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What Muscle Groups Are Best to Work Out Together

Chest and Back, Bis and Tris, Back and Biceps, Upper / Lower Splits, Full Body workouts. There are a multitude of ways to train the body, and, to make matters more complicated, they can all be effective for building strength, losing fat, and getting results during your transformation challenge.


Experienced gym goers have likely found the best training split that keeps them motivated, fits into their schedule, and provides a great balance of stimulus to recovery. For those of us that are just beginning our fitness journey (or returning to it after a long layoff), figuring out what muscle groups are best to work out together can be confusing, especially with the information overload we have these days between fitness blogs, social media, and YouTube.


The solution depends on a multitude of factors, including how many day a week you want to train, what your goals are, what equipment you have access to, and what type of workout program you enjoy.


Obviously, that’s a lot to consider, but don’t worry -- we got you!


How Should I Split My Training?


Traditional gym culture over the past four or five decades (basically since Arnold released his Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding) has built training splits based around specific muscle groups -- chest, back, quads, hamstrings, biceps, triceps, calves, and abs. This has led to various workout programs built around body part splits -- chest & tris, back & bi, chest and back, shoulders and arms, etc.


But, once you actually start performing different exercises, you’ll realize that it’s not entirely possible to completely isolate a muscle group (nor would you really want to). For instance, while the push up is considered a “chest” exercise, it also trains other muscles involved in “pushing”, including the triceps and anterior deltoids. The core, glutes, and quads are also involved as they help to create the rigid plank that’s necessary to perform a proper push up.


Similarly, squats are primarily thought of as an exercise for strengthening the quads, but the glutes also play an important role in the execution of the exercise (as are the abs and upper back, depending on which squat variation you’re performing).


What this means is then when you’re looking at which muscles work best together, it’s important to consider not just the muscles, but what movement patterns are involved. Here’s a breakdown of the primary movement patterns involved in resistance training:


  • Pushing: Chest, shoulders and triceps
  • Pulling: Back (lats, rhomboids, traps) and biceps
  • Squatting: Quadriceps and glutes
  • Hingeing: Hamstrings and glutes


Which Muscle Groups Are Best to Work Out Together?


Now that we know which muscles work together during various types of exercises, let’s look at a few different ways to group different muscle groups together to create an effective workout program.


Agonist-Antagonist Training


Antagonist training (also called antagonist supersets) involve training opposing muscle groups. The most common examples of this are chest and back workouts and biceps and triceps workouts (pushing/pulling).


The benefit of antagonist training is that it helps you to save time on training without sacrificing your ability to push hard. Basically, you are able to train one muscle group while the other rests since the muscles involved in upper body pushing exercises (chest, shoulders, and triceps) can recover while performing upper body pulling exercises (back and biceps).


This style of training is great for those short on time, and want an efficient training program to gain muscle and strength. Antagonist training also generally leads to a higher calorie burn during workouts, since the rest intervals are typically shorter compared to traditional straight set workouts.


Last, but not least, antagonist supersets also create an amazing muscle pump as more blood and nutrients are shuttled to the muscles, especially when coupled with shorter rest periods, higher reps, and a great pre workout supplement.


Some of our favorite antagonist supersets are:


  • Chin ups & dips
  • Inverted rows & push ups
  • Rope curls & rope push downs
  • Goblet squats and leg curls


Complimentary Training


Complimentary training is similar to antagonistic training, but instead of pairing muscle groups that directly oppose each other (chest & back, for example), it pairs a large muscle group or compound exercise with a smaller muscle group or isolation exercise.


An example of a complimentary training superset, would be push ups followed by hammer curls or chest supported rows followed by pushdowns.


You’re able to accomplish more total training volume in a shorter amount of time, but instead of pairing to compound exercises (dips and pull ups), you’re able to really focus on heavy compounds for a bigger (more exhausting) muscle group and a less intense exercise for a smaller muscle group.


Complimentary training helps you to sneak in more accessory work without having to spend too long in the gym.


Synergist Training


Synergist training involves training muscles that work together to perform a movement. For example, when training the bench press, the shoulders and triceps are also involved. So on your “push” day, you want to perform exercises that address the pecs, deltoids, and triceps.


An example push training session, could include:


  • 3 sets bench press
  • 3 sets dumbbell overhead press
  • 3 sets chest flies
  • 3 sets side laterals
  • 3 sets triceps extensions


If this type of training sounds familiar, it’s because Push/Pull/Legs is one of the most popular synergist training splits, especially among physique competitors. Aside from training muscles that naturally work together, synergist training opens up the possibility for more frequent training, especially compared to the traditional bro split where you only train one muscle group each day.


Higher frequency can allow for greater training volume per week, which supports greater muscle and strength development.


Upper/Lower Training Split


Upper/Lower splits divide your workouts between the upper body and lower body. So, an upper body day would typically include at least one exercise each for the chest, shoulders, back, biceps, and triceps. Given that the back isn’t just a single muscle group, most individuals will perform two different exercises for their back (e.g. pull ups and rows).


One drawback for the upper/lower split is that a single workout hits many different muscle groups, which can lengthen the duration of workouts and/or lead to lots of systemic fatigue (which could cause performance dropoff late in the workout).


One way around this is to emphasize compound exercises as opposed to isolation exercises as those recruit large amounts of muscle. For example, incline dumbbell presses hit the chest, shoulders, and triceps effectively. But, performing lots of compound exercises with a high amount of intensity is incredibly stressful to the body.


So, these are some of the factors to keep in mind when deciding on an upper/lower split.


Full Body


Full body workouts (as the name implies) work all of the body’s major muscle groups in a single workout. This split is great for individuals who are just beginning their fitness journey as it allows for more frequent practice of the fundamental movement patterns of resistance training.


As you get stronger, you may need more time to recover between sessions and may not be able to train a particular muscle group every other day (e.g. legs).


Still, full body training is great for people who can only hit the gym 2-3 days per week and need to get the most training “bang” for their limited time “buck.”


How Many Sets Should I Perform For Each Muscle Group?


Research shows that the greatest gains in hypertrophy (muscle growth) occur between 10-20 “hard” sets per week. A set is considered “hard” or challenging when it is taken within 1-3 repetitions of failure.


How Frequently Should I Train a Muscle Group?


Ideally, you would train each muscle group at least two times per week as research has shown that training a muscle group twice per week leads to better results than only training it once per week.


If you only have time to train a muscle one time per week, or prefer the traditional bro split where a muscle group is only trained one time per week, then make sure you are performing enough total volume (at least 8-10 sets).


What’s the Best Training Split?


As we mentioned up top, a lot of factors affect your decision about the “best” training split. One of those is personal preference. A top-tier trainer could give you the most perfectly optimized training and diet plan for your body type (not that there really is such a thing), but if you loathe the style of training or it leaves your body feeling wrecked, then the likelihood of you showing up consistently and giving it your best is minimal, which means you won’t get the results you really want.


So, personal preference is a BIG factor, but there are other things to consider, including how much time you can devote to training, your individual recovery, and your training experience/injury history.


If you’re just starting out, we’d suggest going with a full body or upper/lower split. As you gain more experience and strength, you can move to a synergist or complementary training split or a body part (“bro”) split.


For more help, you can download the 1UP Fitness App where we offer free customized training programs based on yourpreferences.


Last, but not least, to get the most from your training, you need to make sure your nutrition, recovery, and supplementation game is on point. We offer a premium line of tested supplements, including protein powders, pre workouts, and amino acid supplements to help you recover faster and train harder so that you can get the game-changing results you want from your time spent in the gym!


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