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Bodybuilding exercises for each muscle

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Which exercises to choose for your weight lifting program

In the previous article, you worked out which days you can train, how many days a week you're going to do weights, and roughly what you're going to target in each session. You should now have a weekly plan which may look something like this:








Weights (lower)

Weights (upper)

Brisk walk

Weights (lower)

Weights (upper)



The brisk walk is simple enough, and I'm pretty sure you're very experienced with rest days, so now in this article I'm going to show you how to decide which exercises to choose and how to group them by workout.

Firstly, choose a workout to start with – for this example I'll start with Monday, a lower body day. As I said in part 1, for lower body days I include knee/hip extension, and core exercises.

How many exercises should I include?

Generally speaking, the heavier and harder you go on each exercise, the fewer exercises you can do on a given day. Generally I will do 4-6 exercises per workout – the first few will be compound (big) exercises done hard and heavy, with some lighter compound or even isolation exercises at the end. This is why in part 1 all the examples included four compound exercises (knee/hip extension, push, pull, or core) plus “any additional exercises”, allowing for lighter isolation exercises after you've taken care of the important stuff. Any more than this and it takes too long, and I can't put enough into each exercise to make them worthwhile.

How many exercises per movement?

With 4-6 in mind as your total number of exercises, you need to decide how many of them to allocate to each movement. This will depend on your priorities. For example, if you are doing full body workouts, and want to focus on upper body mass, you may do 2x push, 2x pull, 1x knee/hip extension, and 1x core. While this depends on your priorities, I do recommend you try to keep the numbers fairly even to avoid neglecting anything or becoming too unbalanced. However, priorities aside, there are two things to consider:

1. Many people are strong and tight in their chest, and weak in their back, resulting in poor posture and often discomfort and pain. This may be from too much hunching over at work, or spending too much time working on their chest at the gym, and ignoring the muscles they can't see in the mirror. If this is you (I can almost guarantee that it is), you need to do extra pulling work to fix this. You can do this by including more pull exercises than push exercises (e.g. at a ratio of 2:1 or 3:2), or you can keep your 1:1 ratio for push:pull, and simply add extra isolation exercises for the upper back. These would go in your “any additional exercises” space. 2. You should be aware that your core is used to stabilize you in many compound exercises, particularly those done on your feet, such as standing overhead presses, squatting and deadlifting. If you include a lot of those exercises, it may not be necessary for you to include as many core exercises on each day. For example, as I emphasize leg strength with compound movements, on my “lower body” days I will do three standing knee/hip extension exercises, and only one strictly “core” exercise.

Now, what exercises do I use?

For each workout, you should now have a list of how many exercises for each movement you want to do. But what exercises do you chose for each movement? Well, firstly, you should choose big, compound exercises – the bigger the better. It's probably simpler if I take you through one movement at a time, so let's start with a few knee/hip extension exercises: Knee/Hip extension

Exercise Emphasized muscles
Deadlift Hamstrings, glutes, lower back
Back squat Glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps
Front squat Quadriceps
Lunge Quadriceps
Romanian deadlift Hamstrings
Stiff leg deadlift Hamstrings
Step up Quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings

See the column showing which muscles each exercise emphasizes? Compound movements by nature will use multiple muscle groups, for example, the front squat doesn't JUST use the quadriceps, it also uses hamstrings, glutes, lower back, core, etc. But it emphasizes the quadriceps, which is important if you want to target them in an efficient manner. We need to consider this because we want to design a balanced weights program. In order to do this we need to pick a range of exercises that emphasize the different muscles fairly evenly. If, for example, you only did front squats, lunges and step ups, your quadriceps would become larger and stronger than your hamstrings, which is bad, because you want balance, remember? It would be better, then, to balance the deadlift with the front squat, and the lunge with the stiff legged deadlift. Suppose you have decided to include 4 total knee/hip extension exercises in the week, spread over 2 days. For the mathematically challenged among you, that's 2 exercises per day. Now further suppose that you chose the exercises in my above example: deadlift, front squat, lunge, stiff legged deadlift. Which exercises do you put on which day? There are two things to consider: 1. You want to balance the emphasis on different muscles. So rather than doing both quadriceps-intensive exercises on the same day, you would do one quadriceps-intensive exercise and one hamstrings-intensive exercise on each day. So now you can group the exercises in two ways: you can pair the deadlift with either the front squat or the lunge. Obviously the exercise you don't choose gets put with the stiff leg deadlift on the other day. So which one do you do. 2. You also want to manage your fatigue. The deadlift and the front squat are both more taxing exercises than the stiff leg deadlift and the lunge. If you group them together, you will have one harder day, and one easier day. You may want to do it this way, so that you can run or play sport on the day after your easier day. On the other hand, you will be able to train all four exercises more intensely if you balance your fatigue by pairing the more taxing deadlift with the easier lunge, and the more taxing front squat with the easier stiff leg deadlift.

