Muscle building is a complex matter. First, because you have to find the perfect combination of training, rest, and correct nutrition. But above all, because training is a science.
There is an almost unmanageable amount of exercises for each muscle group. However, to create your own training plans or using the split training method, a basic understanding of the structure and functions of the individual muscle groups is necessary.
We, therefore, divide our body into six major zones and go into each one so you know exactly which training is best for which muscles.
All about the back muscles
Exercises such as pull-ups, rowing, or cross lifting are among the most popular ones. The reason is obvious: the back muscles are huge and success is quickly visible. Many strength athletes want to shine with a “wide cross”, but women and hobby athletes are often put off by this. Back training can, but does not automatically lead to a huge “bull neck”.
Back training is also important for women and fitness-conscious athletes and should be an integral part of the training plan. It strengthens the back muscles and thus prevents back pain and posture problems. Especially for people who spend a lot of time sitting, e.g. in the office, training for the back is a sensible option. It is important that they perform all exercises correctly. There is hardly any other muscle group where the risk of injury because of poor execution is as omnipresent as in back training.
Roughly, we can divide your back into the upper and lower back. We can further subdivide the upper back into the neck and big back muscles, while the lower back comprises the so-called back extensors.
Especially when doing exercises for the upper back, you train all muscles. With certain exercises, you can also concentrate on certain areas to iron out problem zones.
Probably the most frequently trained and also the largest muscle of the back, which runs from the trunk to the armpit. The latissimus is the largest muscle of the human body in terms of area and comprises four parts (spine, ribs, ilium and shoulder blade), all of which you should train specifically, both in width and depth. We mainly use this large back muscle for pulling exercises. The most effective (and most popular) exercises for a broad latissimus are lat pulls and pull-ups, for the depth, barbell rowing or rowing on a cable are suitable.
The human neck is called the trapezius muscle because of its characteristic shape comprising two triangles, which resembles a trapezium, and because of its position, it is often called the hooded muscle. It consists of three parts, the upper, middle, and lower trapezius muscle, and is responsible for various movements, such as turning the shoulder blade sideways and upwards, rotating the head and stretching the cervical spine. The trapezius is best trained with rowing exercises or shrugs.
The back extensors form the lower part of your back and are a group of muscles that all serve the purpose of stretching, tilting, or rotating your spine. The back extenders run along the spine and are barely visible even after regular training, which is why they are often neglected in the weekly training rhythm. This is a mistake, as the lower back guarantees the required stability for many other exercises.
One of the best exercises for the back extensors is the deadlift, which is one of the three basic exercises of weight training, along with the bench press and squats. Especially for beginners, fitness experts recommend a back extension exercise in one of its many variations.
All about the abdominal muscles
You want a washboard, but all you see in the mirror is a beer gut? Then you’re like a lot of other athletes. Because steel-hard abs result from hard work and disciplined nutrition. Only if you follow both components rightly, you can boast your six-pack. Here we show you how to get your tummy in the best shape.
The abdominal area comprises several muscles, which all need to be worked on. For this purpose, it makes sense to divide the large area “abdomen” into different individual regions and to train them specifically, just like with other muscle groups.
Anatomically, we differentiate between front, side, and rear abdominal wall muscles. For muscle building training, however, a functional division makes more sense, as the rear, deep-lying abdominal muscles, for example, may not be trained separately. We can, therefore, distinguish between upper, lateral, and lower abdominal muscles.
Upper abdominal muscles
This area describes the upper part of the front abdominal wall muscles, which comprise the straight abdominal muscle and the pyramidal muscle. With these, you can bend your upper body forward. The upper abdominal muscles are the target of most known abdominal exercises, such as crunches or sit-ups.
Lower abdominal muscles
The lower abdominal muscles are the lower part of the front abdominal wall muscles that we need to lift the pelvis forward. We often neglect the training of the lower abdominal muscles, resulting in a small “swimming ring” over the pelvis. Unlike the upper abdominal muscles, you do not train the lower ones by lifting the trunk, but preferably by lifting the legs. Popular exercises are leg or knee lifting, jackknife or the beetle.
Lateral abdominal muscles
The oblique, lateral abdominal muscles are located to the left and right of the “six-pack” and are responsible for the lateral flexion and rotation of your upper body. You should train them with crunches, lateral bending, or lateral leg or knee lifting. No matter which exercises you do for abdominal muscle training, you train all areas of the abdominal muscles. Certain exercises, however, work some areas more than others, which allows you to focus on details and problem areas of your abdominal muscles.
It is also important to know that the best training does not replace a low-calorie, balanced diet in muscle building. Even the most beautiful abdominal muscles are of little use to you if they ripen under a thick layer of fat.
