Knowing the major muscle groups and the weight lifting exercises that work each of these basic muscle groups is very important to improving your body.
As you'll find out, any good weight training program will focus on every prominent muscle group within your body.
Finding the best overall exercises will allow you to work every major muscle group in your body effectively and efficiently.
Today, I'm going to give you the most comprehensive guide to muscle groups in existence.
I'll tell you about each of the 11 major groups in detail and then provide you with the best exercises for each.
Building a Balanced Body Through All Major Muscle Groups
Building a balanced body through strength training and resistance training is very important.
This is often ignored by many people with a specific goal in mind so I want to make sure you are headed in the right direction today.
For example, you might be looking to see if the abdominals are a major muscle group because you're interested in getting better abs.
And maybe you ONLY want to work your abs. Or, you only want bigger arms or a bigger chest.
If that's your goal and you only want to work your arms or chest, this is not a good goal to have.
I simply want to make sure you know that building ALL major muscle groups throughout your body is EQUALLY important (for health and appearance reasons).
8 Reasons for Building a Balanced Body
Here are 8 reasons why you MUST focus on building a balanced body:
- Prevents injuries
- Symmetrical appearance that is more pleasing to the eyes
- Improved posture
- No muscle imbalances in size
- No muscle imbalances in strength
- Prevention of aches and pains
- Get stronger faster because all muscles are strong and contribute to overall strength
- Build muscle faster due to greater strength and targeting all major muscle groups
And that's only 8 benefits of working the major muscle groups equally.
There are many more benefits too. If you want to look your best and feel your best, you will concentrate on all 11 of the basic muscle groups.
Balance is Simply Better When Working All Major Muscle Groups
You may have seen men and women before with HUGE upper bodies and tiny lower bodies. It doesn't look good at all.
Those men and women are risking injury and many health issues because they are only working their upper bodies and forgetting about their lower body.
This will lead to many future problems!
Instead of heading down the wrong road, let's make sure you're headed in the right direction.
Running to Build Leg Muscles
Some people flat out refuse to work their lower body.
They believe that running or some other aerobic exercise is enough work for their lower body. This is 100% not true. I want to make sure you understand that I am not talking about sprinting but running for longer distances.
Your lower body needs the same attention as your upper body and vice versa.
Sure, the upper body includes most of the “show off” major muscle groups like the abs, chest, and biceps. You don't want to have a huge upper body and small legs.
It looks absolutely ridiculous. It really does.
In contrast, some women might only want to work their lower body to get better legs and a better butt and this is also not a good thing. The upper body is important too.
Wouldn't you rather have a balanced body that looks great everywhere? Symmetry is very important to your body.
Yes, the legs take hard work to develop for many people, but it's definitely worth the cost. Remember, those legs of yours are going to carry you around for the rest of your life.
Treat your lower body and upper body equally. Work your legs with the right weight lifting exercises.
Now, let's take a look at each of the 11 major muscle groups in detail.
The 11 Major Muscle Groups
There are 11 major muscle groups that you need to focus on.
Simply match the number below to the number in the body images you see to the right for each muscle group.
Below, I will be discussing each of the major muscle groups you see above in detail. Click the link above to go to each of the major muscle groups below.
There are 4 huge muscles that comprise the front of your thigh, and that's why this muscle group is called the ‘QUADS' or quadriceps.
The quadriceps are worked through exercises such as squats, lunges, barbell hack squats, and any other squat variations.
I personally don't recommend leg extensions or other isolation exercises as these just aren't as good. In certain situations, though, you may need these isolation exercises.
For example, you may be trying to bring up a lagging muscle and leg extensions might be perfect. Or, you are trying to strength the muscles around your knee due to an injury.
You need to be doing some form of squats unless you can't do them for some reason (injury is a good reason).
Quadriceps Muscle Details
The official name of this muscle is the “quadriceps femoris” and they are located in the front of your thighs.
This is a four headed muscle group (in no particular order):
- Vastus Lateralis
- Vastus Medialis
- Vastus Intermedius
- Rectus Femoris
The 3 “vastus” muscles originate on the femur bone and then attach to the patella (knee cap).
Then, the rectus femoris partially covers the 3 vastus muscles but also attaches to the patella or knee cap.
