Total Shape is a reader-supported site. Purchases made through links may earn a commission. Learn more.

21 Best Exercises for Each Muscle Group (Maximize Gains)

Connor Sellers
Published by Connor Sellers
Last updated: May 7, 2023

As a professional fitness coach with over 9+ years of experience, I've guided many clients and readers into attaining their best body physique with the right exercises.

I've noticed that many people go to the gym and start pumping iron without knowing which muscles they are targeting, or the best form to perform the exercise for more gains.

In this article, I will provide my research and findings on the main muscles that constitute the body and expertise on the best exercises to perform for each muscle group.

Keep reading to explore the topic with me and know the best way to build muscles fast.

Quick Summary

  • The six main muscle groups to workout are the shoulders, chest, legs, back, calves, and arms.
  • For optimum muscle building, exercise each of these muscles at least once every five to seven days.
  • Every exercise involves a range of adjacent muscles, therefore attempting to increase a single muscle is futile. Instead, consider them as units or muscle groups.

The Best Exercises for Each Muscle Group 

best exercise for each muscle group 


You need specific chest exercises that promote muscle growth to bulk up your pectorals and build a decent chest in the gym.

Below are the best chest exercises:

1. Barbell Bench press

How to perform: 

  1. Grasp the barbell with your arms about the shoulder-width level and arch your back, so there's space between the bench and your lower back.
  2. Lift the bar from the rack and drop it to the sternum, bending your elbows around 45 degrees to your sides.
  3. As the bar comes into contact with your body, push your legs into the ground and drive the barbell up to the starting position.
  4. Repeat for reps.

2. Cable crossover

A woman doing cable crossovers

How to perform:

  1. Place yourself between the cable crossover machine, with both pulleys halfway between the platform's bottom and top.
  2. Connect a D-handle to each pulley and take one in each hand.
  3. Keep the elbows slightly, and move forward, so there's a strain on the cables.
  4. Bring your arms together in front of the chest and flex your pecs. Hold the position for about two seconds, and return to the starting position.
  5. Repeat for the desired number of reps.
  6. After each set, alternate stretching and flexing.

3. Dumbbell Half Fly

How to perform: 

  1. Lean on a level surface and hold a dumbbell over your chest in each hand.
  2. Drop the weights to the side, widening your arms.
  3. You should feel a strain in your pecs. Raise the dumbbells halfway up, then lower them to the starting position. That is one repetition.
  4. For each rep, take about three seconds to drop your hands and three seconds to raise them halfway up.


A person showing off his shoulders

The most incredible shoulder workouts of all time target your levator scapulae, delts, rotator cuff muscles, upper trapezius, and serratus anterior to develop the desired 3D and wider shoulders properly.

Here are the best exercises for that:

4. Standing Dumbbell Fly

How to perform: 

  1. Hold the dumbbells at your sides.
  2. Swing the dumbbells up a few inches using your upper body without shrugging.
  3. Your arms and body will create an upside-down V shape.
  4. Bring the load down to the starting position and repeat.
  5. Consider it a lateral rise with velocity but no full range of motion.

5. Barbell Standing Press

"Given the steadiness of this exercise, it is excellent for developing your core and boosting general strength."

- James White, Personal Trainer

How to perform: 

  1. Take a barbell and grasp it at shoulder level with hands facing forwards.
  2. To begin, place your feet shoulder-width apart and gently bend your knees.
  3. Push up with your feet to push the barbell straight over your head.
  4. Return with control to the starting position.
  5. Repeat for reps.


A person flexing his buff legs

Strong and develop leg muscles do more than look nice.

Even simple daily activities like walking need leg strength.

This implies that including leg exercises in your program is vital to your health.