With those considerations in mind, go ahead and choose exercises from the lists (you can google the names if you don't know what they all are). Push

Exercise Emphasized muscles
Push up Shoulders, triceps, chest
Benchpress (barbell) Shoulders, triceps, chest
Benchpress (dumbbell) Chest
Close grip benchpress Triceps
Wide grip benchpress Chest
Overhead press Shoulders
Dips (wide grip) Chest
Dips (narrow grip) Shoulders, triceps

Again, try to choose and arrange your exercises to balance the emphasis between shoulders, triceps and chest. Pull

Exercise Emphasized muscles
Pull up/pull down Upper back
Chin up Biceps, upper back
Wide grip pull up/pull down Lats
Seated row Upper back, biceps
Inverted row Upper back, biceps
Dumbbell row Upper back, biceps

Here you want to balance upper back, lats, and biceps. If you look like Quasimodo at the computer 8 hours a day, or you have been doing a bit too much benchpress and not enough rowing, you'll want to choose more of the exercises with “row” in the name. Core

Exercise Emphasized muscles
Plank Abs
Side plank Obliques
Hanging knee raise Abs
Pallof press Obliques
Saxon side bend Obliques
Ab wheel rollout Abs
Back extensions Lower back

Even if you've included fewer core exercises due to doing a lot of standing compound exercises, try to include at least one exercise emphasizing each of “abs” and “obliques”. Back extensions are not necessary if you're doing a lot of deadlifting and squatting, however if you feel your lower back is a weak point you can include them.

Hey, what if I want to make [whatever muscle] bigger?

I've said a lot about the importance of compound exercises – they should make up a large majority of your total exercises. However isolation exercises can also be used effectively to target specific weaknesses or muscles you want to focus on, though they are not strictly necessary. For example, you don't need to do curls for your biceps if you're already doing a lot of pulling exercises, especially chin ups, but I know you're going to do curls anyway. That's fine, but ONLY if you've already done the hard yards with your compound exercises.

Two muscle groups that you may want to isolate, however, are forearms and calves. One reason for this is that many people are simply genetically predisposed to having small forearms and calves, so they will take some extra isolation to build up. The other reason is that weighting compound exercises generally use the forearms and calves as stabilizing muscles but don't target them directly. Anyway, without further ado, here are a bunch of basic isolation exercises and which muscles they target. There will of course be 10 different variations on each exercise, but you'll only need one or maybe two, so start with the basic version and go from there.

Isolation exercises


Target muscle

Leg extension


Leg curl


Calf raise


Dumbbell fly

Pectorals (chest)

Cable cross over


Cable/rope pushdown


Skull crushers


Reverse fly

Upper back (rhomboids)

Shrugs (either dumbbell or barbell)

Traps (shoulder-neck muscle)




Rectus abdominis (abs/six pack)

Lateral raise

Lateral deltoids (shoulders)

Front raise

Front deltoids (shoulders)

Dumbbell pullover


Glute bridge

Glutes (butt)



Summing up

At this point you should have your weekly plan of which days to work out, what movements you're training on each day, and a list of exercises for each workout. You're halfway there, and hopefully the last two articles won't be nearly this long. Next article I'll explain how to order your exercises, which is more important than you probably think.

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