The rectus femoris muscle is different than the other 3 quadriceps muscles because it inserts into the hip bone.
One of the main functions of the quadriceps is to assist in extending the knee.
Best Quadriceps Exercises
Here's a list of the best quadriceps exercises to work this major muscle group:
- Low Bar Squat
- High Bar Squat
- Safety Bar Squat
- Bulgarian Squat
- Zercher Squat
- Goblet Squat
If you're looking for quadriceps isolation exercises, here's a couple:
- Terminal Knee Extension (TKE)
- Leg Extension
Remember, the best overall exercises are compound weight lifting exercises like the squat because you're going to work much more than just the quads.
The hamstrings are an often overlooked muscle group for some reason.
Maybe it's because you can't see them unless you use a mirror.
The hamstrings are the huge muscle group on the back of your thighs, and they are the biceps of the lower body. Many people never work them and get injuries because of this.
Hamstrings are used during squats, but you should give them even more attention with romanian deadlifts, stiff legged deadlifts, and even pull thru's.
If you really want to prevent injury and build a nice set of legs, you can't forget the hamstrings.
Hamstrings Major Muscle Groups Details
The hamstrings are actually called the “biceps femoris,” which happens to be a two headed muscle group.
This muscle is located on the back of your thighs.
There is a long head and a short head. The long head of the hamstrings muscle is attached to the ischium (back of the lower hip bone), but the short head attaches to the femur.
Knee flexion, hip extension, internal rotation, and external rotation are accomplished with the help of the hamstrings.
Best Hamstrings Exercises
Here's a list of the best overall hamstring exercises:
- Stiff Leg Deadlift
- Romanian Deadlift
- Low Bar Squat
- Barbell Deadlift
- Pull Thru
- Good Mornings
- Glute/Ham Raise
If you need to isolate the hamstrings due to a weakness in this muscle, here are a couple of exercises:
- Cable Kickbacks
- Kettlebell Swing
- Leg Curls
- Reverse Hyperextension
I would stick with the best overall exercises unless you really need the isolation exercises for a good reason.
The calves are probably the most ignored of the major muscle groups in the entire body.
I've seen HUGE bodybuilders walking around with tiny calves and they look absolutely ridiculous.
The calves are a very stubborn muscle group and can be very tough to build if you were born with bad calf genetics.
If your calves have bad genetics, I have good news for you. I've revealed all of my calf building secrets here: Bigger Calves.
One of the keys to building calves is to work each major muscle group in the calf area: the gastrocs, the soleus, and the tibialis anterior.
Calf Muscle Details
For purpose of this major muscle groups discussion, I am going to talk about the largest muscles in the lower leg (not just the “calf muscles”).
I'm doing this because there's one very important muscle in your lower leg that will really improve your calves.
Gatrocnemius and Soleus
The gastrocnemius is the largest of the calf muscles and this muscle has two heads. Together, a well developed set of calves form a diamond shape that looks amazing.
Besides the gastrocnemius, there is another muscle called the soleus (a flat muscle) and this muscle lies beneath the gastrocnemius.
The gastrocnemius and the soleus taper as they go down the lower leg and merge together at the base of of the calves. There they merge with the achilles tendon. From there, the achilles inserts into the calcaneus (heel bone).
Calf muscles help pull the heel upwards to allow movement forward.
I also want to take a minute to talk about the tibialis anterior muscle because this muscle is very important if you need to build balance in your lower legs.
This amazing muscle originates in the upper 2/3 of the lateral or outside surface of the tibia. From there, it inserts into the bones of the foot.
Its purpose is to dorsilfex and invert the foot meaning to lift your toes towards the sky. If you do this, feel the outside and front edge of your lower leg. You'll feel the tibialis anterior flex.
This is a huge muscle group in your lower leg as it's very thick and can bring a new level of muscularity in your legs.
Best Calves Exercises
Building the calves is a specialty of mine because I wasn't blessed with large and muscular calves. Here are the best exercises:
- Leg Press Calf Raises
- Standing Calf Raises
- Squat Raises
- Seated Calf Raises
- Reverse Calf Raises
The above calf exercises will really work all areas of your calves and build an amazingly nice set of calf muscles.
