Muscle Groups You Should Be Training on the Same Day

These are the muscle groups you should be training on the same day

Should you train your chest and back together? Full body? Upper and lower? We've got the definitive guide

WITH THE INTERNET, social media and idle gym chit-chat by the bench press awash with information on how to target each muscle-group for building muscle, you may think you’ve got it all figured out when it comes to picking the perfect exercises for each body part. But then you step back and realise that although you know exactly how to train each muscle, you don’t know when, how often, and what muscle groups to train together on the same day.

The answer to those questions relies on a multitude of factors, from how many days a week you can make it to the gym, to what your specific goals are, right through to the types of exercises and training styles you actually enjoy.

There’s a lot to consider, but don’t worry, we’ve put together the definitive guide on which muscle groups you should be training together to help you build the most effective muscle-building plan for your body.

How should I be splitting my body parts up to build muscle?

Traditionally, you may have heard different body parts referred to by the names of individual muscles, or groups of muscles that work so closely together that they’re almost inseparable. Think: chest, back, legs, arms, shoulders, and abs

You may have heard these body parts further divided down into smaller muscles or muscle groups, such as: lats, traps, quadriceps, hamstrings, biceps and triceps.

But the truth is, no matter which way split up the body in theory, as soon as we start lifting weights in practice it gets incredibly difficult to really isolate any single muscle.

Think the bench press is great a chest exercise? You’d be right. But it also works the shoulders and triceps. Squatting to grow your glutes? Good work. But you’re also hitting your quads and hamstrings. Oh, and you’re probably going to use your abs and forearms to some degree on all of the above.

When we’re talking about which muscles work best together, we need to look at more than just the muscles themselves, we need to look at the ‘movement patterns’ that work them in training. So, let’s take a look at some of the movement categories that’ll help us to better divide up our muscles.


Muscles worked: chest, shoulders, triceps.

Example exercises: push-ups, overhead press, bench press tricep extensions.


Muscles worked: lats, traps, rhomboids, biceps, rear delts, forearms

Example exercises: pull-ups, rows, shrugs, curls, face-pulls


Muscles worked: quads, hamstrings, glutes

Example exercises: back squats, front squats, split squats


Muscles worked: hamstrings, glutes, back, forearms

Example exercises: Barbell deadlift, kettlebell swings, Romanian deadlift


Which muscles best work together?

Now we know that we can split our muscles up by more than just what we can see in the mirror, and that what each muscle does is just as important as where it is, we can now get down to the nitty-gritty of which muscle groups and movements go together.

Antagonistic training

Antagonistic training involves pairing up ‘opposing’ muscle groups. These are muscles that, generally speaking, perform the opposite movements. Think pushing versus pulling. Alternating between opposing movements or body parts means that while one muscle group is working, the opposing muscle group is resting. This can lead to quicker recovery times between exercises, reduce overall muscle fatigue during the session and help to make your workouts more efficient.

Example muscles/ movements to pair:

  • Pushing/pulling
  • Squatting/hinging
  • Chest/back
  • Biceps/triceps
  • Shoulders/back
  • Quad/hamstrings

Complimentary Training

Complimentary training is similar to antagonistic training but pairs a large muscle group or movement with a smaller but opposing movement of lesser intensity. This gives you the same work/ rest advantages as antagonistic training, but allows you to really focus on one movement by lowering the intensity of the other. It’s also a great way to sneak in smaller, accessory movements or muscles between bigger, harder efforts. For instance, pairing a heavy bench press with a bicep curl is a great way to add in some arm volume while also allowing your chest to recover for longer without compromising your performance on either movement.

Example muscles to pair:

  • Shoulders/biceps
  • Back/triceps
  • Quads/calves
  • Hamstrings/abs
  • Chest/biceps

Upper/lower training

As the name suggests, you’ll be pairing up upper body and lower body movements. While these pairings are perfect for allowing the resting muscle group to recover adequately, they also have the bonus effect of majorly ramping up your metabolism by forcing your heart to work double time pumping blood back and forth from your extremities. This effect is known as peripheral heart action training, and while it’s perfect for ramping up your calorie burn and increasing your fitness, be warned: it’s not easy.

Example muscles/ movements to pair:

  • Squats/presses
  • Rows/deadlifts
  • Back/quads
  • Shoulders/hamstrings

Pre exhaust or synergistic muscle group training

Pre exhaust training involves pairing movements that use the same or similar muscle groups, also known as synergistic muscles, in order to maximise fatigue and blast the target muscle groups with intensity. You can either hit a smaller supporting muscle group first, forcing the larger muscle group you follow up with to work harder, or begin with a larger muscle before moving into an easier accessory movement utilising similar muscles in order to keep working even as fatigue sets in. An example would be hitting tricep press-downs before the bench press in order to fatigue the triceps and better target the chest, or hitting press-downs after the bench press in order to keep frying those triceps.

Example muscles/ movements to pair:

  • Back/biceps
  • Chest/triceps
  • Shoulders/triceps/chest
  • Squats/lunges
  • Pushing movements
  • Pulling movements

How many sets and exercises should I perform for each muscle group?

While studies on the optimal amount of sets to perform each week for muscle growth are often conflicting, somewhere around the 20-30 sets per body part range seems to be sweet spot. These can be spread throughout the week depending on your training schedule and should be spread across a variety of movements for each body part. It’s worth noting that although quantity matters, quality is far more important. Taking each set to within at least 3 reps of failure (the point at which you cannot perform anymore reps) is vital for those sets to be effective, as well as choosing big, compound exercises that allow you to shift more weight than smaller, single-joint accessory movements.