All about leg muscles
Do I need to train my leg muscles? Many people think it’s not required. Our legs stay hidden under long trousers most of the time, we are on our feet all day, climb stairs and therefore strain our muscles enough. Maybe you even go jogging or play football? Still, it’s not enough! Why not? Let us explain.
Muscle building is also about body symmetry, and you can forget about it without muscular legs. The negative examples are widespread on relevant websites and social networks, photos of bodybuilders with massive shoulders, brute arms, but tiny legs. Besides, if you train your leg muscles, you also train your buttocks.
Leg training is also indispensable in sports. If you want to manage heavyweights, you need a strong foundation, a base. For other sports, such as cycling, swimming, boxing or dancing, fit legs are also a must. So you should not skip your leg day but focus more on your legs.
Leg training is strenuous and sweaty, the subsequent muscle ache is brutal. This is because your legs are made up of some of the largest muscles in your body, so you have to work them with heavyweights and complex compound exercises if they are to grow. You can divide your legs into four major muscle groups:
The quadriceps, also known as the “leg extensor”, is the large muscle on the front of your thigh comprising four heads. The four heads are the straight muscle and the outer, middle, and middle broad muscle of the thigh.
The quadriceps are among the skeletal muscles important for active movement and are mainly responsible for stretching the knee joint and, to some extent, for bending the hip joint.
Squats, leg presses, lunges and leg extension on the machine are therefore particularly effective for building up the quadriceps.
The biceps femoris (part of your hamstring muscles) is the two-headed muscle on the back of your thighs and comprises the medial and lateral head. The leg biceps also belong to the skeletal muscles and primarily allow you to bend the knee joint, stretch and rotate the hip joint externally, to turn your legs.
Squats and leg presses are also suitable for leg biceps, as your knee joints are not only stretched but also bent during both exercises. The leg curl machine and hyperextensions (back stretching) are also recommended.
The large gluteal muscle, together with the medium and small gluteal muscle, forms the buttocks. This should be firm and crisp for men and women alike. For this to be possible, the large gluteal muscle, in particular, must be trained effectively. It covers its two smaller partners and is one of the strongest and, in terms of volume, the largest muscle in the human body.
One of the most important tasks of the large gluteal muscle is the extension of the hip joint, without which an upright gait would be impossible. It also stabilizes the thigh during stretching, stretches the upper body out of the bend (e.g. when standing up), can spread the legs, bring them together and rotate them outwards and helps when climbing stairs. A well-trained bottom is therefore not only sexy but also useful.
The best exercises for building these muscles are squats, leg presses, and lunges.
The gastrocnemius or the two-headed calf muscle and the soleus muscle are located on the back of your lower legs. It is mainly responsible for lifting and lowering your foot and also for the flexion of the knee joint, the supination of the foot (lifting the inner and lowering the outer side) and the inner rotation of your lower legs.
The calf has an important role to play in activities such as walking, running, sprinting or cycling because it stretches the foot in all these tasks. The calf muscles decide how much power is ultimately transferred to your ankle.
The best and basically the only exercise for building up the calf muscles is the calf raise. Fortunately, there are countless variations of this, with or without weight, on the stairs, on the machine, etc., so that training does not become boring.
All about the arm muscles
A strong arm is considered male. No wonder that biceps are probably the most trained muscle of all. And women also like to have defined and firm upper arms. What many don’t know is that the triceps play an even greater role in the circumference of the upper arm. With its three heads, it makes up a large part of the arm circumference. So for building arms, train biceps and triceps equally hard.
Many people also neglect the forearm. Regular forearm training increases the grip and stability of your whole arm during heavy pulling and pushing exercises.
And ladies? Well, regular arm training is worthwhile for you too. Even if you don’t want arms like logs, repetitive sets with low weights can give you a sporty look and tight skin.
We divide the body zone “arms” into three muscle groups:
The biceps, also known as the two-headed arm flexor, is a skeletal muscle at the front of your upper arm and comprises two muscle heads, the short and the long head.
The biceps are mainly responsible for bending the arm over the elbow joint and are therefore used for pulling exercises. But you also need it for the rotation of the forearm. In addition, it is involved in many other movements of the arm, often working together with its synergist (partner muscle), the brachialis.
Curls are suitable for training your arm and probably the best known are the so-called biceps curls, of which there are countless variations, whether with a dumbbell or barbell, machine, cable or strap.
The three-headed arm extender (“triceps”) is located on the back of your upper arm, opposite your biceps. It is composed of the long, medial and lateral head and is mainly responsible for stretching your arm over the elbow joint, which is why it is mainly used for push exercises. To train all three triceps heads optimally, a whole range of different exercises is necessary. The most popular are triceps pushing, push-ups, dips, and tricep stretching.
