A successful prophylactic vaccine is characterized by long-lived immunity, which is critically dependent on CD4 T cell-mediated helper signals. Indeed, most licensed vaccines induce antigen-specific CD4 T cell responses, in addition to high-affinity antibodies. However, despite the important role of CD4 T cells in vaccine design and natural infection, few studies have characterized HIV-specific CD4 T cells due to their preferential susceptibility to HIV infection. To establish at the population level the impact of HIV-specific CD4 T cells on viral control and define the specificity of HIV-specific CD4 T cell peptide targeting, we conducted a comprehensive analysis of these responses to the entire HIV proteome in 93 subjects at different stages of HIV infection. We show that HIV-specific CD4 T cell responses were detectable in 92% of individuals and that the breadth of these responses showed a significant inverse correlation with the viral load (P = 0.009, R = -0.31). In particular, CD4 T cell responses targeting Gag were robustly associated with lower levels of viremia (P = 0.0002, R = -0.45). Importantly, differences in the immunodominance profile of HIV-specific CD4 T cell responses distinguished HIV controllers from progressors. Furthermore, Gag/Env ratios were a potent marker of viral control, with a high frequency and magnitude of Gag responses and low proportion of Env responses associated with effective immune control. At the epitope level, targeting of three distinct Gag peptides was linked to spontaneous HIV control (P = 0.60 to 0.85). Inclusion of these immunogenic proteins and peptides in future HIV vaccines may act as a critical cornerstone for enhancing protective T cell responses.