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Know the right combination of muscles to train to ensure your bodybuilding gains.
Instead of wandering around the gym with no plan in mind, it is important for you to know what works best to maximize the full potential of your growth. While ripping a quick set of bicep curls, hopping on the bench press for a few decent reps, and hitting a body weight squat circuit might make you feel good, you won’t be actually benefiting your overall performance. The success of muscle building depends on training the right muscles, at the right time, and with other muscle groups that aid in such growth. Pairing muscle groups that compliment each other will activate more muscle fibers and allow for more muscle and more strength in your bodybuilding workouts.
It is important to note that very few exercises truly target just one muscle. Although a major muscle may be the intended target, smaller ones surrounding it also benefit and provide support and act as stabilizers for the larger muscles. By combining certain muscle groups together that complement each other, you increase muscle mass, bone health, and begin that path to your desired physique. Working on the wrong ones together won’t totally destroy all gains, but you will not fully maximize the potential of your hard work put into the gym.
The benefit of combining certain groups is to work like-minded muscles with complimentary movements. A day off of recovery for that muscle group will allow the muscle to recharge to better target muscle growth. Compound exercises are those that involve more than one group of muscles and can increase efficiency, strength, and weight loss. However, if you want to strengthen one muscle over the other, exercises performed in the beginning of the workout led to greater gains than those completed at the end (1). Fatigue plays a role for those muscles worked at the beginning are fresher and more willing to lift more weight.
These muscle group combinations ensure you see big gains without sacrificing your overall health so as to not waste your time in the gym and be as effective as possible. A simple change in your existing workout plan can go a long way in terms of benefits and gains.
Chest, Shoulders and Triceps
The chest and triceps work together in most pushing movements that originate from the shoulders, so combining the three is the best choice. By keeping all three activated in the workout, the possibility for growth is undeniable and unavoidable. While the bench press will see greater muscle hypertrophy than the triceps (2), it’s important to recognize that both the triceps and shoulders still benefit from said exercise. With the shoulders as a bridge to your chest and triceps, increasing mobility and strength are key to keeping your upper body strong, stable, and free from injury. Put these three muscle groups together for an effective and efficient workout.
- Incline Chest Press
- Bench Press
- Dumbbell Lateral Raises
- Arnold Press
- Tricep Kickbacks
- Tricep Overhead Extension
Back, Biceps and Abs
This muscle group pairing is effective because the biceps assist the back with many exercises. For a lot of back training, the biceps offer the secondary movement being some sort of pulling motion. Whether it be a rowing motion, or one of pulling up or down, the biceps are essential for getting that back to where it should be. While its true your biceps also activate the shoulders, which you would have included on a different day of training, it is important to just maintain your form and know your limits to not over work them. Working your abs along with the back and biceps offers stability and can assist in injury prevention (3), so adding core exercises to this regiment is simply a must. Along with those added benefits of balance and strength, you can get that more than desired six-pack to look and feel great.
- Dumbbell Rows
- Lat Pulldowns
- Standard Bicep Curl
- Hammer Curl
- Preacher Curls
- Russian Twists
Hamstrings, Quads, Calves and Glutes
Training these muscle groups together may seem obvious, but it is important to keep working your legs. Your quads, hamstrings, calves, and glutes work together to perform these compound movements so it is no surprise this combination works to your maximum benefit. Your calves, hamstrings and glutes help with hip and knee movements and your glutes offer added support to the hamstrings to flex the knee or extend the hip. Well-trained legs provide you with a strong back and core, but also that balance and stability to improve form in a variety of other exercises. While leg day may not be as appealing as hitting a solid upper body workout, it is vital to train your legs and keep a strong foundation in and out of the gym.
- Bodyweight Squat
- Bulgarian Split Squat
- Barbell Hip Thrust
- Machine Leg Curl
- Step Ups
- Cable Kickbacks
- Standing Calf Raise
- Seated Band Pushes
More often than not we have a good handle on what muscle groups we want to work together. People will commonly work their chest and biceps and save the triceps and shoulders for the back. While you are likely to see progress, a simple change of switching your back and chest days can boost your performance and strength by providing complimentary muscles groups to perform compound movements most effectively. Regardless of what you decide, it’s important to have a plan in place to stay on track and continue to see muscle growth. Use leg days as a recovery tool for your upper body just as much as you are using them for building foundational strength to support and assist balance and stability. Try pairing these muscle group combinations together and love the results that follow.
Check out our Exercise Guide for other exercises and video instructions.
*Images courtesy of Envato
- Simao, Roberto; Freitas de Salles, Belmiro; Figueiredo, Tiago; Dias, Ingrid; Wiilardson, Jeffrey M. (2012). “Exercise order in resistance training”. (source)
- Ogasawara, Riki; Thiebaud, Robert S.; Loenneke, Jeremy P.; Loftin, Mark; Abe, Takashi (2012). “Time course for arm and chest muscle thickness changes following bench press training”. (source)
- Hsu, Shih-Lin; Oda, Harumi; Shirahata, Saya; Watanabe, Mana; Sasaki, Makoto (2018). “Effects of core strength training on core stability”. (source)