Related: Chris Bumstead Push Pull Legs Workout

The best leg exercises are:

6. Back Squat

How to perform it: 

  1. Put a barbell on the traps and stand, having your feet shoulder-width apart. Your eyes should be front, chest high, and your toes slightly pointed out.
  2. Sit into your hips, with bent knees, and lower yourself towards the ground. Make sure your knees are slightly out and not collapsed in.
  3. Drop your thighs until they are parallel to the floor — or as far as your mobility enables — and then push back to your starting position.
  4. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

7. Leg Curl

A woman doing leg curls in the gym

How to perform: 

  1. Get into the leg curl workstation lying flat on your tummy with the roller pad above your heels.
  2. Grasp the machine's supporting bars on each side.
  3. Lift your feet and engage your core, bringing the pad to your butt.
  4. Pause at the peak, then controllably return to the starting position.
  5. Repeat for reps.

Also Read: Exercises For Fast Feet To Improve Foot Speed

8. Hip Thrusts

How to perform:

  1. Place a plate, barbell or dumbbell on your hips and sit on a raised platform such as a bench or sofa. You'll use your hands to support the load throughout the motion.
  2. To begin, scoot your back down the bench, knees bent and legs flat on the floor shoulder-width apart. Your knees must be at a 90-degree angle, and the bench should be directly beneath your shoulder blade.
  3. Maintain a chin tuck and lower your buttocks to the ground. Lower yourself while keeping your feet stable, pausing until your torso makes a 45-degree angle with the floor.
  4. Lift your heels till your thighs are level with the floor once more. Squeeze your glutes, then return to the beginning position.
  5. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.


A person holding his calves

We've heard so many lifters grumble that calves don't have the proper genetics to develop big calf muscles.

But these obstinate muscles can grow if you challenge your exercises correctly.

9. Seated Calf Raises

How to perform:

  1. Utilize a seated calf exercises machine or sit on a bench with your feet resting on a step or block (you can hold dumbbells on your thighs for resistance).
  2. Have your knees bent 90 degrees and your toes pointed forward.
  3. Let your heels fall toward the ground until your calves stretch.
  4. Push the balls of both feet into the surface and elevate your heels as much as you can.
  5. Return slowly to the starting position and repeat for repetitions.

10. Standing Calf Raises

A man doing standing calf raises on a machine

The standing calf raise is among the best exercises to build and improve your calves.

Also, it's fantastic for enhancing cardiovascular health, stability, and posture.

How to perform:

  1. Set yourself in a Smith machine with your load on your shoulders and your legs on a slightly raised platform.
  2. Keep your core and glutes braced and your knees straight.
  3. Drop your legs until your heels almost touch the floor, then press back up while aiming to point the toes.
  4. Drop your heels back down, and repeat the movement for reps.

11. Box Jumps

How to perform:

  1. Locate a safe box and position yourself a short distance from it, with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Descend into a low squat and swing your hands as you leap onto the box, landing on all fours (not just with the toes on the edge).
  3. Land lightly from the box and step back, keeping a tight sense of control and form.
  4. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.


A person showing off their back muscles

These workouts do not isolate but instead emphasize certain parts of the back musculature.

12. Pull-ups

How to perform:

  1. Grasp the pull-up station handles with both palms facing away from you and arms fully stretched.
  2. You should have your hands shoulder-width apart.
  3. Exhale while squeezing the shoulder blades together and driving your elbows toward the hips to raise your chin over the bar.
  4. Lower yourself back to the starting position with control.
  5. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

14. Barbell Deadlift

A person doing deadlifts in a gym

How to perform: 

  1. Squat down and place your hands shoulder-width apart on a barbell.
  2. When you lift the bar, keep the chest up, your shoulders back, and your gaze straight ahead.
  3. Concentrate on bringing the load back onto the heels and keeping the bar as near to your body as feasible at all times.
  4. Lift to thigh height, pause, and then return to the starting position under control.
  5. Repeat for reps.

15. Barbell Bent-over Row

How to perform:

  1. Take an overhand hold on a barbell with hands roughly shoulder-width apart.
  2. With your feet slightly bent, maintain your back straight and lean your upper body forward till it's almost parallel with the ground.
  3. Row the bar up into your lower chest.
  4. Pause, then return to the starting position under control.
  5. Repeat for reps.


A buff male showing his arms

To develop arms that pop out, you must beat them from various angles that engage all arm muscles.

