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August 09, 2021 10 min read

There is countless workout advice on the internet these days.  With all that so-called advice, it can be challenging to know what to do to get the best results. With that said, today we are going back to the basics by breaking down how to work out the 6 major muscle groups!

When you focus on the basic muscle groups, including the best exercises for them and on what days of the week to exercise them, you will be on track to getting your best body. Cut out the nonsense and stick to this can’t fail advice.  Start growing bigger, stronger, and better-looking muscles today! 

1. Back Muscles

The back muscle group is the largest muscle group in the body. It contains several major primary mover muscles as well as many stabilizer muscles.

back muscles anatomy chart

The primary mover back muscles include the:

  1. Latissimus dorsi (the lats)
  2. Deltoids (the delts)
  3. Trapezius

First off, the lats are the second-largest muscles in your body. They are the broadest muscle in your entire back, and span the whole area of your middle and lower back. They are functional muscles necessary for performing everyday activities that include pushing and pulling movements.  Moreover, keeping your lats strong is essential for the gym and daily life!

Second, the rhomboid major and minor form the rhomboids. They are located just below your neck in the upper back and in between your shoulder blades. Their primary function is to initiate movements of the shoulders, such as pulling the shoulders down and back.

Third, the trapezius muscles are broad, triangular-shaped muscles in the upper back. They run from the neck to the middle back, and span from the spine outward towards the shoulders. They have the crucial job of initiating axial skeleton movements.

The axial skeleton includes the skull, spine, and ribcage. Moreover, without the trapezius, you would not be able to move your most essential skeletal muscles!

Top Back Muscle Group Exercises

Strength training the back muscles will build muscle mass and improve the health of your entire body. If you want to feel and look your best, do not neglect your back muscles! With that said, here are some of the top back exercises:

1. Bent-over Dumbbell Rows

Bent-over dumbbell rows are one of the best dumbbell row variations. We like them because they are a compound exercise that targets the lower, middle, and upper back muscles.

Hold one dumbbell in each hand with an overhand grip and stand up tall. Face the palms of your hands towards your body. Hinge forward from your hips by slightly bending your knees and sending your hips backward. Hinge until your upper body comes between 45-degrees and parallel with the floor.

When you are ready, exhale and pull your elbows straight back so that the dumbbells come by your ribcage. Squeeze your back muscles at the top, then slowly release your arms back to a dead hang.

2. Lat Pull-downs

Lat pulldowns are perhaps the best exercise for targeting the lats. If your goal is to get that signature v-shaped back, then you better be doing lat pulldowns! Sit on the seat of the lat pulldown machine and plant your feet firmly on the floor. Reach up to grab the lat pulldown bar.

Spread your hands to wider than shoulder-width apart on the bar, and lock your arms almost straight. When you're ready, exhale and pull your elbows down by squeezing your shoulder blades together.  Pull your elbows down until the bar comes by your chin. Hold the squeeze for one to two seconds, then slowly release the bar back to starting position.

2. Chest Muscles

Balance out your back muscles with a chest of steel. Your chest muscles are less complex than your back and include just two primary mover muscles, including the:

  1. Pectoralis major
  2. Pectoralis minor

The pec major is the larger of the two chest muscles. It is a fan-shaped muscle that originates near the armpit, then fans out over the chest. It's primary job is to help initiate arm movements. Therefore, the stronger your pec major is, the more powerful your arm movements will be.

Second, the pec minor is a tiny muscle underneath the pec major. While it is small, it is essential for initiating shoulder movements. The stronger your pec minor is, the more powerful shoulder movements you are able to make. In addition to the pec major and minor, the serratus anterior and subclavius are less dominant primary movers.

Top Chest Muscle Group Exercises

The chest fly is one of our favorite muscles for working the pec major and minor. It helps create that broad chest look that so many lifters are after.  Here is how to do them with proper form:

Chest Flys

Before getting started, you will need a flat bench and a set of dumbbells. Sit on the bench holding one dumbbell in each hand and plant your feet firmly on the floor. Slowly lay your back flat on the bench while holding the dumbbells over your pelvis.

