Targeting Specific Muscle Groups: A Comprehensive List Of The Best Exercises!

Trying to target that specific trouble area? This article is for! A complete resource for finding out the best exercises for specific muscles!

Your complete resource for finding out the best exercises for specific muscles.

I'm always getting asked by people, "what exercise works this area" or "what can I do for this" or "what works best for this part of the muscle". Inherently everyone from the couch potato to the professional bodybuilder has at least one area of their body that they want to target or improve upon.

Even if perhaps you were content with your aesthetics and physical proportions—wouldn't it be nice, or even educational, to know specifically what muscles are being emphasized with certain exercises or what exercises are better suited to target a specific muscle or muscle group?

Even qualified personal trainers sometimes have a tough time remembering all of this information.

To me (and apparently many others I've talked to) it's a no-brainer to imagine just how useful and invaluable it would be to have all of this scientifically based information in one easily printable and readable source.

And best of all, courtesy of and myself it's free! There was a demand for this article from colleagues and gym members alike even before I finished it. And hopefully you'll find it very useful as well!

From my research efforts, I've unfortunately realized that this type of information is not only scattered all over the place, but depending on what sources you seek, the information may be contraindicative. So I've decided once and for all to compile a painstakingly comprehensive list of exercises that work best for specific muscle groups, individual muscles or specific areas of individual muscles.

With more than 600 muscles found in the human body, it is safe to say that only the major ones are covered in this edition. This information has been compiled from various kinesiology and exercise physiology textbooks as well as other credible materials whose results are based on EMG (electromyography) activity research.

At least one study indicated that the muscle fibers of the rectus femoris were substantially stronger and more facilitated with the torso in a 90 degree angle to the thighs for the leg extension machine, which contradicts the theory that the rectus femoris should be strongest when it is placed in a stretched position.

The researches concluded that there was an unknown mechanism at work here. So I have listed the leg extension at a 90 degree angle as the best way to isolate the rectus femoris.

Feel free to contact me if you feel there are other muscles that are important enough to include in this list.

Important Notes

It is important to note that spot reduction or losing fat in only one area of your body is impossible—these exercises are meant to target specific muscles not fat at specific areas.

It is also important to keep in mind that it is impossible to contract only one portion of a muscle—a muscle contracts entirely. But, priority or greater amount of involvement can happen to specific muscle fibers of the muscle.

For example; during the incline bench press the pectoralis major (the main chest muscle) contracts entirely, but because you are on an incline the force from the weight is not distributed evenly across the chest and therefore the fibers of the upper "pec" are working hardest. Therefore, this exercise is performed in order to prioritize and build the upper portion of the chest.

Recommended Reading

Note: For explanations and illustrations on performing most of the listed exercises

Strength Training Anatomy and Women's Strength Training Anatomy by Frederic Delavier (both published by Human Kinetics) are two excellent resources that I highly recommend to anyone involved in resistance training or thinking about beginning.

The beautiful illustrations and explanations of various exercises are easy enough for any beginner to understand yet in depth enough to educate seasoned athletes. At least three individuals that I've introduced these books to like them so much that they bring them to the gym with them every day.

Both of these books can be found at major bookstores or at


? Large Muscle Group Exercises Isolation Exercises
Legs (General) Barbell Squat

Leg Press

Thighs (Quadriceps) Smith Machine Squat (feet close to body)

Squat (feet placed close together)

Front Squat

Leg Press (feet placed low/close together)

Leg Extension
Rectus Femoris Squat

Forward Lunge

Leg Extension (back set at 90 deg. to thighs)
Vastus Lateralis Hack Squat

Wide-stance Squat

Vastus Medius Narrow-stance Leg Press
Vastus Intermedius Leg Extension
Back of Thighs (Hamstrings) Leg Press (feet placed high)

Good Mornings (straight leg)

Straight-leg Deadlift

Squat (to at least horizontal)

Smith Machine/Hack Squat (feet far from body)

Leg Curl
Biceps Femoris Seated Leg Curl (feet extended & externally rotated)

Kneeling Hamstrings (performed w/spotter)

Long Head Straight-leg Deadlift

Good Mornings (straight leg)

Seated Leg Curl (feet extended & externally rotated)
Short Head Standing Leg Curl (feet extended)

Lying Leg Curl (feet extended & externally rotated)