15. Incline Biceps Curl

How to perform:

  1. Sitting on an incline bench, take the dumbbell at arm's length in each hand.
  2. Curl the dumbbell with your biceps until it nears your shoulder.
  3. Lower it back down to your side and repeat.

16. Twisting Dumbbell Curl

How to perform: 

  1. Grasp the dumbbells in each hand, palms facing each other, at your side.
  2. Alternately curl the dumbbells upward to your shoulders with your biceps, rotating your hands to face the chest as you raise them.
  3. Lower the dumbbells to your sides slowly and repeat.

17. Tricep Dips

A person doing triceps dips on a parallel bar

How to perform:

  1. Lift yourself onto parallel bars with your body perpendicular to the ground.
  2. Bend your knees and lower your body gradually until your shoulder blades are below the elbows.
  3. Lift your elbows back up until they are nearly upright but not locked.
  4. Repeat for reps.

18. Diamond Press-up

How to perform:

  1. Lie down on your stomach with your back straight and your hands in a diamond shape.
  2. Lower your body weight until your chest almost touches the floor.
  3. Return to the beginning posture by tightening your chest and triceps simultaneously.
  4. Repeat for the desired number of reps.


A buff woman showing her abs

Athletes from various sports focus their fitness training on building core strength through compound motions.

Knowing how to activate your core is critical for spinal protection during everyday activities and sports.

"A strong core maintains your body in a more stable position anytime you move, whether you're participating in sports or performing chores."

- Christopher Mendler, Sports Medicine Specialist

19. Dead Bug

How to perform: 

  1. Lie on your back, having your arms straight over your shoulders.
  2. Raise your legs directly over the hips with knees bent so that your calf and thigh make a 90-degree angle.
  3. Simultaneously drop your left arm over the head while straightening and lowering your right leg towards the floor.
  4. Pause, return to the beginning position, and repeat on the other side.

20. Hardstyle Plank

A person doing hardstyle plank

How to perform: 

  1. Lying face down on the floor, prop yourself to a forearm plank position.
  2. Ensure your elbows are lined beneath your shoulders and your fists are balled up.
  3. You should have your forearms parallel to each other.
  4. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds per set.

21. Bird Dog

How to perform: 

  1. Consider this an upside-down dead bug.
  2. Begin in a tabletop posture, having your shoulders over the wrists and the hips over your knees.
  3. Tighten your core while raising your left arm and right leg simultaneously.
  4. As you kick back, your leg must be flexed while your palm faces your body.
  5. When your leg and arm are at the same level as your torso, pause briefly before bringing your knee and elbow to contact below the body.
  6. Repeat for one rep on the opposite side, and complete ten repetitions for one set.

The Six Main Muscle Groups

A graphic of the muscles in the body

A "muscle group" is a collection of muscles on your torso that perform related movements.

Regarding muscle growth, the six key muscle groups to focus on are the chest, shoulders, back, legs, arms, and calves.

This type of categorization of muscles allows us to plan better and focus our exercise.

If you want to build a massive upper body, it does not make sense to work out your lower body that often. If you follow a lot of full-body training regimens or powerlifting routines, you'll get just that.

This is great if you workout 2 - 3 times a week, but increasing your training frequency can soon lead to overtraining or injury.

On the other hand, most people place too much emphasis on isolating specific muscles, such as the biceps.

Every activity engages a range of adjacent muscles, therefore attempting to develop a single muscle is pointless.

Instead, see them as units or muscle groups.

Focusing on one muscle typically leads to muscular imbalances, in which certain muscle groups are disproportionately bigger than others.

This is aesthetically unappealing and might increase your risk of injury.

Instead, train all six primary muscle groups to achieve a symmetrical, healthy, and "attractive" body.

The key muscle groups you should work on are:

1. Shoulders

A buff person showing off his shoulders

Your shoulders are made up of three primary muscles called deltoids.

The deltoids have three heads:

  • The Anterior Head (front)
  • The Posterior Head (rear)
  • The Lateral Head (middle)

The delts primarily support adjacent muscle groups such as the biceps, pecs, and lats.

