Muscle Groups to Work Out Together for Best Results

Working muscle groups as a unit is a great way to maximize the benefits of your exercise regimen.

Strengthening your muscles is important because it allows you to perform everyday activities and lowers the risk of injury to your body.

Increasing your muscle mass also boosts your metabolic rate, "which means you'll burn more calories even when your body is at rest," and helps you maintain a healthy weight, the American Heart Association (AHA) explains.

So, which muscle groups should you workout together for the best results?
Newsweek asked the experts.

How Many Muscle Groups Are There in the Body?

The body consists of more than 600 muscles, which collectively account for about 40 percent of a person's weight.

There are six major muscle groups in the body:

  • chest
  • shoulders
  • back
  • arms
  • abdominals
  • legs

These major muscle groups can be broken down into the following individual muscles, as outlined by a May 2020 Healthline article medically reviewed by Jake Tipane, a San Francisco-based certified personal trainer.

  • calves (lower leg)
  • hamstrings (back of upper leg)
  • quadriceps (front of upper leg)
  • glutes (butt and hips)
  • biceps (front of upper arms)
  • triceps (back of upper arms)
  • forearms (lower arm)
  • trapezius, also known as traps (top of shoulders)
  • latissimus dorsi, also known as lats (under the armpits)

Some people also like to group these individual muscles together when devising a multi-muscle workout.

The Benefits of Working Muscle Groups Together

Speaking to Newsweek, Rena Oliver, a NASM (National Academy of Sports Medicine) certified personal trainer at Crunch Fitness, explained a motor unit is the functional unit of skeletal muscle and working more muscles together means "more motor unit recruitment," which refers to how much of the muscle is working.

"The more muscle fibers are working means more calories are being burned, and you are reaching your goals that much quicker," the NASM certified personal trainer said.

Cemal Ozemek, a clinical exercise physiologist certified by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), told Newsweek activities that engage large muscle groups (such as the legs) as well as both upper and lower extremities will "facilitate greater caloric expenditure in a time efficient manner."

In addition to aerobic exercise, "many studies have highlighted the importance of maintaining and if possible increasing muscle mass through resistance exercise training. By doing so, individuals will maintain high levels of resting energy expenditure and burn a greater number of calories throughout the day," Ozemek said.

Some examples of sport activities that work the upper and lower extremities include jogging and jumping rope as well as using the spinning and rowing machines, he noted.

Ozemek warned individuals should be careful not to "overcomplicate" their resistance exercise training if they're new to the activity and put greater emphasis on the "activities that they enjoy doing and see themselves consistently performing long term."

A man using a rowing machine.
A man using a rowing machine. Rowing moves engage both the upper and lower body muscles. iStock/Getty Images Plus

Muscle Groups To Workout Together For Best Results

Some of the popular major muscle group workout combinations including the following:

  • Chest and shoulders
  • Back, abdominals and arms
  • Chest, arms, and shoulders
  • Legs, back and abdominals

Oliver said: "Legs are the no. 1 best group of muscles to workout together for best results."

Working these muscles together requires the most energy and therefore burns the most calories. And more often than not, these leg workouts require the recruitment of other muscle groups to perform exercises.

For example, the deadlift exercise, which works your legs, also requires the back muscles and upper body strength, "so you are getting even more bang for your buck," the Crunch Fitness personal trainer said. See more information on the best leg muscle group exercises further below.

Another area to focus on is the gluteus maximus, the largest muscle in the body. "If you aren't training this part of the body to be the strongest muscle, as they are designed to be, this will lead to imbalances in the body such as back pain," Oliver explained, adding that the back forms the next largest group of muscles that work together.

Some may also opt to group together specific muscles from the different major muscle groups for their workout, such as the following combinations, as outlined in the Healthline article:

  • Chest, shoulders, triceps, forearms
  • Calves, hamstrings, quadriceps, glutes
  • Biceps, back, abdominals, traps, lats
A group of people doing leg exercises.
A group of people doing leg exercises. Legs are the no. 1 group of muscles to work out together for best results. iStock/Getty Images Plus

How Often Should I Exercise Muscle Groups?