Semimembranosus Seated Leg Curl (feet extended & internally rotated)
Semitendinosus Seated Leg Curl (feet extended & internally rotated)
Inner Thighs (Adductors) Wide-stance Squat

Wide-stance Leg Press

Leg Adduction
Outer Thighs (Abductors) Narrow-stance Squat

Narrow-stance Leg Press

Leg Abduction
Calves (Triceps Surae) Calf Raise
Gastrocnemius Calf Raise (knees straight)

Leg Curl (feet flexed)

Lateral Head Calf Raise (knees straight & toes inward)
Medial Head Calf Raise (knees straight & toes outward)
Soleus Calf Raise (knees bent)


? Large Muscle Group Exercises Isolation Exercises
Gluteals Squat (to at least horizontal)

Smith Machine/Hack Squat (feet far from body)

Lunge (long step forward)

Straight-leg Deadlift (slight knee bend)

Good Mornings (slight knee bend)

Hip Extensions (kickbacks) w/ a Low Pulley


Pelvic Raise


? Large Muscle Group Exercises Isolation Exercises
Back (General) Pull-up/Chin-up

Bent-over Row


Lat Pulldown


Upper Upright Row (narrow grip) Shrugs
Middle Upright Row Dumbbell Shrug
Lower Rows

Upright Row

Latissimus Dorsi
Upper Lat Pulldown



Straight Arm Pulldown/Pullover

Lower Lat Pulldown (behind the neck)

Lat Pulldown (underhand grip)

Pull-up/Chin-up (behind the neck)

Pull-up/Chin-up (underhand grip)

Row (underhand grip)

Lower (Erector Spinae) Back Extensions

Prone Extensions

Straight-leg Deadlifts


Good Mornings


? Large Muscle Group Exercises Isolation Exercises
Pectorals (General) ? ? Chest Press
Upper Incline Press

Incline Pushup (feet on bench)

Incline Flys
Middle Chest Press


Lower Decline Press

Decline Pushup (hands on bench)

Decline Flys
Inner Close-grip Chest Press (elbows out) Flys

Cable Crossover

Outer Wide-grip Chest Press

Neutral-grip Chest Press

Serratus Anterior (finger-like grooves located at the side of the chest above the external obliques) Push-up

Chest Press

Overhead Press



? Large Muscle Group Exercises Isolation Exercises
Shoulders (General) ? ? Overhead Press
Anterior Deltoid Arnold Press

Neutral-grip Overhead Press

Close-grip Overhead Press (elbows in)

Front Raises
Medial Deltoid Overhead Press Lateral Raises

Upright Row (wide grip)

Posterior Deltoid Rows (elbows out) Bent-over Lateral Raises

Reverse Pec Dec

Upright Row (wide grip)


? Large Muscle Group Exercises Isolation Exercises
Biceps Curls (from pronation to supination/supination to pronation)
Biceps Brachii Incline Bench Curl


Long Head Narrow-grip Barbell Curl High Pulley Curl

Seated High Dumbbell Curl

Short Head Wide-grip Barbell Curl
Brachialis Reverse Curl

Hammer Curl

Brachioradialis Hammer Curl
Triceps Brachii Narrow-grip Chest Press (elbows in)

Parallel Bar Dip (backwards lean/elbows in)

Lying Triceps Extension/Skullcrusher

Pushdowns (elbows in)

Triceps Dip (elbows in)

Long Head Overhead Triceps Extension
Medial Head Reverse Pushdown (underhand grip)
Lateral Head Reverse grip Chest Press Pushdown (with rope)
Forearms Wrist Curl

Reverse Wrist Curl

Hammer Wrist Curl

Wrist Extensors Reverse Curl

Reverse Pushdown

Reverse Wrist Curl
Wrist Flexors Wrist Curl


? Large Muscle Group Exercises Isolation Exercises
Abdominals (General) Sit-ups
Rectus Abdominis Crunches
Upper Crunch (knees flexed to 90 deg.)

Straight-leg Crunch

Lower Reverse Crunch

Leg Raise (keep knees above horizontal)

Hip Thrust/Pelvic Lift
Internal/External Oblique Crossover Crunch Side Bends/Torso Flexion

Trunk/Pelvic Rotation

Transverse Abdominis "Vacuuming"