How Many Exercises Per Workout – Introduction
While there is nothing wrong with following a strength training program written by someone else, you’ll probably get better results if you write your own. Writing your own workouts means that you can create programs that address your wants, needs, preferences, and goals.
While you COULD hire a coach or a personal trainer to write your workouts for you, this costs money and, with a bit of practice, you should be able to do it for yourself.
This article will answer four of the most common questions about workout design:
- How many exercises should I do per workout?
- As well as, how many sets should I do per workout?
- How many reps should I do per exercise?
- And last, how often should I work out?
Be warned, there are no definite, absolute, set-in-stone answers to these questions, but these are the guidelines you need to discover the perfect solution for yourself.
Why is there no definitive answer? That’s because the correct answer actually depends on lots of different factors, from your workout goals to the time you have available to your age and personal preferences.
How Many Exercises Should I Do Per Workout?
When it comes to exercise selection, a lot of people think that more is better. After all, exercises are good for you, so more must mean better results, right? However, it’s entirely possible to have too much of a good thing, and that includes exercises per workout.
So, rather than try and tell you how many different exercises you should do per workout, let’s look at your options.
#1. One exercise
Believe it or not, you can get a great workout from just one exercise, especially when it’s a large multi-joint compound movement like squats, cleans, or deadlifts. These compound lifts use so many large muscle groups that they’re virtually a one-move workout.
A workout built around a single exercise means you’ve got lots of time to really hone your lifting skills and practice your technique.
You can turn your single lift into a well-balanced workout by doing a different exercise each day, for example:
|Squat||Bench press||Pull-up||Deadlift||Overhead press||Bent-over row||Rest|
With only a handful of exercises, this type of workout can dramatically change your body.
Because this routine focuses on the big lifts that target your larger muscle groups.
#2. Two to three exercises
While one exercise per workout can definitely work, it’s not for everyone. A lot of people will find doing set after set of the same workout boring, and boredom is the enemy of productive training.
Adding an exercise or two to each workout will make your program more varied and also help make your plan more balanced.
|Squat, Romanian deadlifts & standing calf raise||Bench press, bent-over row, and biceps curl||Rest||Deadlift, leg press, & seated calf raise||Overhead press, pull-up, & triceps pushdown||Rest||Rest|
#3. Four to six exercises
If you’ve got enough time to do 4-6 exercises per workout, you can follow a split routine or do a full-body workout. Both options work, so you should try each of them to determine which approach works best for you. For example:
|Full body workout|
|Split workout – chest and back|
|1||Incline bench press|
|3||Dumbbell bench press|
|4||Cable row machine|
#4. Eight to ten exercises
Long lists of exercises are best used for a full body workout.
With 8-10 movements, you can apply one exercise for each of your major muscle groups.
Focus on compound exercises to get the most bang for your workout buck. For example:
|2||Chest press machine|
|5||Dumbbell overhead press|
|6||Chest-supported dumbbell row|
|10||45-degree back extensions|
So, to summarize, your workout can contain anywhere from 1 to 10+ exercises.
However, you need to understand that more is not always better.
For example, if you were to do bench press, dumbbell bench presses, chest press machine, cable crossover, push-ups, and dips, there is a lot of overlap and redundancy, and you could just end up wasting a lot of time and energy.
It’s generally best to use the fewest number of exercises necessary to achieve your goals. Try to see how few exercises you need and not how many you can tolerate.
How Many Sets Should I Do Per Exercise Workout?
In general, the more exercises you have in your workout session, the fewer sets you’ll be able to do. For example, if you are planning on doing nothing but deadlifts, you might do as many as eight or ten sets of that one lift.
However, if you’re doing something like six exercises per workout, you might just do 3-5 of each one. Then again, if you are doing ten or more exercises in your workout, you might just do two sets of each. Ultimately, you need to adjust the number of sets of each exercise to the amount of time you have for training.
Also, the higher the intensity of your workout, the fewer sets you’ll be able to do. Your energy levels will deplete faster if you take each set to failure compared to stopping 2-3 reps short.
Just like the number of exercises per workout, more sets may not produce the best results.
Train for Muscle Growth, Not Extreme Fatigue
Ultimately, you want to stimulate your muscles to grow and get stronger and not annihilate them, or they can take forever to recover.
If you are doing several exercises per body part, you should be able to fatigue your muscles in 2-4 sets. If you are doing fewer exercises, you can afford to do more sets.
But, if your performance is starting to deteriorate noticeably from one set to the next, you’ve probably done enough, and it’s time to stop.
To sum that all up, you should try and do the least number of sets necessary to achieve your training goals, and doing more than necessary is just a waste of energy and could delay your recovery.
The more exercises you do per workout, the fewer sets you’ll have time and energy for.
How Many Reps Should I Do Per Set?
The number of reps you do per set should match your training goal. Unlike the number of exercises or sets per workout, there are actually some guidelines to help you determine the right rep range to use.
Determine your training goal and then use the appropriate rep range and percentage of your one-repetition maximum (1RM).
Not sure of your 1RM?
Use Hashi Mashi’s One Rep Max calculator or adjust the weight so that you reach failure within the specified rep range.