The AHA says you should aim to exercise each muscle group at least twice a week, with a minimum of two days of rest between workouts.

"Training more frequently or adding more sets may lead to slightly greater gains, but the minimal added benefit may not be worth the extra time and effort—not to mention the added risk of injury," the AHA said.

Ozemek explained you'll want to progress from performing one or two sets to three sets of resistance exercises targeting major muscle groups, performing eight to 12 repetitions for each set while maintaining good form. The last two reps should pose "a significant challenge."

Once the set becomes easy to complete, you'll need to increase the resistance or difficulty level of the exercise in order "to provide the necessary stimulus for the muscle to get stronger and hypertrophy [growth of muscle cells]," the ACSM certified clinical exercise physiologist said.

Resistance exercise machines for targeting major muscle groups can be found in gyms. But those that don't have access to these facilities can use body weight or resistance bands instead to promote muscle strength, he said.

A man doing a hip thrust move.
A man doing a hip thrust exercise. Your feet should be hip width apart, with toes pointing forward, when doing the hip thrust move. iStock/Getty Images Plus

The Best Leg Exercises

The main leg workouts every individual should be doing are "The Big 3," which include squats, hip thrusts and deadlifts, Oliver said.

Here the NASM certified trainer outlines how to do these three main leg moves in correct form.

How to Do a Squat

Start in a standing position, with either your hands on your hips or arms up in line with ears (if you are using a weight such as a barbell, this will be resting on your back supported by the shoulders).

"With squats, always use shoulder width to gauge your feet stance. Toes should be pointed forward, and knee movement should always stay in line with the direction of the toes," she explained.

Start by squeezing the glutes at the top of the exercise, and as you start to release them, send the hips down and back like the motion of going to sit in a chair. "Once you hit 90 degrees, you've accomplished a perfect squat. Then squeeze the glutes and drive the force through the feet to return to starting position."

Oliver explained the idea that you need to get your bum to reach the ground is a myth. "Once you go past the point of a 90 degree squat, you lose proper engagement of the glutes thus the exercise loses its purpose."

A woman doing a squat exercise.
A woman doing a squat exercise. The "perfect squat" is achieved once your glutes are at a 90 degree angle to the floor. iStock/Getty Images Plus

How to Do a Deadlift

Start by standing with your feet hip width apart, a slightly narrower stance than when your doing squats. The weight (either dumbbells, barbell or kettlebell) should hang in front of the torso, at thigh height, gripped by both hands.

Before starting any movement, make sure your glutes are squeezed and activated. As you release the glutes, allow the hips to sink back into a natural hinge at the waist, as your body weight distributes to the heels, keeping a soft knee (meaning don't let your knees lock).

"Allow the weight to graze down the front of the thighs until you've reached about a 45 degree angle with the torso. Then squeeze the glutes to activate returning to the starting stance.

"Once this movement is practiced and becomes more natural, then we can hinge a little lower than 45 degrees," NASM certified trainer said.

A woman doing a deadlift.
A woman doing a deadlift exercise using a barbell. The weight should hang in front of the torso, at thigh height, gripped by both hands, when doing the deadlift move. iStock/Getty Images Plus

How to Do a Weighted Hip Thrust

Start by sitting on the ground with a bench or box to support the neck and shoulders, as well as a barbell, with a pad to protect the hips, placed across the pelvic bones.

Your feet should be hip width apart, with toes pointing forward. A good way to test the distance of the feet in relation to the glutes is to give one hip thrust a try without weight. If your shin and thigh form a perfect 90 degree angle when you are at the top of the bridge, then you have achieved a perfect distance between the feet and glutes, Oliver said.

"Now, let's add the weight back into the equation to perform a weighted hip thrust. Remember: The feet are parallel and hip width, with the shoulders resting on the box or bench, and the barbell is nestled over the hips.

"While keeping the hands on the barbell for guidance, squeeze the glutes to press the barbell up into a bridge. Keep the chin tucked. This will allow for better glute engagement," Crunch Fitness trainer said.

Hold the bridge for one second before gently lowering the weight to starting position to complete the hip thrust move.

A woman doing a hip thrust exercise
A woman doing a hip thrust exercise with a barbell. iStock/Getty Images Plus