You don’t need to know every one of the 650+ individual muscles in the human body to become an expert at weightlifting.
Sometimes less is more. Because of this, we’ve condensed everything to just 11 simple muscle groups.
Additionally, you’ll discover the top advice for each muscle group, drawn from cutting-edge research, top-tier trainers, and useful real-world experience.
Utilize the tips in this article to develop a healthy, balanced body while lowering your risk of injury.
Why Muscle Anatomy Is Important
Why is it crucial to your fitness that you comprehend the main muscle groups in humans and what they do?
To begin with, knowledge of the main muscle groups is necessary if you want to build or choose safe and efficient workout routines.
Simply put, preventing muscular imbalances requires having a fundamental understanding of muscle anatomy. The secret to proper posture, injury prevention, optimal function, and of course a robust body is achieving a general balance between muscle groups.
This means that the programs you create or choose could be ineffective or even dangerous if you don’t understand the major muscle groups and their functions.
Applying your knowledge of the various muscle groups can help improve your appearance. The first to recognize this may have been old-school, drug-free bodybuilders in the 1940s and 1950s, but it applies to both men and women today.
In order to maximize your physical potential, your training program must take into account knowledge of muscle architecture.
Sadly, a lot of sources confuse the subject of muscle parts. You’re more likely to get a headache from reading most textbooks on the subject than you are to learn anything useful for your upcoming workout.
Discover the secrets to accelerated development, fewer injuries, and your best body ever by continuing to read.
The largest muscle in your body, the gluteus maximus, is also one of the most crucial for athletic performance and physical appearance.
The gluteus medius and gluteus minimus come from your pelvis and insert into your femur, just like their big brother, the gluteus maximus.
The muscles in your glutes are some of the strongest in your body. They are used in complex exercises like deadlifts, squats, and sprints that are heavy or explosive.
Additionally, glute exercise has advantages that go beyond simple functional ones. Men regard women with small waists and large buttocks to be particularly attractive, according to research. In reality, men’s liking for buttocks with more curve appears to be developing with time.
Though there hasn’t been as much research on women’s tastes, many of them share the same interests as men. Guys, if you have any doubts about the social benefits of working on your glutes, consider asking some of the attractive women in your life.
Although there are more important things in life than how you look, who could say no to extra athleticism and a desirable appearance?
Luckily, by following a few straightforward exercise suggestions, both sexes can develop strong, healthy, appealing glutes.
Even if you don’t care too much about your appearance, stretching your hip flexors and strengthening your glutes will help you age gracefully and prevent lower back pain[*]. (To loosen your hips, consider the numerous variants of the yoga poses warrior and pigeon.)
Early research indicated that weak glutes may contribute to knee pain[*]. That implies there may be several ways in which strengthening your glutes might keep you pain-free.
Exercises for the Glutes
For a certain method to strengthen and engage your glutes, try these exercises:
- Hip thrusts with a barbell or a Smith machine
- Weighted glute bridges
- Romanian deadlifts with dumbbells
- Using a dumbbell or kettlebell, perform deep goblet squats.
Start slowly to learn the moves, but as you get better, gradually increase the weight on each one. You can lift a lot of weight on your glutes as long as you maintain proper form.
The finest results come from combining hip thrusts and glute bridges with the traditional lower-body complex movements, squats and deadlifts.
Although some people classify hip thrusts and glute bridges as “isolation” exercises, they are still among the best glute builders available.
Hip thrusts and glute bridges can aid to stimulate your glutes before squats and deadlifts, while performing them subsequently increases glute stimulation. Try both and decide which you like best, or alternate between them over time.
Keep the majority of your glute training sets between 5 and 12 repetitions, but at the end of your workout, you can also perform some “burnout” sets of 20 to 30 repetitions.
Back (Trapezius, Rhomboids, and Lats) (Trapezius, Rhomboids, and Lats)
Like your glutes, the muscles of your back are major players for performance as well as posture.
A tight chest and a weak back can be caused by modern lifestyles that involve a lot of sitting and slouching, such as driving, working at a desk, using a smartphone, and watching TV.
