Maintaining a healthy workout schedule is one of the most important things about exercising or going to the gym. Training a certain muscle group too little could result in lacking continuous muscle growth but training a muscle group too often could cause injury. This is why it is very important to keep a balance of what muscle groups you are training.
There are five main muscle groups when it comes to building muscle, each one of them containing different muscles and different ways you should workout. These muscle groups are chest, back, legs, shoulders, and arms.
It is common for people to divide these categories into more specific areas depending on where they want to train, these divided categories usually consist of hamstrings, quadriceps, glutes, latissimus dorsi (lats), trapezius (traps), biceps, triceps, and forearms.
Another muscle group that doesn’t really fit into any of the major muscle groups is abs and core, which we will discuss later in the article.
How Often Should I Workout Each Muscle Group?
We recommend that you train each muscle group twice a week, this has been proven to be the most effective when growing muscle. Lifting weights triggers growth in a muscle for around a 48-hour window.
When the 48 hours is over that muscle is no longer being built, unless you train the muscle again. That’s why when you train the same muscle group twice a week spaced out between the beginning and end of the week, you’ll get a maximum of 96 hours of muscle building.
The growth of the muscles does have a limit though and scientists have found out that training the same muscle group three times a week has the effect of training the muscle group twice a week, they aren’t sure why that is.
It is also more healthy for your muscles if they are given these 48 hours to heal before working out again.
The Major Muscle Groups
Before going into what muscle groups you should train together, allowing you to build your schedule, it is important to know what the major muscle groups are, what muscles they work and how many exercises you should do for each muscle group.
The chest consists of one major muscle which is the pectoralis major or the ‘pec’ as it is commonly referred to. The pec’s main job is to bring the upper arm across the body, such as reaching out in front of you.
Differing from most other muscles, the fibers of the pec are not aligned in the same direction and are split into multiple places where the muscle fibers attach to the skeleton, these are called ‘heads’.
The pec has two major heads, the sternocostal head, which attaches the ribcage and sternum to your upper arm, and the clavicular head, which attaches your upper arm to your collarbone.
Each different head has a different way of training it. Exercises that push the arms in front of the chest like the bench press focus more on the sternocostal head of the pec, whereas, exercises that move the arm up and away from the chest will work the smaller clavicular head.
When working chest you want to make sure that you work both of these heads to develop a proportionate pec. Here are some common workouts when training chest:
- Flat barbell bench press
- Incline barbell bench press
- Flat dumbbell bench press
- Incline dumbbell bench press
- Close grip bench press
- Reverse grip bench press
Remember to be cautious when using a bench press and always have someone there to spot you even if you are comfortable with the weight.
There are four main muscles that make up the back, the latissimus dorsi (lats), rhomboids, erector spinae, and the trapezius (traps).
The lats attach your back to your upper arm to form a winglike shape and are the largest muscle on your back, the rhomboids connect your shoulder blade to your spine, the traps connect your spine to your shoulder blades and the erector spinae is the muscle in your lower back, running parallel to the spine.
Although other muscle group exercises also work your back muscles, it is important to not neglect directly training the back. When training back you want to focus on exercises that involve pulling either horizontally or vertically. Workouts that you can expect to do while training back include:
- Barbell deadlift
- Sumo deadlift
- Trap-bar deadlift
- Seated cable row
- Dumbbell row
- Seal row
The arms are also made up of four major muscles, the biceps brachii, biceps brachialis, triceps, and forearms.
The biceps have two heads, which are stacked on top of each other, the biceps brachialis lies beneath the biceps brachii and assists it in its flexing, bringing the forearm inward to the shoulder. The triceps have the opposite job to the biceps, being used to push your forearm away from your upper arm.
The forearms are composed of many small muscles and can often be ignored as they aren’t as large as the biceps or triceps, but make sure not to ignore the forearms, as if they are underdeveloped, it is very noticeable. Here are some workouts that you can expect to see while training arms:
- Dumbbell curl
- Barbell curl
- Triceps pressdown
- Triceps overhead press
- Close-grip bench press
Your shoulders are made up of three muscles known as deltoids that sit between your back and your arms, there’s the anterior deltoid (the front deltoid), the posterior deltoid (the rear deltoid), and the lateral deltoid (the middle deltoid that sits on top of the posterior.