The chest is one of those ‘show off' major muscle groups for both men and women.
Many men spend their entire time at the gym working their chest several times per week.
Mondays are universal chest day throughout the world in gyms.
These people struggle year after year because all they do is bench press over and over again.
The chest is important BUT you should only work it as much as you do the other major muscle groups.
There are many different variations of the bench press that are great exercises. Push ups and dips are my most recommended chest exercise that you should be doing most of the time.
Chest Major Muscle Groups Details
The chest is also referred to as the pecs because the official muscle name of the chest is the pectoralis major and pectoralis minor muscle groups.
This is a huge muscle group in your upper chest that spreads across from the shoulders to the breastbone. This is repeated on both sides of your body.
Men want highly developed chests that are very evident, but women also want larger chest muscles as this pushes out the female breasts even though the muscle is hidden underneath.
The purpose of the pecs or chest muscle is to not only control movement of the arms in the vertical, lateral, and rotational planes but to also assist in the function of breathing.
Best Chest Exercises
One thing I would like to be clear about is the fact that the push up is a much better exercise than the bench press.
Push ups move your body through space, and you can do heavy weighted push ups by elevating your feet on a bench, placing a barbell in a power rack, and using a hip belt to place heavy weight around your chest.
Here's a list of the best chest exercises:
- Push Ups
- Bench Press
If you are trying to isolate your chest, here are a couple of isolation exercises:
- Chest Flyes
- Cable Crossovers
- Butterfly Machine
I highly recommend a combination of push ups and dips in your workout plan to build an amazing chest. These alone will build this huge major muscle group very well.
The back is a HUGE major muscle group; one of the biggest muscle groups in your body.
There are tons and tons of muscles in your back that need attention.
In most of the weight lifting programs you'll find at Weight Lifting Complete, you'll find exercises for back depth and back width.
Weight training exercises like deadlifts develop thickness in your back while rows work on both width and thickness. Pull up and chin up exercises work on making your back wider (in general).
Back Exercise Dangers
I hear so many people (including some doctors who have no idea and have never lifted weights) say that deadlifts are dangerous for your back.
This is simply not true. Use proper form and technique and your back will grow strong and powerful. Then, aches and pains from back injuries will never occur.
Back exercises like deadlifts will do much more good than harm. And, the doctors that tell people deadlifts are dangerous are doing more harm than good. This is true because that doctor is preventing people from doing one of the best overall exercises in existence.
What happens when you need to pick something heavy up in normal life? You end up injuring your back like so many other people because it's weak. You never did deadlifts or learned how to lift things with proper form and technique!
Deadlifts are a great exercise, and you should include them in your weight lifting program.
Back Muscle Details
Some people may include the trapezius as a back muscle, but it's so large that I've made it a separate major muscle group. So it's not included here in this section.
There are several large muscle groups in the back:
- Latissimus Dorsi
- Erector Spinae
- Teres Major
The latissimus dorsi are known as the “lats” and are a huge muscle and probably the most well known.
When large and developed, they look like wings on your back. They can also help your waist appear smaller as they are large at the upper part of the muscle and taper down as they lower down your back.
The erector spinae contribute to back thickness and are worked well during exercises like deadlifts. You can usually recognize someone who focuses on deadlifts as their “spinal erector” muscles will be well developed.
Rhomboids are underneath your traps but very important as they hold the scapula onto the ribcage and help retract the scapula.
Finally, the teres major is a smaller muscle group but very important as this muscle works in conjunction with the rotator cuff muscles.
Best Back Exercises
The back is one of the largest major muscle groups so it takes a good variety of exercise movements to work this muscle group:
- Chin Ups
- Pull Ups
There a HUGE number of exercise variations for the 4 weight lifting exercises shown above.
For example, single arm dumbbell rows are one of the best overall back exercises.
Here are a few isolation exercises to “isolate” the muscles in the back (even though you truly can't isolate them).
- Back Extension
- Straight Arm Pulldown
- Face Pulls
- Bent Arm Pullover
- Lat Pulldown
Deadlifts, rows, and chin ups will work all muscles within your back.
The shoulders are one of my favorite major muscle groups.