As a result, many people have bad posture and are prone to injury. The good news is that by effectively exercising your back, you may resolve these problems.
When we refer to the back of your body, we truly mean the area between your neck and butt. Additionally, there are a number of muscle groups in that area, as you are surely aware.
Your trapezius muscle is shaped like a diamond. It moves your scapulae (shoulder blades) and supports your arms, and it runs from the occipital bone of your skull all the way down to your thoracic spine (mid-back).
Many individuals are unaware that the trapezius muscles also include middle and lower parts in addition to the “upper traps,” which are visible next to your neck from the front of your body.
Furthermore, concentrating too much on the upper traps, as with shrugs, can lead to an imbalance that results in shoulder impingement (a condition in which the rotator cuff tendon rubs against bone in the shoulder joint, producing pain or tearing)[*].
Your shoulder blades and mid-back are joined by your rhomboids. Additionally, many training programs frequently weaken and neglect them because they are virtually concealed beneath the trapezius.
Rhomboid muscles are necessary for proper posture because they retract and rotate your shoulder blades downward. Thus, strengthening your rhomboids is a great strategy to counteract the detrimental effects of spending hours a day sitting down.
The largest muscles in your upper body are called latissimus dorsi, or lats for short. They play a significant role in vertical pulling movements and aid in stabilizing your upper body when pressing horizontally.
These large, flat, triangle muscles extend from the middle of your back to the bottom of your back. They are frequently mistaken for the smaller teres major and minor, which are located above the lats and closer to the shoulder joint.
Best Back Exercises
Most back exercises, but not all, involve pulling motions. Here are some of our favorites:
- High rope face pull with cable sitting and possible external rotation (middle and lower traps)
- Cable rows using a low rope or a V-bar (rhomboids)
- One-arm dumbbell row while standing with assistance, 20 to 30 degrees (rhomboids and lats)
- Barbell row with a 35- to 45-degree bend (traps, rhomboids, lats, and lower back)
- Chin-ups and pull-ups (lats and teres major and minor)
- Pull-down machines with plates as an alternative to pull-ups
- Heavy half rack deadlift with a 1-2 second hold at the top from above knee level (every muscle in your back, and then some)
Single-joint exercises are not included because they are ineffective for developing a strong back. But if you perform the aforementioned compound motions with proper form, you can definitely isolate your traps, rhomboids, or lats.
Always practice proper form before attempting heavier weights.
To maintain a good balance between pulling and pushing, it’s also advisable to perform more volume for your back than your chest, which is the opposite of what most individuals do.
Your chest muscles are essential for pushing motions that are carried out horizontally and for regulating the humerus (upper arm bone).
Bodybuilders love the thick, fan-shaped pec major, but regardless of your objectives, strengthening your chest intelligently is a great idea.
Along with the well-known pectoralis major (“pecs”), the serratus anterior and pectoralis minor also cooperate.
The serratus muscles, which resemble fingers, are located on your ribcage beneath your pecs and armpits, whereas the pec minor is concealed below the pec major.
Optimal Chest Exercises
Since the chest is not a very difficult muscle area, it is recommended to train it with these straightforward exercises:
- Wide-grip, partial range-of-motion, and inclined (ROM) bench press
- Bench press (all other versions) (all other variations)
- Flying cables (any variation)
- Push-ups and dips have a number of advantages: they can be performed using only your bodyweight, they may be more “functional” in real life because they are closed-chain motions, and they engage stabilizers like your serratus, which lowers your chance of injury.
We also enjoy using Levels’ incline partial ROM bench press to develop large, complete pecs, especially for taller people. Modify your range of motion to achieve it by lowering the barbell halfway to your chest rather than totally locking it out at the top. This technique adequately engages your pecs while keeping your shoulder at a safer angle.
The other exercises can help you develop your pecs just as effectively as the flat, full-range-of-motion bench press, which is a staple of strength training across the globe. If you are drawn to bench pressing frequently, go for it, but make sure your form and shoulder health are impeccable.
