What Muscle Groups Are Best to Work Out Together?

What Muscle Groups Are Best to Work Out Together?

woman squatting

When many people think of working out, they think of aerobic exercises like jogging or biking. These types of exercises are important for strengthening your heart and lungs, but a complete training program should also include strength exercises, flexibility training, and balance training.

Regular strength training improves the health of your bones, muscles, and connective tissue. Building stronger muscles also raises your metabolic rate and helps you maintain a healthy weight. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends strength training two or more times per week for optimal health.

There are many ways to structure a strength training program, but many people find it helpful to pair certain muscle groups together. Working out different body parts on different days gives your muscles more rest between workouts and helps you prevent overtraining.

In this article, we’re going to look at which muscles groups you may want to combine. We’ll also provide you with samples of how you could set up your weekly training schedule.

Muscle groups

There are three types of muscles in your body: cardiac, smooth, and skeletal. Cardiac muscles are the muscles that control your heart. Smooth muscles control involuntary functions like constricting your blood vessels. Skeletal muscles are the muscles that you target in the gym that help your body move. They make up about 40 percent of your body weight.

Many fitness experts often consider these to be the major muscle groups in your body:

  • chest
  • back
  • arms
  • abdominals
  • legs
  • shoulders

Some people also divide these muscle groups into more specific categories such as:

  • calves (lower leg)
  • hamstrings (back of upper leg)
  • quadriceps (front of upper leg)
  • glutes (butt and hips)
  • biceps (front of upper arms)
  • triceps (back of upper arms)
  • forearms (lower arm)
  • trapezius (traps) (top of shoulders)
  • latissimus dorsi (lats) (under the armpits)

Working multiple muscles

Few exercises truly isolate only one muscle group. For example, the biceps curl is one of the most common exercises to strengthen the biceps in the front of your upper arm. However, several other muscles also help your body flex at the elbow including brachialis, which is beneath your bicepsand brachioradialis, which is a large muscle in your forearm. Other stabilizer muscles need to brace your shoulder and core so you can efficiently lift the weight.

When designing your program, you may find some exercises fit into more than one category. In general, the more joints that bend in an exercise, the more muscle groups you’re using.

What to pair together?

There’s no right way to group your muscles together. You may want to experiment with a few different pairings until you find one that works best for you. If you’re training for general fitness, you can follow a program that balances all the different muscle groups. If you’re training for a sport, you may benefit from emphasizing certain muscle groups frequently used in your sport.

Many people find it helpful to pair muscle groups that are close together. For instance, you may want to pair your shoulders and arms together since many exercises, such as rows, use both body parts.

The primary benefit of splitting different muscle groups onto different days is your ability to give each muscle more rest. For example, if you’re training on a weekly schedule and have one leg day per week, your legs have seven days to recover between sessions.

Examples for beginners

Here’s one example of how you could combine your muscle groups together using the six basic groups we listed above:

  • Day 1: chest and shoulders
  • Day 2: legs
  • Day 3: back, abdominals, and arms

If you’re only planning on lifting twice per week, a good way to structure your workouts may be:

  • Day 1: chest, arms, and shoulders
  • Day 2: legs, back and abdominals

If you’re a beginner, sticking to those six basic muscle groups is enough to build a great workout plan that can help you improve your fitness.

Example for advanced lifters

If you’ve already been lifting for a while, you may want to be more specific with the muscles you target when building your program.

Here’s an example of how you could combine muscle groups using the more detailed groups we outlined:

  • Day 1: chest, shoulders, triceps, forearms
  • Day 2: calves, hamstrings, quadriceps, glutes
  • Day 3: biceps, back, abdominals, traps, lats

You don’t necessarily need a separate exercise for each muscle group. For example, squatting uses your:

  • hamstrings
  • quadriceps
  • glutes
  • back
  • abdominals

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Schedule for workouts

The American Heart Association recommends taking at least two days between lilting sessions to give your body time to recover. Many people find they like strength training three times a week.