Lift the dumbbells straight over your chest with slightly bent elbows and your palms facing each other. When you are ready, exhale and open your arms to the sides until they are at chest level. Squeeze your chest muscles to resist the downward pull of the dumbbells, then inhale and bring them back over your chest.

In addition to the overhead press, give these other top chest exercises a try:

  • Bench press
  • Incline chest press 
  • Barbell overhead press

3. Shoulder Muscles

The shoulders are a complex muscle group made up of a couple smaller sub-groups.  Those sub-groups include a primary mover muscle group and stabilizer muscle group. The primary mover shoulder muscle is the deltoid, which is also known as the delts.

The delts are made up of three distinct muscle fiber groups, including the:

  1. Pars clavicularis
  2. Pars scapularis
  3. Pars acromialis

Each muscle fiber group helps initiate a different shoulder movement. Many people refer to the muscle fiber groups as the heads of the deltoids. The stabilizer muscle group in the shoulders is called the rotator cuff.  Considering that the shoulder joint is the least stable of all the joints, the rotator cuff is pretty important!

The four rotator cuff muscles work together to stabilize the shoulder during arm movements. While the strength of your rotator cuff muscles will not directly make your chest look broader, it will help your other body parts move better and get stronger.

Top Shoulder Muscle Group Exercises

The dumbbell lateral raise is perhaps the most comprehensive shoulder weight training exercise. It targets all three heads of the deltoid muscle as well as the rotator cuff stabilizer muscles.

Dumbbell Lateral Raise

Hold one dumbbell in each hand and dead hang your arms. Stand up tall with your feet shoulder-width apart. Roll your shoulders back and engage your core to prevent slouching. When you are ready, slowly raise the dumbbells straight out to your sides.

Keep your arms almost locked as you raise them. Raise the dumbbells until they come in line with your shoulders and your body forms a T-shape. Squeeze your deltoids at the top, then slowly lower the dumbbells back to your sides. 

In addition to the lateral raise, give these other top shoulder muscle-building exercises a try:

  • Cable face pulls
  • Shoulder press 
  • Dumbbell front raise

4. Arm Muscles

Unlike the back, chest, and shoulders, the arms are limbs that perform dynamic movements themselves.  The arm muscle group is the first of the six muscle groups that's primary role is to move rather than initiate movements.

The arm muscle group is one of the smaller muscle groups. However, it includes several primary mover and stabilizer muscles.

The two primary mover muscles are the:

  1. Biceps
  2. Triceps

First off, the biceps are a muscle on the front part of your upper arm. They are the larger of the two primary mover arm muscles. The biceps are composed of two heads, a short head and a long head. Together, the two halves work together to extend and flex the elbow.

Second, the triceps situate on the opposite side of your upper arm. The triceps are composed of three heads, including the medial, lateral, and short heads. Like the biceps, their job is to extend and flex the elbow. In addition to that, they also help stabilize the shoulder joint.

Top Arm Muscle Group Exercises

The biceps are perhaps the most notorious muscle in weightlifting and bodybuilding. Any bodybuilder knows that keeping this specific muscle built is essential to having the perfect male body.

The bicep curl is the best exercise for keeping the biceps up to par. Here is how to do them with proper form:

Bicep Curls

Hold one dumbbell in each hand with a reverse grip. Dead hang your arms so that they extend straight. You can either stand up straight or sit up tall on a seated bench. When you are ready, exhale and flex your biceps to curl the dumbbells up by your shoulders

Athlete muscular bodybuilder training biceps curl with dumbbell in the gym

Keep your upper body still, and avoid swinging your arms.  Also, make sure to lock your elbows in by your sides to ensure that you target your biceps.  Squeeze your biceps at the top of the curl, then slowly drop the dumbbells back to a dead hang.

In addition to bicep curls, give these other top arm muscle-building exercises a try:

  • Hammer curls
  • Tricep push-ups
  • Tricep dips

5. Leg Muscles

The leg muscles include several individual lower body muscles and sub-muscle groups, including the:

  1. Glute and hip muscle group
  2. Hamstrings
  3. Quadriceps

First off, the glute and hip muscles are intricately laced together.  They have a diverse group of functions, with the most important one being initiating all kinds of movements from the hip joint. 