Last but not least, after training with complex movements, cable flys are a fantastic technique to isolate your chest while performing more reps. Additionally, they keep the strain on the muscle throughout the rep, in contrast to conventional dumbbell flys.
Your shoulders are distinct from every other muscle group in your body.
Every upper body movement involves the glenohumeral (shoulder) joint, which is one of your body’s most delicate joints.
There are seven heads in your deltoids, the spherical, meaty muscles on either side of your collarbone[*]. These heads are distinct bundles of muscle fibers that give the muscle its look.
However, it’s simplest to consider them as having anterior (front), lateral (side), and posterior (back) heads for the purposes of choosing single-joint exercises to isolate your delts.
Training your anterior deltoids enlarges the front of your shoulders, but working your rear delts gives your back depth. Additionally, when viewed from the front or the rear, working your lateral deltoids helps your shoulders appear wider.
The fastest way to increase power and improve function is to strengthen the muscles around your shoulder joint. Additionally, it might visually draw attention to a slender waist, giving a man or woman a curvaceous appearance.
Recommended Shoulder Exercises
It’s impossible to raise weights without working your shoulders. They support all motions of the upper body as well as many of the lower body movements.
But use the compound and isolation exercises listed below to highlight or strengthen your delts:
- Standing overhead press with a barbell
- Overhead press with a single or two kettlebells while standing
- Front plate lift (anterior deltoids)
- Slow negative dumbbell lateral rise (2–3 seconds) (lateral deltoids)
- Single-arm dumbbell rear delt raise while supine and holding for one second at the top (posterior deltoids)
- Standing overhead presses (OHPs) are a traditional weight training exercise that work almost all of your body’s muscles, making them particularly “functional.” Fitness enthusiasts employed OHPs before bench presses were popular to assess their strength.
In addition, you just need a few free weights and a small amount of standing space to obtain a superb shoulder workout.
First, try pounding your shoulders with a powerful compound pressing motion. To end the exercise, perform lighter, higher-volume sets of front, lateral, and rear delt lifts.
A rotator cuff tear or a shoulder separation could result from “training through the pain.”
Consider yourself fortunate to have received a warning if you experience pain while moving your shoulders, and pay attention to it. In the end, it’s better to avoid the risk because other pushing and pulling motions can still stimulate your shoulders sufficiently.
The four muscles that make up your quadriceps, sometimes known as “quads,” are found on the front of your thighs and are responsible for extending your knees.
The vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, vastus intermedius, and rectus femoris are those muscles. The rectus femoris flexes your hips as well as extending your knees.
The muscles of your quads begin on your femur and insert onto the base of your patella, with the exception of the rectus femoris, which begins on the iliac spine of your pelvis (kneecap).
Breaking news: neglecting your lower body while training your upper body is a mistake (looking at you, chest-and-biceps guys).
It turns out that one of the best methods to improve your general health and look is by correctly training your lower body, especially your quads. It can even boost your upper body results by raising anabolic hormones like testosterone and growth hormone[*].
Recommended Quadriceps Exercises
Squats must be mentioned if discussing how to exercise your quads. Unless you are utterly unable to squat, which is unusual, squats belong in your regimen, period.
How about security? The most recent generation of academics and trainers concur with the outdated notion that deep, hard squats are essentially detrimental for your knees.
Although you might have an undiagnosed injury or poor form if you experience knee pain while squatting, this does not necessarily mean that squats are to blame.
If nothing else, many individuals with ongoing discomfort or past injuries can still squat safely and painlessly while using smaller weights.
Try the exercises listed below to see which one you like best:
- Goblet squats with dumbbells or kettlebells
- Squats with two kettlebells while holding them in the rack position.
- Jumping box
- Back squat with a bar
- Front squat with a bar
- machine squat hack
- Leg lift
- Bulgarian split squats or split squats
You can occasionally switch up your main squat movement, but for optimal results, stick with one for a few months at a time.
The most suitable exercises for beginners are goblet squats, double kettlebell squats, and box squats.
