Maybe you’re the type of person who really likes singling out one specific area of your body, like abs, for your regular workouts. Or perhaps you’re the type of person who, for efficiency's sake, tries to hit as many muscle groups as quickly as possible. Regardless of which type of exercise enthusiast you are, you may be wondering if there are some muscle groups that pair better than others. We talked to two fitness trainers on how to make the most of your workout.
Meet the Expert
- Nicci Robinson is an ACE-certified trainer with Fit Body.
- Rebecca Kennedy is a Peloton trainer.
What Muscle Groups Should Be Worked Out Together?
There’s not one right way to pair muscle groups together, and they can vary by individual or trainer. “I typically like to pair primary and secondary muscles on strength-training days, says Nicci Robinson, an ACE-certified trainer with Fit Body. “For example, if the primary muscle group I am working is my glutes, I will also throw in some hamstring workouts to strengthen the tie-ins,” she says.
Rebecca Kennedy, a Peloton trailer, suggests taking a full-body approach when training a couple of days a week. “Full-body workouts are great for time efficiency. They're engaging, fun, and move quickly, which also results in higher caloric output/energy expenditure, and provide a holistic approach to general strength-endurance training,” she says. “I recommend a full-body approach for the majority of people, especially if you're just getting started in strength training or including it as a complement to your other training, or need a flexible training schedule.”
Splits, where you work different muscle groups on different days, are great if you can dedicate specific days consistently to a training program and your goal is to train for maximum strength or hypertrophy (an increase in the size of your muscle cells, thus resulting in stronger, larger muscles), adds Kennedy. In splits workouts, you can challenge specific muscle groups more because you have day(s) in between to rest.
Are There Muscle Groups That Shouldn't Be Worked Out Together?
While there aren’t necessarily any muscle groups that don’t play well together, Robinson advises not to overtrain or overwork a specific area. For example, she says, “you do not want to have a workout totally focusing on the quads, as you can overtrain the muscle and that can lead to injury.” Likewise, she recommends avoiding training the same muscle group multiple days in a row because it doesn’t provide the muscles adequate time to rest and recover. “I would say a rule of thumb is to allow a muscle group 24 hours to rest before you train that group again,” she says.
Structuring a Workout to Target Multiple Muscle Groups
For split workouts, Robinson suggests a schedule similar to the one below, in which you rotate through different muscle groups daily, as well as build in rest days.
- Monday – Glutes and Hamstring
- Tuesday – Lats and Shoulders
- Wednesday – Quads and Core
- Thursday – Rest Day
- Friday – Cardio and Core
- Saturday – Full Body Workout
- Sunday – Rest Day
For a full body workout, Kennedy suggests structuring it by movement patterns vs. muscles. “Target: push, pull, hinge or squat, lunge, rotation,” she says. “That way, you get a holistic approach to training in a functional way.”
What Are a Few Exercises That Target Multiple Muscle Groups?
Whether you realize it or not, most exercises work multiple muscle groups. Even biceps curls, which, as their name suggests, target your biceps, also recruit work from your shoulders and other arm muscles. If you’re looking for some exercises that will give you bang for your buck, here are a few to try.
- Burpees: Love them or hate them, there’s a reason why burpees are included in most HIIT workouts. “They’re a great full-body exercise targeting quads, shoulders, biceps, and core,” says Robinson.
- Squat Jacks: Squats jacks infuse your regular squats with a burst of cardio. Not only will they get your heart rate up, but Robinson says they target multiple muscle groups: core, quads, and hamstrings.
- Barbell Squat Thrusts: Add some weight and more—Robinson says barbell squat thrusts are great for your glutes, quads, hamstrings, core, and shoulders.
- Other Compound Exercises: Kennedy recommends compound movements, in which you have more than one exercise combined into a sort of hybrid exercise. Examples include reverse lunges with a biceps curl, renegade row push-ups, squat presses, and more.
- Complex Movements: To up-level your workout even more, there are more complex exercises that will get many muscle groups firing.