Here’s an example of how you could structure your weekly schedule:

Monday: arms and shoulders

  • push-ups: 3 sets of 8 reps
  • biceps curls: 3 sets of 8 reps
  • shoulder press: 3 sets of 10 reps
  • bench dips: 2 sets of 12 reps
  • lateral raises: 3 sets of 10 reps

Wednesday: legs

  • barbell back squats: 3 sets of 8 reps
  • dumbbell lunges: 2 sets of 10 reps
  • Romanian deadlifts: 3 sets of 8 reps
  • step-ups: 2 sets of 12 reps
  • calve raises: 3 sets of 12 reps

Friday: back, chest, and abdominals

  • dumbbell bench press: 3 sets of 8 reps
  • dumbbell fly: 3 sets of 8-10 reps
  • bicycle crunches: 3 sets of 20 reps
  • one-arm dumbbell rows: 3 sets of 8 reps
  • dumbbell bent-over rows: 3 sets of 8 reps
  • crunches: 3 sets of 20 reps

Types of exercises

When you think of strength training, you may think you need dumbbells or barbells. However, resistance training comes in many forms such as:

  • resistance band exercises
  • medicine ball exercises
  • bodyweight exercises
  • free weights
  • machine exercises

If you want to include free weight training into your program, it’s a good idea to stick to a weight you can lift comfortably for 12 to 15 repetitions. As you get stronger, you can lower the number of reps and increase the weight.

Exercises that target certain muscles

Here’s an example of some exercises you can perform to target each muscle group.

Chest

  1. Bench press: You can use a barbell or dumbbells. It’s a good idea to have a partner spot you in case you get stuck.
  2. Push-ups: Increasing the width of your hands puts an emphasis on your chest muscles
  3. Band chest press: Hook a band with handles behind you and push away from your body as if you’re passing a basketball.

Back

  1. One-arm dumbbell row: Helps strengthen your upper back, shoulder, and upper arms.
  2. Resistance band pull apart: Hold a resistance band with your hands shoulder-width apart. Focus on squeezing your shoulder blades together as you pull the band.
  3. Superman: To make the exercise harder, you can hold a weight in your hands over your head.

Arms

  1. Biceps curls: If you don’t have access to dumbbells, you can use soup cans or other heavy household objects.
  2. Triceps dips:Works both your triceps and chest.
  3. Pull-ups:Pull-ups work your upper back, shoulders, core, and arms.

Abdominal

  1. Plank: Support yourself on your forearms and toes with your abdominals and core flexed.
  2. Bicycle crunches: The twisting motion in this exercise helps target the muscles at the side of your core called your obliques.
  3. Hanging leg raises: You can start with your knees at 90 degrees for an easier variation and progress to straight legs as the exercise becomes more difficult.

Legs

  1. Squat:You can perform bodyweight squats, use dumbbells, or a barbell.
  2. Lunges: There are many variations of the lunge including walking dumbbell lunges, reverse lunges, and barbell lunges.
  3. Calf raises:You can start with your body weight and add weight as they become easier.

Shoulders

  1. Seated shoulder press: It’s a good idea to have a partner help you get the weights into place to avoid injuring your shoulders.
  2. Resistance band shoulder press: You can stand in the middle of a large resistance band with handles and push your hands toward the ceiling.
  3. Plank with arms straight: This exercise helps work your core, shoulders, and back.

When to talk with a pro

Although some people enjoy the freedom of creating their own workout plans, you may also find that you’d rather work with a certified personal trainer or another fitness expert. A personal trainer can show you how to perform exercises with proper technique so you can safely do them on your own later.

Some people find hiring a personal trainer helps them stay motivated and makes working out more fun. A trainer can keep you accountable and make sure that you’re working at an appropriate intensity for your current fitness level.

The bottom line

There are many ways you can structure your weekly workout to get results. Many people find it helpful to separate their strength training workouts by muscle group to give their muscles more time to recover. It’s a good idea to give yourself a two-day break between strength training workouts to avoid overtraining.

If you don’t have access to a gym, there are plenty of great strength training exercises you can do at home using household items, resistance bands, or your body weight.

Before every strength training workout, it’s a good idea to take at least 10 minutes to warm up and concentrate on good technique.

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