With that being said, to maintain a high level of intensity throughout your sessions, you may have to use slightly easier exercises towards the end as you begin to fatigue, so ensure you hit those heavy squats, presses and deadlifts early on in your workout.

What training split is best?

You can choose from the following training splits to suit your schedule and preferences. Make sure you individualise it to suit your needs and take rest days when your body needs them:

How many times a week should I be training each muscle?

Research on exactly how many times per week you should be hitting each body part is conflicting at best and confusing at worst. But most experts seem to agree that hitting each muscle at least two times per week is more optimal for muscle-gain than the traditional once-a-week-bro-split that’s common in the weights room.

However, as we’ve already discovered, training muscle groups and movement patterns – as well as using big compound exercises – turns this on its head a little bit, as even if you do split your training up into individual body-parts, chances are you’re still going to hit them more than once per week incidentally. For instance, you might train your shoulders on Monday, but if you’re bench pressing for your chest on Wednesday, your shoulders are going to come into play again. That’s not to mention the fact that your triceps are going to be working on both of those days, before you’ve even made it to your dedicated arm day.


With that in mind, not only does training individual body parts once per week make no sense, it’s also pretty difficult to achieve, logistically. The best place to start when organising your training split across the week is by asking how many days per week you have to spend in the gym, then figuring out the most efficient way to hit each body part, at least twice per week, in the days you have.

Here’s a cheat-sheet to help you do the maths:

Training one day per week


It goes without saying that if you can only make it to the gym once each week you need to be hitting all of your major movement patterns (pushing, pulling, squatting and hinging) with big compound exercises such as squats, deadlifts, presses and pull-ups.

If you can supplement this training with some at-home bodyweight training throughout the week, you should consider it. Daily push-ups, pull-ups and squats go along way when it comes to building muscle and fitness.

Training two days per week


Again, in order to make sure you’re covering everything, twice a week, you need to ensure you’re hitting your whole body in each session. But with two-days to play with you can afford to break it down a little further. For instance, for your pushing muscles you may choose to bias your shoulders on Monday with some overhead pressing, but then hit your chest on Thursday with some bench press. For legs you may choose to squat on day one, but lunge on day two. This will add some much needed muscle-building variety.

Training three days per week


With three days to play with you may choose to stick to a full-body plan, but spread your total sets out throughout the week and add even more variety to your training regimen. You could even alternate between a heavy day, a light day and somewhere in between, for each different muscle-group. For example, you could focus on heavy lifting for your chest and shoulders in one session while keeping it light for your legs and back. Then, on the next day, switch it up with heavy squats and lighter work for your upper body. This will allow you to still hit your entire body while focussing some hard and heavy attention in one area, each session.

Upper/ Lower

An upper/lower split does exactly what it says on the tin. On one session you’ll focus on the muscles of your upper body, then in the next, your legs. On the third day you’ll cycle back to upper body, but on the first day of the next week it will be legs again. By simply alternating back and forth between upper and lower, you’ll be spreading the work evenly, and although you won’t always be hitting each body part two times per week, you’ll still be hitting your whole body six times every four weeks. Ideal.

Upper/lower training also allows you to concentrate all of your efforts into one area, which can be beneficial. It’s hard to go all out on a set of squats when you know you’ve still got heavy bench press and pull-ups to come. By spreading your big lifts across the week you’re able to hit them more intensity, vital for muscle growth.


Training four days per week


Over four days, full-body training becomes a much more strategic affair. You’ll be able to pick and prioritise one big movement pattern each session before hitting the others. For instance, you may pick one heavy compound lift for each body part and spread them across the week, then hit the other body parts with slightly lower intensity movements on the other days. For example, on Monday you may hit heavy squats, followed by moderate chest and back movements and light hinging movements. Then, on Tuesday, you’ll go heavy on the chest, with moderate back and hinging movements and a light set of legs to finish. This type of prioritising allows you to spread you total volume over the week, but still hit each body part hard once a week.

Upper/ Lower

Alternating between upper and lower as above, but with the extra day of training you can be assured you’re hitting each body part and muscle-group twice a week. With an extra day of training to play with, you can also get more creative with your exercises, adding in some more variety, or alternating between heavy weight and high rep days.

Push/ Pull/ Lower

Dividing your body up into pushing, pulling and lower body movement patterns in this manner may mean you don’t hit each body part twice per week, but it does allow you to hit each body part with a laser focus. And, by cycling the three days over four sessions every week, you’ll still hit every muscle group five times a month. Does the science say it’s optimal? No. Do plenty of people still make huge gains from this style of training? Definitely.

Your pushing days should focus on the muscles of your chest, shoulders and triceps; pulling days on your back and biceps; and lower days on movements such as squats, deadlifts and lunges for those legs.

How many rest days a week do I need?

While it may sound like a good idea to train as much as possible with no rest to increase those gains, you absolutely need rest days for adequate recovery. Without enough rest between sessions, you’ll find your energy levels plummeting and performance suffering, and ultimately, you won’t get the results you’ve been working hard for. So alternating sessions between upper, lower and full-body is a good way to ensure enough recovery alongside at least 1-2 full rest days a week. While overtraining is rare for the majority, you’ll notice if you’re not getting enough rest if you experience:

  • Persistently achey muscles and joints
  • New injuries and old injury flare-ups
  • Poor sleep
  • A dip in training performance
  • Persistently elevated appetite

This article originally appeared on Men’s Health UK.

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