wide handed pull-downs: three sets of 10
- dumbbell rows: three sets of 10 on each side
- barbell curls: three sets of 12
- deadlift: three sets of 10
- dumbbell hammer curls: three sets of 12
- bicycle crunches: three sets of 20
- trunk lifts: three sets of 10
- planks: three sets of 30-second holds
- side planks: three sets of 20-second holds on each side
Below are some examples of exercises that work major muscle groups. People can choose to individualize a workout by adding or taking away these moves. They can also swap out exercises to maintain variety in their workout.
- bench press
- incline bench press
- decline bench press
- dumbbell bench press
- incline dumbbell bench press
- dumbbell fly
- seated machine press
- chest dip
- tricep extensions
- tricep push-downs
- close grip bench press
- barbell curls
- dumbbell curls
- hammer curls
- bent rows
- dumbbell rows
- barbell rows
- machine or cable rows
- lay pull-downs
- kettlebell swings
- front squats
- bicycle crunches
- leg raises
- mountain climbers
- scissor raises
- side planks
- lateral crawls
- seated twists
- leg press
- toe raises
- stair steppers
- box jumps
- hip bridges
- sumo squats
- lateral press
- overhead shoulder press
- seated shoulder press
- dumbbell lateral raises
- bent over dumbbell lateral raises
- standing shrugs
When considering a regular workout routine, it may help to structure which exercises to perform. For example, people may find it useful to separate strength training exercises by muscle groups to give their muscles more time to recover.
It is also important for people to include sufficient rest between workout days to avoid overtraining. It may also be beneficial to warm up before exercising and to concentrate on good form and technique while exercising.