The rear delts assist the lats and traps in pulling the arm behind you, the front delts aid the pecs in pulling the arm in front of you, and the lateral delts enable the pecs, traps, and other muscles surrounding your neck and upper back in pulling the arm to the side [1].

This is significant because the degree at which you pull or press affects how much the delts are exercised compared to other muscles.

An overhead press, for instance, uses more lateral delts than the upper chest, while a barbell row uses more rear delts than lat tricep pushdowns.

It is essential to grow all three heads of this muscle since any lag will be painfully noticeable.

Most of the time, the posterior and lateral deltoids require the most attention since the anterior deltoids are trained to some extent in a solid chest exercise, and no one misses chest day.

2. Chest

The pectoralis major, called the "pec," is the primary chest muscle.

"The chest muscle is composed of pectoralis minor and major, and the intercostals, serratus anterior and subclavius."

- Corinne Croce, Physical Therapist and Personal Trainer

The primary function of the chest muscle is to move the upper arm from across the body.

Unlike most other muscles, the chest muscle fibers are not all directed in the same orientation.

The pec major contains many "heads," or points where muscle fibers connect to the skeleton.

A sternocostal head connects your sternum and ribs to your upper arm, while a clavicular head connects your collarbone to the upper arm [2].

The way a muscle joins to the surrounding bone influences how it should be trained.

Exercises that entail pushing the hands forward toward the chest, such as the decline and flat barbell bench press, accentuate the pecs' greater sternocostal head.

Exercises that entail moving the hands upward and away from the chest, such as the reverse grip and incline bench press, work the smaller clavicular head.

3. Arms

A man working out his arm muscles

The arms are made up of four major muscles: the biceps brachii, the biceps brachialis, the triceps, and the forearms [3].

The biceps (biceps brachii) is a two-headed muscle.

Another muscle to be aware of is the biceps brachialis, which sits underneath the brachii and aids elbow flexion.

When formed correctly, the brachialis appears as a "knot" between the triceps and brachii, and it has a noticeable influence on the overall look of the arms.

When flexed, it divides the biceps and triceps, highlighting each. It also raises the biceps brachii for a better "peak" while flexing.

The biceps are responsible for flexing the arm or bringing your forearms near the upper arms.

They supinate the elbow when you move your hand upward, poised to catch something [4].

To maximize biceps stimulation, hold your hands palm up toward the roof.

The triceps (triceps brachii) work in the opposite direction of the biceps, pulling your forearm down from the upper arm.

The triceps muscle comprises three heads: long, lateral, and medial.

The three heads work together to generate the characteristic "horseshoe" shape, which may become fairly apparent when fully formed [5].

Big biceps equals big arms, but it is not the case.

Contrary to popular belief, the biceps contribute far less to total arm size than the triceps, a considerably bigger muscle group.

Small triceps indicate disproportionate, small arms, regardless of bicep size.

The forearms are made up of several tiny muscle fibers and are similar to calves.

If they are adequately grown, it substantially improves the overall look of the limbs.

You'll want to work out all of these muscles to create a pair of outstanding arms.

4. Legs

A person showing off his legs

Many major muscles make up the upper region of the legs:

  • The Quadriceps Muscle
  • The Glutes
  • The Hamstring muscles

The calves are technically elements of the legs, but we'll cover them individually because they require a distinct type of exercise.

Each one of these muscle groups responds better to different workouts, and each has "specific requirements" for maximum development and definition.

There are a few leg muscles, so let's go through each separately.

The Glutes

The gluteus muscles, sometimes known as "glutes," are made up of three muscle groups that compose your buttocks:

  • The Gluteus Maximus
  • The Gluteus Medius
  • The Gluteus Minimus

They stabilize your body throughout all movement types and generate force in workouts like the squat and deadlifts [6].

The Quads

A person showing off his quads

The quadriceps are a group of four major muscles located on the front of your feet that include:

  • The Vastus Lateralis Muscle
  • The Vastus Intermedius
  • The Vastus Medialis
  • The Rectus Femoris Muscle

The quadriceps muscles extend and flex the knees and hips [7].