Alternatively, if you don’t feel comfortable doing squats, find a knowledgeable coach or stick to machine hack squats and leg press variations.
What about extending your legs? This isolated workout stresses your knee joint and anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and doesn’t have the same hormone-boosting effects as compound moves[*].
Leg extensions may also harm the cartilage in the knee joints, according to many knowledgeable trainers, even if there is no scientific agreement on the subject. So, if you value having good knees, skip them.
If you want to go beyond the fundamentals and boost the volume of your quad workout, split squats and variations like Bulgarian split squats are a preferable choice.
Your hamstrings are a group of muscles on the back of your legs that help you bend your knees and stretch your hips.
The hamstrings also receive little attention, much like a lot of the muscles on the back of the body. That’s a shame because focusing on them is crucial for fitness and injury prevention.
Despite being around half the size of your quadriceps, your hamstrings are a member of your posterior chain, along with your calves, glutes, and other muscles in the back of your body[*]. The most crucial muscle group for athletic performance may be the posterior chain.
The risk of knee pain and injury is roughly five times higher when too much quad exercise is combined with insufficient hamstring training[*].
Additionally, quad-hamstring imbalances increase the chance of suffering an ACL tear. And female athletes, pay attention: you have a 2–8-times higher risk of tearing your ACL than a male athlete, thus keeping your thigh muscles in the right proportions is essential.
Additionally, both men and women are susceptible to muscle rips in their weak, tight hamstrings, particularly while running or doing other explosive movements[*].
Best Hamstrings Exercises
The best exercises for developing better, stronger hamstrings are listed below:
- Deadlift (barbell, hex bar, or other full range-of-motion variants)
- Barbell deadlift with stiff legs
- Dumbbell Greek deadlifts
- Raise your glute-ham (machine-assisted or bodyweight versions)
- Leg curl while lying down
Start out slow and easy if you’ve never worked your hamstrings to prevent tearing a muscle.
Compound exercises are essential for strengthening the hamstrings, as they are for all muscle groups (such as deadlifts and their variations). Because it’s generally not a good idea to pre-fatigue your hamstrings with single-joint actions, perform them before glute-ham raises or leg curls.
Additionally, by releasing tight hamstrings, dynamic mobility exercises (stretching or warm-up exercises that entail actively moving the joint or limb through its range of motion) before your workout and static stretching after you lift can improve your function[*].
However, it’s generally advised to avoid excessive static stretching prior to training because it can impair strength and explosiveness for up to 24 hours[*].
Your femur is where your calves begin, and they insert into your Achilles tendon. They are made up of the soleus and gastrocnemius muscles.
Resistance exercise for your calves is essentially optional if you’re an athlete. These muscles get a good functional workout whenever you practice or play your sport because you use them whenever you jump or move your feet.
Contrarily, those who train solely for aesthetic reasons, such as bodybuilders, will get the most from calf exercises.
Best Calf Exercises
The most significant factor in how your calves appear is the insertion point or the location where your calf muscle and Achilles tendon converge. Genetics cannot be changed in this regard.
A calf muscle with a very high insertion point is around the size of a tennis ball, whereas a low insertion point typically produces massive, well-shaped calves with little effort.
However, to make the most of what you’re working with, you can do the exercises listed below:
- Standing one-legged calf raise on a step with a 2-second static hold and squeeze at the top while supporting oneself with bodyweight or a dumbbell for added resistance.
- Knees straight, two-leg calf lift in leg press machine with different foot locations and angles.
- 30-degree knee flexion leg press machine with a bent knee and 3-second stretch and hold at the bottom.
- At the machine sat with legs bent 90 degrees and calf raises
When your knees are bent, your gastrocnemius contracts the most, and when your knees are straight, your soleus contracts the most. To properly work both muscles, you should mix up workouts using bent and straight knees.
Ranges of reps, calves, volume changes, and tempo
Stretch holds between reps, static top holds, and tempo variety appear to be the exercises that benefit calves the most. These methods are part of the suggested calf exercises we listed above.
However, why may calves differ from other muscles in terms of changing the rep pace?
