Did you know that the human body is made up of more than 600 different muscles? Some muscles help you move, others allow you to lift weight while others work to help you balance or simply sit still. Serious lifters, physical therapists, coaches and trainers categorize our muscles into six distinct muscle groups to help them target all areas of the body.
And the success of any strength-training session depends on your ability to train the right muscle groups at the right time. It sounds simple, and it makes sense when you think about it, but pairing complementary muscle groups will not only result in the activation of more muscle fibers, but also an increase in overall strength. And that means bigger, more toned muscles.
So what are the six major muscle groups? Chest, back, legs, arms, shoulder and abdominals. Some go even further and break the groups into more specific categories. For example, arms can be drilled down into biceps, triceps and forearms, while training legs could mean you're working calves, hamstrings, quads or glutes.
Of course, there are countless ways to structure a strength training program, but the pros swear by training these certain muscle groups together. An added bonus is that it gives your muscles more rest between workouts to aid in recovery while preventing you from overtraining. What’s more, working the wrong combination of muscles can actually be detrimental to your goal of a functional, strong body.
Several trainers I spoke with said that guys who simply focus on vanity muscles sometimes derail their progress by exercising several major muscle groups in the same workout. Think about it: If you combine leg day with a couple of big back exercises, you’ll expend too much energy and end up draining your nervous system. Our muscle groups don’t operate independently. Sure, a bench press will pound your pecs, but it also works your shoulders, traps and triceps at the same time.
To get the most of your gym time, take a bodybuilder’s approach. Focus on one major muscle group (chest, legs or back) for each workout and then supplement this work by splitting the rest of your weight-lifting session into moves that target two smaller muscle groups (biceps, triceps, hamstrings, calves, abs and/or shoulders).
Workout 1: Focus on chest, then work your biceps, shoulders, triceps, forearms
Workout 2: Focus on legs, then work your calves, hamstrings, quadriceps, glutes
Workout 3: Focus on back, then work your abdominals, traps, lats
That’s basically an ideal combination, based around a 3-day split principle, which allows you to push yourself while providing plenty of time for rest and recovery. You’ll be able to target complementary muscle groups in each session, and to work them out in an isolated way. It’s a proven strategy to build serious muscle and ensure you get the most out of your workouts without causing injury or risk a performance plateau. Now get lifting.
* Get Started: BodyBuilding.com has “the best 3-day split” workouts to help you lose fat and build muscle. And the routines range from beginner to advanced.