You've got the front deltiods, side deltoids, and rear deltoids that make up the shoulder muscle.
The overhead press is the best overall exercise for the shoulders as it works all 3 heads of the shoulder muscles WHEN the exercise is done with proper form and technique.
Many people have trouble with shoulder pain so it's very important to build strong shoulders and learn how to lift with proper form and technique.
Shoulders Major Muscle Groups Details
The largest shoulder muscle is the deltoid. This is a large triangle shaped muscle with 3 muscle heads:
- Front Deltoids
- Side Deltoids
- Rear Deltoids
Covering the glenohumeral joint, the deltoids have a rounded shape and stretch across the shoulder from the clavicle to the scapula. Your deltoids also stretch downwards to the humerous.
Raising the arms and assisting the pecs with their function is the goal of the deltoid muscle.
In other words, it's difficult to keep the shoulders from working hard when doing chest exercises.
Best Shoulder Exercises
There's really only one shoulder exercise that you need and that's the overhead press. But here's a list of some variations you can use.
- Handstand Push Ups
- Overhead Press
- Single Arm Overhead Press (my favorite)
- High Incline Bench Press
- Push Press
Now, you might want to work on improved muscle growth with your shoulders as this major muscle group adds to your appearance and symmetry greatly (wider shoulders make your waist appear smaller).
You can accomplish this with the following isolation exercises:
- Front Raises
- Side Lateral Raises
- Rear Lateral Raises
- Upright Rows
- Face Pulls
Your main focus for building your deltoids or shoulder muscles should be the overhead press.
The triceps are also an often overlooked muscle group.
Many men contact me about getting bigger arms.
Women ask me questions about firming up their arms because they are getting “saggy.”
Well, the triceps make up about 2/3 of the upper arm. Yet, most people want to work the biceps which only makes up about 1/3 of the upper arm.
My most highly recommended triceps exercises include reverse grip bench press, close grip bench press, and dips. I choose compound exercises over isolation exercises such as pushdowns.
Heavy weight equals better results. Compound exercises allow you to lift heavier weights and that's why I recommend compound exercises over isolation exercises for all of the major muscle groups.
Triceps Muscle Details
Your triceps are actually called the “triceps brachii” and are a large muscle group on the back of your upper arm.
The purpose of the triceps is to straighten your arms. So any exercise that straightens your arms is going to work the triceps!
This, as you may expect due to the “tri” in the name, is a 3-headed muscle group (long head, lateral head, medial head).
I love the triceps because they are an amazing muscle group when fully developed!
Best Triceps Exercises
Here's a list of the overall best triceps exercises:
- Bench Press
- Overhead Press
- Push Ups
If your triceps are a weakness, you can substitute exercises like the close grip bench press for your chest exercise. This will allow you to work your triceps with other muscle group exercises.
Here are some isolation exercises for the triceps brachii:
- Triceps Extensions (Skull Crushers)
- Bench Dips
- Close Grip Bench Press
- Reverse Grip Bench Press
You also don't want to over work your triceps as they are being used in many different exercise movements.
What can I say about the biceps as they are one of THE most popular muscle groups? Everyone knows where the biceps are located.
This amazing muscle group is the focus of many popular sayings like: “Suns Out Guns Out.”
The best compound exercise for the biceps is the close grip pull up with palms facing towards your body. Alternate dumbbell curls also allow you to lift heavy weights (probably the most of any type of curl exercise).
For example, I've used 80-pound dumbbells for alternate dumbbell curls and this also limits stress on your lower back compared to barbell curls.
The biceps get worked very hard during back exercises like rows, chin ups, and pull ups. So, you don't have to do a ton of biceps exercises like most people do. It's a waste of time to implement a huge number of curl variations into your weight lifting workouts.
Biceps Major Muscle Groups Details
The biceps are called the “biceps brachii” and are a 2-headed muscle group in the upper arm.
This major muscle group lies on the front of the upper arm and is located between the shoulder and the elbow as you most likely already know.
Both muscle heads (short head and long head) originate from the scapula and join together to form a single muscle belly at the upper forearm.
Flexing the forarm and supinating the forearm are the main functions of this big muscle group.