One explanation could be that when the stretch-shortening cycle (SSC), which allows you to jump explosively, moves the loading to your Achilles tendon, it can take credit away from your calves[*].
You must outsmart the SSC with pauses or gradual negatives to train the calves more effectively because explosive training doesn’t activate them as efficiently as it does most other muscles (that is, emphasizing the eccentric part of the repetition by slowing it down to 2-3 seconds or longer).
Every time you train your lower body, you should include two or three calf exercises with a few sets each. If you want faster results, try shocking them with 12 to 15 total sets throughout each lower-body workout for a few weeks or longer.
Furthermore, calves typically grow the fastest with a variety of exercises. Try varying your rep ranges between 5 and 30 or more times.
Want arms with muscle? Start with your triceps since they make up two thirds of your upper arm’s muscle mass.
This three-headed muscle is extremely powerful and explosive, thus athletes and strength enthusiasts place a high priority on it.
The long, lateral, and medial heads make up the triceps. Although their main function is to stretch your elbow, the lengthy head also helps to stabilize your shoulder.
Recommended Triceps Exercises
You may be sure that performing these triceps workouts will increase your strength, power, and definition:
- Narrow-grip dips
- Reverse-grip bench press with a barbell
- Barbell floor press
- Dumbbell overhead triceps extension with one arm
- Two-handed dumbbell triceps extension with an incline
- Low pulley and above two-handed rope extension
Dips, reverse-grip bench press, and floor press all permit heavy weight and a comparatively extensive range of motion. The goal of these workouts is to use a complex movement to overload the triceps.
In contrast, overhead triceps isolation exercises are the ideal way to highlight the longest head of your triceps. Stretching and shoulder flexion work together to activate the long head, which causes amazing muscle growth.
Additionally, avoid certain triceps exercises if they cause elbow pain in favor of ones that don’t. Never disregard pain while moving; it’s always a warning sign that needs attention.
Your biceps have two heads: a short head and a long head. They work in opposition to the triceps and are in charge of elbow flexion.
The brachialis, a similar muscle, works with the biceps to flex the elbow. Your brachialis muscles sit underneath your biceps.
Best Exercises for Biceps
There are countless biceps curl variations, but before you go too far, try making these workouts a regular part of your routine:
- Chin-ups with a small grip
- Barbell curls while standing
- Pec-level cross-body hammer curls (one arm at a time, alternating rep-by-rep)
- EZ bar curls with a reverse grip
- Narrow-grip chin-ups are a compound exercise that offers more practical fitness applications than curls while heavily overloading your biceps.
And standing barbell curls are the traditional biceps isolation exercise for very good reason. All you had to do was chin-ups and barbell curls for years to get bigger, stronger biceps.
Your brachialis is largely out of sight and out of mind, but providing it some attention is excellent for rounding out your upper arms and getting stronger. The greatest brachialis workouts include reverse-grip EZ curls and cross-body hammer curls.
The rectus abdominis, inner and outer obliques, and the secret transversus abdominis make up your abs. Your lumbar spine is flexed, rotated, and stabilized by them all.
One of the most sought and misunderstood exercise objectives is developing six-pack abs.
A smaller waist is not a result of training your abs, with one exception that we’ll discuss shortly. Instead, spot reduction through ab exercises doesn’t work effectively for fat loss.
In actuality, bulking up your waist by doing hundreds of crunches might help you develop your abs. Additionally, a blockier waist is the visible outcome if your abs are covered in a regular amount of body fat. The vast majority of crunchers want the exact opposite of that!
Crunches also cause your spine to flex, which could make your posture worse and raise your risk of back injury. Your back may potentially become injured by ab movements that rotate or twist.
What then is the key to ab training? Train your abs primarily for function and injury avoidance. This strategy is perfect for the great majority of gym members when combined with an awesome exercise routine and a healthy diet.
A healthy diet is essential if you’re intent on seeing your abs. In actuality, ripped abs begin in the kitchen.
When your abdominal muscles start to show, you could choose to add some more crunches to “fine-tune” what you see.