Because the quads are more prominent and visible, they receive the most attention.

This can result in a muscle imbalance between the back and front of the thighs, which looks weird and may lead to injuries.

The Hamstrings

The hamstrings are a trio of muscle fibers found on the back of the legs:

  • The Semitendinosus
  • The Semimembranosus
  • The Biceps Femoris

The hamstrings act together to bend the knee, like during a hamstring curl, and extend the hips to perform a hip thrust or deadlift [8].

The femoris is divided into two "heads" or portions like the arm biceps.

Unlike the biceps, the hamstrings are one of the most inefficient muscle fibers in the lower body.

5. Back

A person showing his back

The four muscle groups that constitute the majority of the back and that we wish to develop are the following:

Smaller muscle bundles are also essential, like the infraspinatus and the teres minor and major [9].

The lats produce a wing-like shape by connecting the back to the upper arm.

Your traps are the muscles that link your shoulder blades to the spine.

The erector spinae runs parallel to the spine and performs what you'd expect: they stabilize and support your spine.

The rhomboids connect your shoulder blades to your spine, which helps to support them.

6. Calves

A person flexing his calves

The calves are composed of two strong muscles:

  • The Gastrocnemius Muscle
  • The Soleus Muscle

As you glance at your calf, you will notice a huge (or not so large) muscle called the gastrocnemius.

The soleus is a deep muscle underneath the gastrocnemius [10].

These two muscles collaborate to move the ankle and foot joints and knee flexion.

Regarding appearance, the gastrocnemius is the most important, but well-formed soleus is also vital since it supports the bigger gastroc in both function and aesthetic size.

Because of how the calf muscles are situated, it is ideal for training each separately.

How About the Core Muscles?

Close up shot of core muscles

The "core," or the muscles around your abdomen, is sometimes called the seventh main muscle group.

It comprises the obliques (external and internal), rectus abdominis, and transverse abdominis.

All these muscles help maintain the spine and aid spinal flexion, bringing your chest nearer to your hips.

If you're working the other six major muscles with strong compound movements, your core will get enough indirect working that you won't need a separate core exercise.

The Best Muscle Groups To Train Together

A person planking on the ground

When it comes to determining which major muscle groups to exercise on the same day in the same workout routine, it all comes down to how fast you recover from your exercises.

It usually takes 72 - 96 hours for the muscles to recover completely after an exercise, based on your sleep, food, and training [11].

According to research, among resistance-trained, college-aged guys, complete muscle recovery might take from around 48 to 96 hours [12].

This is aligned with one of the most comprehensive studies, which found that exercising each muscle group every five to seven days is the perfect balance for muscle growth [13].

However, the fact that a muscle isn't fully recovered doesn't imply you can't benefit from exercising it again.

For example, exercising a muscle group twice a week is best for strength and muscle building.

Furthermore, when approaching your genetic capacity for muscular growth, you may gain from working for each muscle group more frequently than this [14].

But, if you do a lot of heavy, complex barbell movements, this type of high-frequency training might be detrimental.

Most compound barbell workouts target over one muscle group.

The chest is the primary mover when people bench press, but their shoulder muscles and triceps also contribute.

Whenever you deadlift, you could be concentrating on building your back; however, your glutes and hamstrings are also focused.

In other words, most effective exercises work over one muscle group simultaneously.

That is why heavy, compound barbell exercise is so effective.

It's also why too many full-body barbell exercises can lead to overtraining.

A great workout routine, such as this 5-day workout routine;

  1. Day 1: Push
  2. Day 2: Pull and Calves
  3. Day 3: Upper-body and Core
  4. Day 4: Legs
  5. Day 5: Upper-body and Core

It guarantees you obtain at least 80 percent of your weekly repetitions from strenuous, compound weightlifting.

The remaining 20 percent of your weekly sets come from isolation exercises, which train specific major muscle groups without producing the weariness that heavier, compound workouts do.