The forearm is made up of many individual muscles that can be divided into two groups, the flexors on the inside of the forearm and the extensors on the outside. Both groups each comprise numerous small and large muscles, all of which are responsible for the movements of the wrist and, sometimes, the elbow joint. The flexors of the forearm are optimally trained by bending the wrist, e.g. with all variations of the forearm curl. The best way to work on the extensor is with reverse or hammer curls.
All about the chest muscles
The chest is one of the most trained muscle groups of all, which is also because one of the most effective exercises for the chest is the popular bench press. A full, hard chest is a visual sign of regular training, vitality, and virility. But chest training should also be an important part of women’s workouts – it strengthens the entire upper body, burns many calories and tightens the skin on the arms.
The large pectoral muscle usually referred to as the “chest” in training, is a large skeletal muscle that covers almost the entire part of your upper body above your ribs. It is responsible for the adduction of the arms (pulling towards the body, as in the butterfly movement), the anteversion (pulling forward) and the internal rotation. It is mainly used for push exercises.
In principle, exercises for the chest, train the entire large chest muscle, but because of the size of the muscle, it is possible and even advisable to focus on specific regions by varying the load angle of the exercise. For example, the incline bench press targets the upper part of the chest muscle, while the negative bench press targets the lower part.
To guarantee you the most efficient training possible, we divide the large chest muscle into three parts, the upper, middle, and lower chest, and recommend the appropriate exercise for each of these areas.
The so-called subclavius muscle, which runs from the upper chest to the back, is also counted as part of the chest. It is mainly responsible for the movement of the shoulder blade, which allows you to move your arms far up and even to your back.
The upper oblique muscle fibers around the collarbone part of the large pectoral muscle are called the upper chest. This area is best trained with exercises in the inclined position, such as incline bench press, flying on the incline bench or negative push-ups, with your feet on a bench.
The muscle fibers in the middle area of the large pectoral muscle, the sternum-rib part, make up the largest part of the chest and are also the most frequently trained, especially because the most popular chest exercises focus on this area.
Popular and effective exercises for the middle chest include bench press, butterfly, and push-ups.
The lower part of the chest, the so-called abdominal part, is called the lower chest in training and is mainly worked on by exercises in the negative inclined position (i.e. with the legs up and the head down), such as negative dumbbell pressing or negative flying. Popular dips are also excellent for training of the lower chest.
The subclavius muscle often gets a raw deal in the training of many athletes, whether out of ignorance or laziness. It is not part of the large pectoral muscle but should be trained for an all-round muscular chest. The range of exercises is small, only the push-ups, in all their variations, are suitable for the targeted build-up of the subclavius muscle.
About the shoulder muscles
Wide shoulders? Isn’t that what most guys want? But regular training of the shoulder girdle is also worthwhile for the ladies. A strong shoulder musculature supports the shoulder joint, thus preventing injuries and stabilizing your body during many other exercises for the upper body.
The most important muscle for the shape of your shoulders is the deltoid muscle, which lies over the shoulder joint like a large triangle (hence the name) and locks the humerus in the socket. The deltoid muscle is responsible for lifting as well as pulling the upper arm forwards and backward and can be divided into three parts, the front, side/middle and back, all of which need to be trained specifically. Although the shoulder muscles are also trained while performing many exercises for the upper body, they should nevertheless be worked separately.
In addition, the rotator cuff comprising four muscles, the large round muscle, the hook arm muscle and parts of the back muscle latissimus are also part of the shoulder muscles and are jointly responsible for the upper arm movements. They play only a minor role in most training plans or get trained during other exercises.
Important: The shoulder is one of the most fragile joints and one of the body’s most injury-prone muscle groups, so definitely limit yourself to moderate weights at first during shoulder training until the execution of the exercises fit perfectly. Many people do heavy exercises like shoulder presses with too much weight and can only manage the movement with a swing and deflection. This is absolute poison for the shoulder! A rotator cuff injury, for example, can keep you away from training for weeks or even months – so train cleanly and correctly for maximum results!
The front part of the deltoid, also known as the “shoulder bone part”, pulls your arm forward and rotates it inward. Suitable exercises for training the front shoulder are front lifting and shoulder pushing. We also use the front shoulder for bench press or flying exercises, for example.
The middle part of the deltoid muscle lifts the arm sideways and is mainly trained with lateral lifting in all its variations, upright rowing or shoulder pushing.
The back of your deltas is called the back shoulder and pulls your arms back and turns them outwards. There are several exercises that target the back shoulder, such as bending over to the side or reverse-flying, but they always involve training the back, especially the trapezius muscle. Other exercises in which the rear shoulder muscles are involved include rowing or lat pull down.