There are quite a few training variables to juggle when it comes to building a solid workout plan. Still, arguably the two most important ones are what exercises you will do and how many exercises you will do in your workout.
How many exercises per muscle group should you do in a workout?
In this article, we will discuss how many exercises per muscle group you should do per workout and how many workouts per muscle group you should do in a week, as well as factors that affect these recommendations.
We will cover:
- Does It Matter How Many Exercises Per Muscle Group You Do?
- How Many Exercises Per Muscle Group Should You Do?
- Factors That Affect How Many Exercises Per Muscle Group You Should Do
Let’s jump in!
Does It Matter How Many Exercises Per Muscle Group You Do?
Before we delve into the specifics of how many exercises per muscle group you should do in a workout, it’s important to establish why this factor of your training matters.
Whenever you’re taking on a strength training program with the goal of building muscle (hypertrophy) or building strength, the two most important factors for the success of your workout plan are the training volume and the principle of progressive overload.
Training volume has to do with what we are discussing here—how many exercises per muscle group you’re doing per workout and how many workouts per muscle group you’re doing per week.
The other variables that come into play in terms of training volume are how many sets you’re doing per exercise, how many reps you’re doing per set, and how much weight you’re lifting per rep.
Essentially, training volume is the composite or total of the workload your muscles are doing during a workout (session training volume) or week (weekly training volume) in your training plan.It is calculated by multiplying the load by the number of sets and reps per workout.
You can look at the training volume of a particular muscle group by multiplying the weight you use by the number of reps and sets you do per exercise by the number of exercises you do for that muscle group.
It’s important that your workout program has enough training volume to stimulate adaptations in the muscles.
If you’re not doing enough “work” in your workouts, nor doing enough workouts per muscle group per week, you won’t have a potent trigger for the muscles to adapt.
Progressive overload is the principle of gradually increasing the difficulty of your workouts so that your muscles are constantly challenged so that they don’t just become accustomed to your workouts.
The ideal weekly training volume for a muscle group in terms of frequency is usually around 10-25 total work sets per week per muscle group.
This typically looks something like doing 2-5 sets each of 4-8 different exercises per muscle group in your workout program per week, aiming for 10-25 total work sets.
This training volume is usually more than ample to support muscle growth and strength gains.
How Many Exercises Per Muscle Group Should You Do?
Although the recommendations will vary, most people will do about 2-4 exercises per muscle group during workouts that target that particular muscle group.
Factors That Affect How Many Exercises Per Muscle Group You Should Do
There are several factors that influence where along the continuum you should fall in terms of how many exercises per muscle group you should do in a workout and how many workouts per muscle group you should do.
#1: Fitness Goals
Your fitness goals impact the ideal training volume for your workout plan:
If your goal is bulking (muscle growth or hypertrophy), you need to be doing a lot of training volume.
In fact, studies show that the total training volume in terms of sets of exercise per muscle group you perform per week has more of a dose-response relationship for hypertrophy than it does for the goal of increasing strength.
With that said, training volume for bulking is also best achieved by cranking up the resistance and going hard with each exercise.
Aim for 6-12 different exercises per muscle group over the entire week with 2-5 sets per exercise. The general recommendation for rep range for hypertrophy is about 6-12 reps per exercise with a load that’s 60-80% of your 1RM.
Depending on how you structure your workouts, this may look something like 4-6 exercises per muscle group per workout, with 2-3 workouts per muscle group per week.
However, if you’re doing body part splits and only hitting each muscle group once per week, you will probably only be able to do 4-10 exercises per muscle group.
Make sure you’re doing a lot of variations in exercises across different workouts and performing compound movements.
Note that diet is also important during the bulking phase; most research suggests that you need to be in a slight caloric surplus (consuming 10-20% more calories per day than you’re burning) to really facilitate significant hypertrophy or muscle growth.
If your goal is cutting (fat loss), you’ll probably want to stick with 4-12 exercises per muscle group per week, again with something like 2-5 sets per exercise.
However, because the cutting phase puts you in a caloric deficit, the challenge becomes trying to maintain your muscle mass.
Your energy may also be low, so it’s important to focus on good form and technique.
For these reasons, the priority should be on maintaining intensity (heavy loads). Still, you may need to scale back your volume in terms of how many exercises per muscle group you do or how many sets you perform, depending on how hard you’re cutting.
According to research, if your goal is to increase muscle strength, you generally want to perform more exercises per muscle group than with hypertrophy or more variations of the exercises you do.
For example, you might do 4-8 exercises per muscle group per workout (or 6-14 per week) and 2-5 sets per workout, depending on the number of reps you do.
However, for strength gains, the rep range per exercise should be lower than it is for hypertrophy or muscular endurance.
Aim for 3-6 reps per set.
If you’re a competitive powerlifter or weightlifter training for a competition, you will probably train 2-4 exercises per muscle group per week on top of the foundational lifts or their variations (bench, squat, and deadlift for powerlifters and the snatch, clean, and jerk for weightlifters), which you should be doing 2-3 times per week.
#2: Experience Level
Your training age, or your experience level, also affects how many exercises you should do per muscle group.
If you are interested in increasing your training volume, it makes sense to add more workouts per muscle group per week rather than more exercises per muscle group per workout.
This approach will reduce the risk of injury, enables you to focus on your form and technique without experiencing CNS fatigue or muscular exhaustion during a workout, and gives you more of a neuromuscular stimulus to adapt to your training.
Aim for no more than two exercises per muscle group when you first start out, with the possibility of doing 3-4 workouts per muscle group per week since the workouts should be total-body workouts. Start with two workouts per week and progress to 3-4.
After you’ve been training for a couple of months, you can bump up to 3-4 exercises per muscle group per workout and do 2-3 workouts per muscle group per week.
Advanced athletes can work up to 4-12 exercises per muscle group per week, with one workout per week if they are doing body part splits or 2-3 workouts per week if they are doing total-body workouts.
#3: Workout Structure
The way you structure your workouts also affects how many exercises per muscle group you should do per week.
With total body workouts, when you are selecting exercises that target all of the major muscles of the body over the course of the workout.
To prevent fatigue and an incredibly long workout, you should only do 2 to 4 exercises per muscle group per workout, especially if you are doing at least 2 to 3 workouts per week.
If you are following a workout plan that does upper-body/lower-body splits, you might do 2-3 workouts per week per body region.
To prevent the training volume from getting out of hand, each workout might involve 2 to 3 exercises per muscle group, meaning that you are getting in about 4-12 different exercises per muscle group each week.
The recommendations here would be the same as for upper/lower body splits.
Target Muscle Groups
If you do body part splits (chest/triceps, back/biceps, legs/core) or some other iteration that only includes one workout per muscle group per week, you’ll want to do more exercises per muscle group. Aim for 6 to 12 exercises per muscle group per workout.
Ready to start pumping some iron? If you are looking for some total body workouts to get you started, check out our bodyweight workout here.