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JONES: Work muscles that work together, together

Aloha Doug,

I appreciate your information and always look forward to your articles. My question might be too basic for an entire column, but I’m wondering if you could tell me the best way to divide up my exercises during my strength training workouts. When I don’t feel like doing a full body workout, how should I split up the muscles? Mahalo!

— Billy M., Moloa‘a

Aloha Billy,

Mahalo for your kind words and great question. No topic is too basic; in fact, I am actually going to devote my next three columns to your specific quandary.

As you learn to apply universal principles to your individualized program, don’t forget that all of my columns are archived on my website as well as that of The Garden Island newspaper, just in case you ever feel the need to binge on my super secrets.

With regard to training the muscles, the best place to begin is with my recurring mantra: “Slowly lowering weight is the secret to strength training.” Whether you train one muscle at a time, or all at once, this single secret is the smartest, simplest, speediest, and safest scientific solution to strength. Try it. During your next workout session, during each repetition of every exercise, lower the weight at the pace of seven seconds down. Slow down! Slow down! Slow down!

With that being said, let’s get to the question at hand. What if you don’t have the time, energy, or interest in training your full body in one workout? Which muscles and exercises should you group together?

Part one of my three-column answer for you starts with upper body: push muscles.

Hopefully, you remember the gist of Eccentrics in Strength: the only reason you lift weights is so you can lower weights; the only reason you lower weights is so you can stop.

Stopping weight training suggests rest, the time when your muscles can repair and recover before their next bout of exercise. If your body does not have sufficient recuperation between workouts, you will become overtrained and overtired.

One of the best ways to assure proper recovery is to “Work Muscles That Work Together, Together.” In other words, muscles that are used during similar movements should typically be trained at similar times. Likewise, muscles that are used during one workout should purposely rest during the next workout. Recovery requires rest.

Specifically, let’s take a look at your triceps, the muscle group on the back of your upper arm. The primary action of the triceps is to extend the forearm, straightening the elbow as you would during a karate chop. Thus, your triceps muscle is contracting during any karate chop movement, regardless of the direction… up, down, forward, backward, or sideways.

And, please, don’t forget about Eccentrics, which works the triceps muscle in the opposite direction of the karate chop. The triceps is exercising Eccentrics (lengthening muscle under tension) when the elbow is being forced to bend and the muscle is resisting the resistance. Rather than contracting and chopping, the triceps muscle is acting eccentrically and opposing the chop. A simple example of this motion is the slow lowering movement during push-ups.

So, either way, chopping, or resisting the chop, you are working the triceps muscles, right?

Now, let’s say that you want to train your chest muscles on Monday with push-ups; you are also training your triceps because your elbows are straightening against resistance, and then resisting the bend.

If, on Tuesday, you train your shoulder muscles with an overhead dumbbell press, you are, once again, also training your triceps. The triceps contract, along with the shoulders, to push the weight overhead. The triceps then act eccentrically to resist you dropping the weights on your head like a dumbbell.

Do you see where I’m going with this? You have indirectly worked your triceps on both Monday and Tuesday. What if you now want to directly train your triceps on Wednesday, by performing any type of karate chop exercise? Considering that your triceps muscles are probably already overtrained and overtired from the previous two days, the workout would be intense overkill, at best.

The point? Your chest, shoulders, and triceps are designed to work together in training and in rest. Even if you only train one, ideally, you should always rest all.

Ideally, try to work muscles that work together (Upper body push muscles: chest, shoulders, and triceps), together (Upper body push exercises: push-ups, pec fly, chest press, lateral raise, overhead press, and triceps extension).


Doug Jones earned his Master’s Degree in Exercise Physiology from the University of Maryland and has served professionals and personalities as a concierge fitness trainer for decades. As a resident of Kaua‘i and Connecticut, he has helped millions of people learn the secrets of fitness and fat loss, both online and in person. To submit your questions, or for more information, call (808) 652-6453 or visit
Source: The Garden Island

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