Best Biceps Exercises
The best biceps exercises are listed below:
- Chin Ups
- Pull Ups
Compound exercises as shown above really overload the biceps. For example, chin ups are an amazing biceps exercise.
If you want to isolate the biceps even more, you can do so with the exercises below:
- Barbell Curls
- Hammer Curls
- Concentration Curls
- Incline Curls
- Preacher Curls
Any type of curl exercise will isolate the biceps. I recommend heavy weights on chin ups, pull ups, and rows the most to build the biceps.
The forearms get worked during a large number of weightlifting exercises.
Simply holding onto and gripping barbells, dumbbells, and kettlebells during exercises help to increase forearm size and strength.
I do recommend pinwheel curls, hammer curls, and different types of wrist curls for your forearms.
The forearms are a very important muscle group that can limit the amount of weight you can lift in other exercises (without extra help).
Wrist straps can be used to help your grip strength, but I recommend you work on improving grip strength so you don't need to use wrist straps. Never let your forearms limit you on other exercises. Use straps if needed but work on forearm strength too.
Forearm Muscle Details
There are a very large number of muscles in your forearms (as you would believe due to your hands and fingers).
Some of these forearm muscles are listed below:
- Extensor Carpi Radialis Longus
- Flexor Carpi Radialis
- Abductor Pollicis Longus
There are anterior and posterior muscle groups in the forearm with different levels such as superficial, intermediate, and deep.
As you can see, the forearms are a very complex muscle group.
Best Forearms Exercises
Simply gripping heavy weight will work the forearms very well. This means they will be worked during many different resistance exercises.
- Chin Ups
- Holding Heavy Weight
- Farmer's Walk
You may not need any additional work for your forearms, but if you do, here are some isolation exercises for this complex major muscle group.
- Wrist Curls
- Reverse Wrist Curls
- Bicep Curls
- Pinwheel Curls
- Hammer Curls
- Zottman Curls (twisting weight as you lift)
Most people will be able to work the forearms very well with normal workouts and exercises. Some people over work them with all the curls they do in their quest to get bigger arms.
The trapezius or ‘traps' for short is the huge upper back muscle that makes a triangle shape with the point in the middle of your upper back.
Many people forget about this awesome muscle group and don't even include it in the list of major muscle groups. Sometimes it's included as part of the back as a muscle group.
The traps get worked very hard during deadlifts but the best and only exercise you need for the traps is the power shrug. I don't even include a specific trap exercise in most weight lifting programs I design because deadlifts work them so well.
Trapezius Major Muscle Groups Details
The traps are responsible for moving, rotating, and stabilizing the scapula or shoulder blades. Extending the head at the nexk is another function of this huge muscle group.
This muscle group is a superficial muscle (meaning you can see it and feel it against your skin) that is very wide and flat.
You can see the trapezius muscle covering most of the upper back and the back of your neck. It's shape is similar to a triangle.
Best Trapezius Exercises
As already discussed, the best overall exercise for the trapezius muscle is the power shrug, but that's definitely not the only one that works this muscle group.
- Power Shrug
- Overhead Press
- Overhead Squat
- Farmer's Walk
- Rack Pulls
- Chin Ups
If your traps need work, use power shrugs to build them fast. Here are some additional isolation exercises for the traps.
- Shrugs (all variations)
- Side Dumbbell Raises
- Face Pulls
- Side Lateral Raise
- Upright Rows
The abs are probably the most popular of all major muscle groups that doesn't need very much specific work AT ALL unless you have a muscle size weakness.
When doing big compound exercises, the abs are forced to get stronger so they usually aren't weak if you're lifting weights properly.
You only know if you have a muscle size weakness in your abs when your body fat percentage is low enough.
Most people have very nice abs under the layers of body fat. When your body fat is low enough to see your abs, then you'll see that six pack.
Getting Six Pack Abs
Ab exercises like crunches are almost worthless for getting a six pack.
Ab exercises do not burn fat around the abs. I don't even bother with adding ab exercises to many of the weight training programs you'll find here as they are a waste of time compared to other exercises.
If you're using compound weight lifting exercises like squats, deadlifts, overhead press, rows, and pull ups, your core strength will increase. Your abs will be very strong.