What about the abdominal exercises that reduce waistline size? Theoretically, anything that engages your transversus abdominis (TA) will cause your waist to get smaller.
Your internal obliques are a thin sheet of muscle known as the TA. It is what enables you to draw your belly button inside, yet you can’t see it.
In addition to supporting your core, the TA holds and compresses your viscera (internal organs). You might be able to somewhat reduce your waist by toning it up.
Excellent ab exercises
It makes sense to incorporate a few sets of crunches or other ab flexion exercises into your weekly routine. A terrible idea is to perform tens of thousands of repetitions of any resistance training exercise per week.
Nowadays, astute coaches and trainers give other ab actions more importance than flexion.
The key is to give your ab muscles’ stabilizing (bracing and anti-rotation) functions precedence over those that move your spine for a healthy spine and excellent posture (flexion and rotation).
The new hierarchy is as follows:
Flexion, Bracing, Anti-Rotation, and Rotation
It should be noted that whereas anti-rotation refers to fighting rotation, bracing involves resisting flexion or extension.
Exercises to develop a strong, healthy midsection include:
- Plank in pushup position (bracing)
- Pallof press (anti-rotation, sometimes termed rotation resistance) (anti-rotation, also called rotation resistance)
- Crouching cable crunches (flexion)
- Slant board reverse crunch (flexion)
- Using dragon flags, pikes, or other toes-to-bar maneuvers (flexion)
- Totally engaged barbell twist (rotation)
- Optional: Ab vacuum (or yoga’s Nauli kriya) (TA activation)
Early on, focus mostly on bracing before introducing anti-rotation. Move on to flexion and eventually rotation once you’ve mastered those.
Additionally, when performing flexion motions, don’t be afraid to load them up. It is far more efficient to build strong abs with difficult weights than to perform endless repetitions.
Hands and Forearms
You are only as strong as your grasp for the vast majority of tasks in the actual world.
Consider this: you might be able to push or pull hundreds of pounds using a barbell with a 1.1-inch diameter and a uniformly distributed weight, but what about items that aren’t made for simple lifting?
There are three primary grip styles you can practice:
In a crush grip, your fingers flex in the direction of your palms.
When you use a pinch grip, your fingers and thumb flex toward one another.
Support grip refers to the static holding of a heavy object in your hands during deadlifts, farmer’s walks, or when lifting abrasive things like boulders.
Additionally, by keeping your wrists stable and avoiding lower arm injuries, developing strong forearms might benefit your grip over time.
Best Exercises for the Grip and Forearms
The only restriction on your grip exercises is your imagination, however, these are the greatest ones to start with:
- Grippers (Captains of Crush or similar)
- Using one or two weight plates, do static pinch grip holds.
- Pinch grip carries or rows
- Heavy loads, especially while carrying kettlebells
- Heavy half rack deadlifts without straps and an overhand grip (bonus: use a fat bar)
- Pull-ups while clinging to a towel
- Reverse wrist curls and wrist curls
- One-arm dumbbell curl with a reverse grip
- Rubber band finger extension serves as a counterbalance to finger flexion movements and may aid with carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms.
At any time, you can incorporate grip exercises into your routine. For instance, keeping a gripper at your workplace enables you to practice your crush grasp all day long.
You can maintain balance and avoid injuries if you have a rudimentary understanding of muscle anatomy.
Remember that if you want a robust, healthy body, you need to concentrate on more than simply “mirror muscles.” Abstraction from core and chest muscles can result in poor posture and possibly major injury.
Furthermore, when properly developed, muscles like your glutes, back, and hamstrings not only look beautiful but help balance out other muscles you may have been concentrating on too much.
Prioritizing your recovery is essential for achieving results and avoiding injuries, along with wise training. Therefore, if you exercise vigorously, remember to consume adequate calories and use whey protein post-workout to speed up your body’s healing processes.
Now that you’re knowledgeable about the various muscle groups, it’s time to focus on your areas of weakness, correct any imbalances, and boost your performance.