This workout plan finds a solid balance between sufficiently working for each muscle group and allowing you to continue progressing.

How To Build Muscle Fast Through Exercise and Dieting

A person dieting for muscle growth

Food and exercise are essential for managing body weight, including muscle building.

You can change your training routine if you want to grow muscle quickly.

You must first recognize your limitations to increasing your exercise intensity and protein consumption to gain muscle mass.

Here's a quick guide on muscle building:

1. Exercise

Knowing how your muscle groups are focused throughout a workout may enhance efficiency, whether performing bench press and weight training to tone your upper body or lunges and squats to train your lower body.

As a starting point, go to the list of optimal exercises for each muscle unit at the start of this article.

2. Diet

A person dieting at home

While some people have inherently rapid metabolisms, a better diet may benefit everyone.

A protein-rich diet aids muscle growth and recovery after exercise [15].

Many individuals use quality whey protein powder to complement their diet since it is a rapid method to get protein into the body.

Protein shakes are the most frequent way to ingest protein powder.

These protein drinks can be taken before or after working out. You are in good form if the body obtains the protein needed to develop muscle after an exercise.

There are several elements to consider when determining how much protein you must consume to grow muscle.

The typical passive woman requires 46g of protein daily, whereas the average passive male requires 56g [16]. However, when one begins to develop muscle, the demand for protein increases from 0.75 g to 1 g of protein per pound of body weight per day. This is because protein helps repair the muscles so they can grow.

If you want to do any particularly rigorous activities, consume enough calories to provide your body with the energy it requires to create muscle.

While people who want to lose weight may look for low-calorie foods, it is predicted that those who want to build muscle would gain weight.

"The greatest meals for muscle building are rich in proteins and low in saturated fat. Nevertheless, don't forget about carbs and fats. For the best results, eat a well-balanced diet and exercise regularly."

- Grant Tinsley, Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist

3. Rep Range

A person doing workout reps in the gym

While learning to gain muscle fast, you should evaluate how many repetitions you complete between rest intervals.

When it comes to strength training, including rest times in between reps is essential so that you can complete your exercise for a greater duration than if you didn't have rest breaks [17].

The number of reps you perform primarily depends on how your body reacts to the exercise.

Smaller repetitions, such as 5, might be optimal for someone just getting started with weightlifting.

If you are a novice to lifting, you can gradually increase your rep count to 15.

How To Correct Muscle Group Imbalances

A person working out in the gym

After a few months of weight lifting, you'll notice that some regions of your torso respond to strength training quicker than others.

For instance, your glutes, legs, and calves may develop fast when you begin lifting weights, while your chest, shoulders, and triceps may grow slowly but consistently, and your biceps and back may be slower in catching up to the other muscle groups.

Muscular imbalances like this may be corrected in many situations as you acquire more training expertise.

If they don't, or if you wouldn't want to wait, do more repetitions (sets or reps) for your trailing muscle areas and less for your superior muscle groups.


Is 4 Exercises Enough for Each Muscle Group?

Yes, four exercises are enough for each muscle group. You may perform 4-8 different muscle groups workouts in a training routine, with each activity delivering 2-5 total sets.

What Is the One Workout To Rule Them All?

Burpee is the one workout to rule them all. It is the perfect full-body workout that tests your strength and cardio capacity.

What Is the Big 4 Workout Program?

The big 4 workout strength program is a four-week training program focusing on four major lifts: the Barbell Romanian Deadlift, the weighted squats, the Weighted Push-Up, and the Weighted Pull-Up.

Train All the Muscle Groups in the Best Way

There are several ways to plan your weekly routine to get results. Many people divide their strength training routines by muscle group to provide their muscles enough time to recuperate.

Offering a two-day rest between strength training exercises is good to avoid overtraining. And for the energy required to complete your sets and reps, I recommend incorporating our best pre-workout supplements.

Upon testing, our clients reported having experienced an enhancement in their focus, energy, and concentration to get over their muscle growth plateaus.


Was this article helpful?

About The Author

You May Also Like

Write a Reply or Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *