How Many Exercises Should You Do Per Muscle Group?
How many exercises should you do per muscle group? It’s going to depend! How many exercises you do, what types of exercises, how many repetitions, and how often are all going to depend on your level of fitness and your ultimate goals.
- Are you looking to tone up?
- Do you just want to lose body fat?
- Are you trying to get stronger?
- Maybe you want to put on muscle size and shape?
Whatever your goals, there is a sweet spot in terms of how many exercises per muscle group you should do.
How is Muscle Built?
One of the main tissues in your body is muscle tissue. Muscle is metabolically active (needs/burns calories to survive) and helps give your body strength and structure. The more you tear down the tissue by working it against resistance (“resistance training” or “weight training”), the more muscle tissue your body will build in response to the stimulus. How many sets, repetitions, different exercises, and workouts you do per week (how much volume) will change based on your goals.
For instance, while toning and fat burning require lots of volume but less specific training, purposefully adding muscle to your physique will require specific exercises for individual muscle groups.
You can lower your chances of injury and avoid burnout at the gym by following a few simple suggestions about exercise volume, based on your fitness goals.
Rep Counts for Toning Up
If you’re simply looking to tone your body, as long as you’re consistent, according to researchers, you can do as few as one exercise per muscle group per workout. Use a range of 12 – 15 repetitions (reps) for toning purposes and make sure to work out all your muscles at least 2 – 3 times per week.
You could follow a plan like this:
- Chest – pushups, 12 – 15
- Shoulders – lateral raises, 12 – 15 reps for each side
- Triceps – cable pushdowns, 12 – 15 reps
- Back – seated rows, 12 – 15 reps
- Biceps – hammer curls, 12 – 15 reps per arm (you can do one at a time or together)
- Legs – walking lunges, 15 on each leg
- Abs – hanging leg lifts, 12 – 15 repetitions
If you want to boost your results, try splitting your body into an Upper and Lower Body workout and doing two exercises per muscle group of this workout, or do one round of this full body workout every other day, switching up the exercises you choose.
Rep Counts to Build Muscle
If you want to build muscle, you’ll want to focus on the different muscle groups themselves. Building muscle requires more exercises per muscle group since muscles are made up of different parts, and those can be targeted individually with various exercises.
For example, the biceps muscle is comprised of two muscles; a long head and a short head. So, it stands to reason that you would want to exercise each of those areas when you go through your workout. This also means you’ll be doing a higher volume of exercises, reps, and sets per workout than you would for simple toning or fat burning.
Do one to three exercises per muscle group (each area) per workout. Try a program that addresses each area. It might look like this:
Legs are comprised of quadriceps in the front, hamstrings in the back, calves on your lower leg, and glutes (buttocks) to complete the leg muscles. You’ll want to hit each of these areas in your leg workout, so even if you only do one exercise for each area, you can see it will take more time.
- Quadriceps—do a few warm-up sets and then 2 harder sets of leg extensions in the 8 – 10 rep range (meaning you can barely do the last repetition).
- Hamstrings—use a lying leg curl machine and do a few warm-up sets followed by 2 sets of 8 – 10 repetitions.
- Calves—do 8 – 10 calf raises with a weight that makes it difficult to complete your last few repetitions.
- Glutes—do a couple of warm-up sets on a hip thrust machine (or with no weight to warm up) and then perform 8 – 10 heavy repetitions.
Your chest has an upper, lower, and mid-chest area. You can use various positions on machines or a bench press to target these areas.
- Mid Chest—do dumbbell flyes to hit the mid-chest region. Do 8 – 10 reps.
- Upper Chest—you can target this area by using some form of incline pressing motion. Try incline dumbbell presses and go for 8 – 10 reps with the last few being very difficult to complete.
- Lower Chest—this will require a decline press and you can use a decline bench or a machine. Do 8 – 10 presses in the decline position.
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Your shoulders (delts) are also made up of a number of muscles and tendons, but you’ll mostly focus on three areas: front, side, and back. Do a good warm-up before attempting your heavier sets.
- Front—front plate raises, do 8 – 10 repetitions.
- Side—lateral raises with dumbbells, do 8 – 10 repetitions for each arm.
- Back—work your rear delts with a reverse pec dec machine or a dumbbell reverse flye and do 8 – 10 repetitions.
This muscle group is comprised of three heads, and you’ll want to work each area. Note: you’ll often use more than one area to complete the exercises, so it can be hard to truly isolate.
- Medial—you can do overhead triceps extensions with a cable to focus on this area. Aim for 8 – 10 difficult reps.
- Lateral—hit this area with diamond pushups (meaning your hands are very close together).
- Long Head—dumbbell triceps kickbacks with 8 – 10 reps per arm.
This group of muscles is made up of the long and short head.
- Long Head—do 8 – 10 reps per arm of incline curls, getting a good stretch at the bottom of the movement.
- Short Head—do 8 – 10 reps of some form of wide-grip curls like preacher or ez curls.
Your back has a number of different muscles so you’ll be working more than one area at a time. But to break it up, try focusing on:
- Upper Back—this is mostly considered the “lats” area and will benefit from exercises like pullups. Do 8 – 10 reps or use an assisted pull-up machine until you can do bodyweight pull-ups.
- Middle Back—hit this area with rows. Try doing 8 – 10 dumbbell rows on each side.
- Lower Back—strengthen and build this area with back extensions. Once you’re warmed up, you can hold a small weight as you do them to make this exercise even more effective.
- Upper Abs—hit this area with crunches. Do several sets of higher reps or hold a small weight and go for 8 – 10 reps.
- Lower Abs—leg lifts will target this hard-to-tame area. Go for high reps or place a small weight between your feet as you lift and lower your legs for 8 – 10 reps.
If You Want to Burn Fat
To burn off excess body fat, you will need to increase the number of calories you burn. Logic suggests doing more exercise per muscle group to burn more calories and help incinerate body fat. Experts suggest aiming for one to two exercises per body part but keeping the rep ranges very high. Choose one exercise per muscle group and go for 20 – 30 repetitions to keep your heart rate high and your blood pumping.
Even if you’re not sure what your goals are, bravo for getting to the gym in the first place. As science shows, a little bit is better than none, so at the very least, get started with one exercise per muscle group, every few days, and work your way up from there. Then you can adjust your program as you grow and your goals change.