Also, the hips and glutes are the root of all of your lower body muscles.  When your glutes and hips are healthy, your legs are healthy.  While the glutes and hips aren't leg muscles themselves, most leg-day exercises target the glutes and hips. 

The primary hip and glute muscles include the:

  1. Gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus
  2. Psoas major and minor
  3. Tensor fasciae latae

Second, the hamstrings are on the backsides of your legs between your glutes and knees. They are made up of three smaller muscles, including the semitendinosus, semimembranosus, and biceps femoris. Their job is to initiate movements from the hips and knees, particularly flexion of the knees.

Third, the quadriceps oppose the hamstrings on the front side of your legs. They are the most voluminous muscle in your body, meaning that they take up the most amount of space.

Also known as the quads, they are composed of four muscles, including the:

  • Rectus femoris 
  • Vastus lateralis
  • Vastus medialis 
  • Vastus intermedius.

The quads perform the opposite movement of the hamstrings, which is extension of the knees.

Top Leg Muscle Group Exercises

There are dozens of leg resistance training exercises you can add to your workout plan.

Some of the best and most comprehensive ones include:

  1. Lunges
  2. ​Squats
  3. Deadlifts or Romanian deadlifts
  4. Leg curls
  5. Leg extensions

For more leg day exercises, check out our list of the top 10 lower body exercises!

6. Calf Muscles

Last but not least, the calf muscle group is the most straightforward of all the muscle groups. The calves are made up of two individual muscles, including the gastrocnemius and soleus. There is little to say about the calf muscle group, other than they initiate plantar flexion of the foot.

Plantar flexion is flexion of the foot and ankle. It happens when you press your toes down or lift your heel up. Therefore, whenever you walk or run, your calf muscles are activated.

Top Calf Muscle Group Exercises

Because the calf muscles are composed of only two muscles and have only one function, there are not many resistance exercises you can do for them. However, you can effectively strengthen your calf muscles by doing cardio exercises such as running and jumping.

There is a reason why runners have such fantastic calves! The calf raise is the most popular calf exercise. It is a straightforward exercise to get the job done! Here is how to do it with proper form:

Calf Raises

Hold one dumbbell in each of your hands and stand up tall with your feet hip-width apart. If you do not have dumbbells, you can use your bodyweight. When you are ready, exhale and raise your heels off the ground as high as you can. You should be balancing on your tiptoes. Pause and hold to squeeze your calf muscles at the top, then slowly drop your heels back to starting position.

How to Split Up Your Workout Routine

Knowing about each of your muscle groups and what exercises to do for them is only part of putting together a training program. The other part is knowing which muscle groups to work out together on which days of the week.

When putting together a weekly training program, you need to organize your workouts according to a few things:

  1. Making sure you target your full-body (do not skip a muscle group!)
  2. Incorporating rest days to help muscles recover
  3. Spreading out the muscle groups to promote maximum hypertrophy

The last point is particularly important. In order to build as much muscle as possible, you need to spread out your muscle groups properly. The way to do that is to alternate between days of working on upper and lower body muscle groups. For example, doing shoulders on Monday, legs on Tuesday, and arms on Wednesday.

When you alternate between lower and upper body days, you give your muscle groups enough time to go through muscle protein synthesis (MPS). MPS is the process in which your muscle fibers grow stronger.  If you were to put two upper body days in a row, you could risk disrupting MPS in your upper body. 

As a result, your muscle fibers wouldn’t grow to their fullest potential.

With that said, here is how we would split up working out our six muscle groups every week:

Day 1: Back day

Day 2: Leg day

Day 3: Arms and shoulder day

Day 4: Active rest day (light jog or stretching)

Day 5: Chest day

Day 6: Calf and cardio day

Day 7: Static rest day

We highly suggest using this weekly workout routine to most effectively target your six muscle groups!

Final Thoughts

The best workouts are made by doing the best exercises for your muscle groups on the right days of the week.  That is all it takes!  When you do that, you will experience maximum hypertrophy.

Don’t overthink what it takes to build your best body and reach your fitness goals.  Stick to the basics and each of your muscle groups will thrive! 

Bonus tip: Want to cut your weekly workout schedule down from five days to three days?  If that sounds like you, then check out our complete  3-day workout split schedule!