Hashi Mashi’s One Rep Max Calculator
Hashi Mashi’s 1 rep max calculator will expand to show you the estimated weights and reps you can lift based on your input. The method for calculating your 1 rep max is based on the Epley formula.
Enter weight or reps
|% of 1RM||Weight||Reps|
Step 1: Select your units, pounds, or kilograms.
Step 2: Adjust the amount of weight and reps you tested with.
Warning: Do NOT attempt to lift the absolute max you think you can. That’s the purpose of the one-rep max calculator, so you can estimate your one-rep max, not actually lift it.
Always begin with lighter weights and build up to heavier weights gradually.
Some of the strongest men who ever walked the earth like Hermann Goerner, never even attempted their 1 rep max!
|Training Goal||Rep Range||Percentage of 1RM||Recovery Between Sets|
|Endurance||12-20+ reps||50-67%||30-60 seconds|
|Hypertrophy/Size||6-12 reps||67-85%||60-90 seconds|
|Strength and Power||1-5 reps||85%+||2-5 minutes|
However, it’s important to note that you don’t have to do the same number of reps for every exercise in your workout. In fact, you may get better results if you use several rep ranges. For example:
|Exercise||Sets x Reps|
|1||Squat||5 x 5|
|2||Romanian deadlift||4 x 8|
|3||Lunge||3 x 10|
|4||Leg extension||2 x 12|
|5||Leg curl||2 x 12|
|6||Calf raise||3 x 15|
Such a holistic approach ensures that all types of muscle fiber are trained and that your workout will be more varied and interesting than doing set after set of the same number of reps. However, most of your sets should match your primary training goal, i.e., low reps/heavy weights for strength or medium reps/moderate weights for muscle hypertrophy.
In summary, most of the exercises in your workouts should match your weight training goal. That means 1-5 reps for strengths, 6-12 for hypertrophy/muscle mass, and 12-20+ for muscular endurance. However, it’s okay to stray into other rep ranges from time to time to make your workouts more varied and interesting.
How Many Workouts Per Week?
Your ideal number of workouts per week very much depends on what you can commit to and do consistently. For example, while a six-days per week bodybuilding program might be ideal for sculpting massive muscles, it would be pointless to start such a frequent workout plan if you can only reliably train twice a week.
So, to determine the ideal number of workouts per week, you need to decide how much time you can commit to training. Be honest and understand it’s better to aim low and hit your target week after week than aim high and miss more workouts than you complete.
Here are your main options:
Twice a week
Twice a week is your minimum commitment if you want to make noticeable training progress. Working out once a week will maintain your current fitness, but you need to work out no less than twice a week if you want to move forward. Ideally, with just two workouts per week, you should follow a full-body program, training each muscle twice a week.
Three times per week
With three weekly workouts, you can follow a split routine or stick to full-body workouts, i.e.:
|Chest and Back||Rest||Legs and abs||Rest||Shoulders and Arms||Rest||Rest|
Four times a week
if you’ve got time to train four times a week, you’ll need to use a split routine as you’ll invariably end up training on consecutive days, which doesn’t work well for full-body workouts. For example:
|Lower body||Upper body||Rest||Lower body||Rest||Upper body||Rest|
Five to six times per week
With 5-6 workouts per week, you can break your body down into smaller segments and dedicate more time to each particular muscle group. This is a good approach for bodybuilders and anyone who loves hitting the gym more than taking days off. For example:
Seven+ times per week
It’s generally best to have at least one rest day per week to give your body a rest from training and promote recovery. That said, if you know you’ve got an enforced training break coming up (such as a vacation), you could train every day for a week or two before you take time off.
However, training every day is not recommended for long periods, as it could lead to overtraining and even injury. Also, if you feel you have to work out daily to control your weight, your diet needs attention, as you shouldn’t need to work out daily to prevent weight gain or promote weight loss.
That doesn’t mean you can’t be active every day – it’s a good idea to do some walking or easy cardio between strength training sessions to enhance recovery and stay healthy. However, your body grows and gets stronger while you rest, which is why days off from intense training are so important.
So, the number of workouts per week depends on what you can fit into your schedule. 3-5 workouts are probably best for most people, but you can make good progress from two per week, and six can work too. Choose the workout frequency you know you can stick to.
How Many Exercises Per Workout – Final Thoughts
It’s impossible to tell you exactly how many exercises, sets, reps, or workouts you should do because the answer depends on your personal circumstances.
For example, if you have a physically demanding job, are over 40, or recover slowly from training, 2-3 short workouts per week will probably work best.
However, if you are young, energetic, and have a desk job, you may thrive on six long workouts per week and still feel that you can do more.
Use the information in this article to create your ideal workout based on your needs, goals, and preferences. And be prepared to make adjustments based on your results. It’s perfectly normal to find that what worked initially loses its potency after a few months. Your body and your circumstances are constantly changing, and so too should your workouts.
Here are a few sample workouts to try out depending on your fitness goals:
- 3×5 Workout: The Only Strength Training Program You’ll Ever Need
- Beginner Powerbuilding Program: Big & Strong Workout + Free PDF
- The Best Beginner Bodyweight Workout Plan in Only 30 Minutes
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