In other words, doing heavy squats works your abs and increases ab strength more than any ab exercise!
Eating healthy and being consistent with your cardio workouts will get you a six pack. Ab exercises like crunches won't.
Abdominals Muscle Details
The abs are also a very complex major muscle group.
There are several muscle groups within the abdominals:
- Rectus Abdominis
- External Obliques
- Internal Obliques
- Transversus Abdominis
The rectus abdominis is the most popular muscle in your abs as this is the one that gives the six-pack look.
Best Ab Exercises
Again, your abs are greatly worked in all of the exercises below. You will have a strong and balanced body when you do a combination of the best overall exercises.
- Chin Ups
- Overhead Press
- Push Ups
If you truly have an ab weakness, you can work them with the following ab exercises:
- Ab Wheel (this is a great ab exercise)
- Weighted Cable Crunches
- Sit Ups
- Leg Raises
- Knee Raises
- Weighted Planks (start of push up position)
If you're looking for other ab exercises, you'll find a HUGE number of them all over the internet. You won't find all those silly ab exercises here as I just don't believe in them. They are a waste of time compared to the ones listed here.
Major Muscle Groups Chart
If you're looking for a large major muscle groups chart that you can put on your wall in your home gym, here's a good one:
You can decorate your gym walls with charts like the one above. Many of these muscle charts and exercise charts are very helpful. Hope you like it.
Lagging Major Muscle Groups and Weaknesses
The 7 core weight lifting exercises are included in every weight lifting workout plan that you'll find here at Weight Lifting Complete:
- Push Up
- Overhead Press
- Chin Up
If you work on getting really strong on those 7 exercises, you will build a strong and balanced body.
These 7 weight lifting exercises will work ALL 11 major muscle groups. And not just the major muscle groups, but all skeletal muscle throughout your entire body!
Isn't it great to know that you can work your entire body very well with just those 7 exercises?
Major Muscle Groups Size Weakness
Most people will have some muscle size weaknesses (not necessarily strength weaknesses) that need to be worked on in order to improve the appearance of the major muscle groups.
For example, my calves were always a weakness of mine. They were very strong, but small compared to my thighs and upper body.
In order to bring up a weakness in a major muscle group, you simply prioritize that particular muscle group.
Your plan will depend on the muscle group. For instance, calves are easy to prioritize. Simply add a standing calf raise, a seated calf raise, a squat raise, and a reverse calf raise to your program. You can do those exercises in between sets of other exercises (active rest).
If the biceps are a weakness, you should change your pull up or chin up exercise to close grip chin ups. Then, add some alternate dumbbells curls to your program. Work on getting really strong on those 2 exercises and your biceps will improve greatly.
Weaknesses Within Major Muscle Groups (Different Sides of Your Body)
Some people may have strength or size weaknesses between left and right sides of their body.
This is where single arm or single leg exercises will correct any weaknesses or imbalances between sides of your body.
Dumbbell exercises are amazing for correcting size and strength differences.
For instance, do lunges or split squats to correct imbalances between legs. This forces each leg to work independently. Do the same weight and reps for each leg.
Another example is the overhead press for your shoulders. If one side is stronger than the other, a barbell overhead press can make the imbalance even worse as the strong side can take over.
Use a single arm overhead press with a dumbbell to correct this. When you go back to the barbell overhead press after correcting this imbalance, you will be even stronger!
Always Include the 7 Core Weight Lifting Exercises To Work All Major Muscle Groups
Exercise selection is very important in improving major muscle groups.
You should always have your core exercises, but you can use variations of these exercises to improve weaknesses in muscles.
For example, if the chest is a major strength for you but the back muscle is not, lower the number of sets you do for your chest and add sets or exercises for your back. Then, work your back with a larger variety of exercises.
Bringing up lagging muscle groups takes time, but this will work.
Conclusion to Major Muscle Groups
I hope you have enjoyed this page on major muscle groups as much as I did writing it.
Building muscle is lots of fun when you know how to do it.
Some of this stuff is complicated, but I am always here to answer your questions.
You can email me (firstname.lastname@example.org), or you can leave your comments and questions in the comments section below.
I wish you the best in your quest to build muscle throughout all 11 major muscle groups!