How to group your muscles to get the most beneficial session for you.
Look, you already know that in order to have an all-over-strong and functional body, it’s important to train all of our muscles. That means not neglecting our chest workouts in favour of leg day every day, or only ever doing push movements without hitting any pull exercises.
But with so many muscles in the body, how do you factor all of them in? That’s where muscle grouping comes into play.
You can read about the reasons we train with a workout split here (the basics is that it makes it more streamlined and easier to build muscle). So while it’s all well and good saying that it’s good to focus on different muscles on different days, choosing which body parts go together is also crucial.
That’s why we turned to Emma Obayuvana, member of the Strong Women Collective and athlete and personal trainer Kerry Dixon for the low down. Here, they share their expert advice on muscle grouping and workout splits.
What muscle groups should you train together?
“If you are someone who is new to the gym, it’s best to focus on doing full-body, compound workouts. This is so that you get your nervous system, your muscles and your body ready for training. Equally, if you’re strapped for time, you can hit all the muscle groups in one go.
However, if you’ve got the luxury of experience or a number of days in the week that you can train, then you’ve got more opportunities to split your workout. So, with that in mind, it’s best to pick one major body part and supplement with a smaller but complementary body part. For example, a major muscle group is chest while triceps are a smaller muscle group. As we use pushing variations to train both of these, they are complementary to each other in a way that training chest with, say, calves wouldn’t be.
I would say we should be grouping muscles when we are training three or more times a week. In that instance, you might focus on legs, push, pull. This way it just gives each session a real purpose and each muscle group is trained with a high volume once a week.”
“When you train specific body parts together, it’s because you are trying to grow specific muscle mass. Isolating muscle groups will focus on building muscle, whereas if you’re focusing on performance or fitness, you can work all the muscle groups together in compound movements.
As an athlete, we would find two full-body days in the gym the most effective for our performance. We’d focus these on powerful moves like cleans, squats, deadlifts. And you would superset these moves so that the full body was working together. This total body approach works for people who don’t have time to go to the gym four or five times a week, too and it also gives you time to recover and actually benefit from the workout as well.
If you do that, I’d do five to six main exercises that target big muscle groups for three to four sets and anything from eight to 12 reps. That way you’re training most of the muscle groups over the week.”
What is the best five day workout split?
“Your workout split is always personal depending on what your goals are. But I’d say a good way to divide up muscle groups is push (so chest and shoulder exercises), pull (so back and bicep exercises), squat movements and hinge movements (these are things like deadlifts). Your fifth workout could then be tailored to you: maybe it’s a run if that’s what you want to get better at. Or it could be another push day if your goal is to nail your press-ups – just make sure you’ve had enough recovery days between the two similar workouts.”
“This is when a push-pull routine works really well. You can split it into lower body push, upper body push, lower body pull, upper body pull. Then you can really target those specific muscle groups while still working on compound lifts. I’d say it’s also important to remember that we need to add core work into our routine; a lot of the time the strength for your moves comes from your trunk rather than the direct source. I’d add in a couple of core moves to each training session to build that strength up.”
You may also like
Strength training: how many times a week should you lift weights?
Should you workout each muscle individually?
“A bodybuilding split might encourage some people to train every day targeting very specific muscle groups, like one arm day, one back day, one glutes day, etc. You can do this, but it isn’t strength driven, it’s aesthetic driven. I’d say that if strength and fitness is your goal, then it’s not the best way to do things.”
“I don’t feel personally that you need to really hone in on specific muscle groups unless you trying to grow the muscle mass. You might also want to do that if trying to rehab an injury or have a particular weakness you need to work on. Otherwise if you spend too long working a particular area you can cause injury, damage and weakness. You have to really know what you’re doing to train this specifically.”
Follow @StrongWomenUK on Instagram for the latest workouts, delicious recipes and motivation from your favourite fitness experts.
Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).