The shoulders aren’t really a show muscle, but work to support and stabilize the nearby muscle groups such as the pecs and the lats. The anterior helps the pecs bring your arm out in front of you, the posterior helps the traps and lats bring the arm behind you, and the lateral helps the traps and pecs to raise your arm to the side.
Because of their position in the body relating to other muscles, the deltoids usually get a good workout when working with other muscles. This is especially true in the front deltoids during chest day, it is important to single out shoulders for those lateral and posterior deltoids as they could get underdeveloped. Here are some workouts that you can do to train your shoulders:
- Barbell rows
- Dumbbell rows
- Flat bench press
- Incline bench press
- Dumbbell side delt raises
- Dumbbell rear delt raises
Legs are normally split into two groups, the upper portion, and the lower portion. The upper portion of the legs is made out of three main muscle groups, quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes. While the lower section of the legs is the calves which are made out of two main muscles, the gastrocnemius, and the soleus.
The quadriceps are made of four large muscles on the front of your legs that work together to extend the knee. The hamstrings are a group of three muscles on the back of your legs that are used to flex the knee.
The glutes are the muscles that form your butt, and they aren’t just for looks, the glutes can play a major role in the stabilization of your body. Normally, if you are training your lower body correctly then you won’t have to focus too much on your glutes. Some exercises that are good for the upper portion of the legs are:
- Barbell hip thrust
- Barbell squat (front and back)
- Hamstring curl
- Leg press
The lower portion of your legs, the calves, can often be overlooked as the two muscles trained in the calves are smaller than those in the upper legs. The gastrocnemius is the larger of the two muscles and the soleus is a deep muscle that lies underneath the gastrocnemius.
The calf muscles manipulate the foot and ankle joint and play a part in moving the knee as well.
When training calves you are either calf pressing or calf raising. Pressing consists of pressing your toes against resistance and raising consists of using your calves to raise your body against gravity. It is important to balance both raising and pressing for a well-worked calf.
What About Abs?
In some cases, the core and the abdominal muscles are put into a sixth major muscle category. However, if you are training the other five muscle groups well with balanced exercises, then your core is getting enough training from these other exercises.
If you do want to incorporate core workouts into your routine then ,twice a week, do a selection of pushups and situps with each workout. You can also check out our list of the best calisthenic core and ab workouts you can do at home here.
How Do These Muscle Groups Fit Together?
When you are deciding what your schedule would be you need to make sure that the muscle groups are evenly spaced out so you aren’t working the same muscles too hard in too short a duration. As you may have noticed, a lot of exercises used by muscle groups overlap with other muscle groups, especially when it comes to the upper body.
When looking at the upper body you can divide the muscles being used into ‘push’ and ‘pull’. Pushing will be exercises that require you to push your arms away from your body. This normally includes chest, shoulders, and triceps.
Whereas pulling is any exercise that pulls your arms closer to your body, normally consisting of back and biceps. Arms are split up here into two sections due to the workout they get from other muscle groups.
When working chest you also tend to work your triceps, and when working back you also tend to work your biceps.
Therefore, a five-day workout routine should look a little like this:
Day 1: Push
Day 2: Pull
Day 3: Legs
Day 4: Push
Day 5: Pull
Because legs is such a big category then you can get away with working them on their own for one day a week. If you are doing cardio to warm up before lifting, (which we recommended) the likelihood is your legs will get constant training and won’t need two separate days.
If you do want to focus on the legs a little more and train them twice a week, then we recommend training the upper portion of the legs on Day 1 and the lower portion of the legs on Day 5, this will space out the muscle training adequately giving your leg muscles time to recover.
It is important to not forget forearms, as the arm workouts are very biceps and triceps related. I usually train forearms on my pull days, but you can train them whenever you feel is right.
When muscle training, balance is the key. You want to spread your workouts between muscle groups evenly so you have the perfect consistency throughout your body. Training each muscle group twice a week seems to have the best results when building muscle with a pushing and pulling routine.