As my clients become more familiar with the structure of their training plans, they start to realize that I carefully choose how many exercises they do per muscle group during weight training.
But what I sometimes see is that people start to increase or decrease the weekly training volume for certain muscles.
It's not always a bad thing to do, but you have to be careful that these changes don't end up causing problems for goals.
Based on my research and experience with professional athletes, there are a few approaches to take for optimal muscle growth. In this post, I'll cover both the lower and upper body muscle groups to show you the best ones.
- The way you train smaller muscle groups compared to larger ones has to be carefully planned in order to achieve your intended goals.
- For large muscle groups like the back and chest, you have to mix up the workouts and add more sets to achieve more muscle bulk.
- You can also gain better results by combining exercises from different smaller muscle groups rather than always focusing on one body part.
How Many Exercises Per Muscle Group Should You Plan For?
We've broken things down into 10 different body parts to show you what to do with each muscle group.
The back has some of the most intricate muscles in the upper body, and the main ones you'll be training are the traps, lats, and spinal erectors. It's quite a large muscle group, and when you look at a diagram, you'll see muscles running from the base of your skull to your shoulder blades and diagonal across the back as well.
I would aim to pick 3 to 4 back exercises per section per week and do 3 sets of each.
These should be a combination of push, pull, and back extensions:
- Lat pulldown
- Back extension
- Dumbbell rows
Also, I always get my clients to mix things around to avoid adaptation .
Many people tend to get mixed up with back and shoulder exercises, and it does make sense to combine these upper body sections into one training day.
For such combination days, I would recommend doing the same number of exercises per muscle group. You can even alternate between muscle groups to add more muscle confusion .
The shoulders are made up of the rear, lateral, and front delts. From the outside, they look and feel like one large muscle, but slight variations in weight lifting may achieve different results.
Aim for 2 to 3 different exercises for the shoulder with 3 sets each:
- Lateral raises
- Incline bench press
- Overhead/military press
- Face Pulls
What people refer to as the chest muscles is actually one very large muscle called the pectoralis major, or simply the pecs.
When it comes to this particular muscle group, I would generally recommend focusing on doing a mix of decline, level, and incline bench presses. By combining these chest upper body exercises, you can add and reduce the strain on different muscle parts .
The result should be a much better-shaped muscle than you'd get from just doing one exercise.
So, aim for those 3 exercises and do 3 sets each:
- Bench press
- Cable chest fly
- Decline dumbbell flys
This is the first body part we're getting to where you're going to be doing more isolation exercises than anything else.
Typically, this specific muscle group should be targeted on the same day as the triceps and forearms. You're going to be looking at different combinations of curls with barbells and dumbbells.
Pick 3 different workouts for every arm day and do them for 3 to 4 sets:
- Hammer curl
- Preacher curl
- Reverse grip curl
- Barbell curl
If you're one of my clients, you'll be targeting the triceps muscles on the same day as the biceps. And that will mean three exercises per muscle group.
This muscle is made up of the long head, the lateral head, and the medial head . They all make up a unique shape and, when trained properly, will give you that diamond shape when flexed.
You'll need to do combinations of dips, triceps kickbacks, pulldowns, and mix around the handgrip. It's possibly one of the easiest muscles to find different workouts simply by changing the grip.
The result should be 3 or 4 exercises with 3 sets each:
- Bench press
- Cable chest fly
- Decline dumbbell flys
6. Abs & Core
Call it the six-pack or eight-pack; achieving ripped abs will come down to getting the right training volume and spreading it out over a few days.
Don't pick one exercise like boring crunches and think you're done.
Instead, pick about 5 or 6 exercises like:
- Bicycle kicks
- In and outs
- Leg raises
- Crunchy frogs
OK, we've covered how to approach an upper body workout; now it's time for everything below the hips. And the quads are quite a complex combination of muscles that make up the front and outside of your thighs.
Because of the way these muscles work, it's quite easy to bring a bit of diversity into the mix.
Squats are the obvious candidate, but you'll find leg extensions and presses very helpful in shaping your quads .
Pick 3 to 4 different exercises or foot positions and do 3 sets each. It's a big muscle area, so make sure it gets the right attention:
- Bulgarian split squat
- Leg extensions
- Leg press
This is a major muscle group in the human body and one of the largest, as well .
One problem I have found with clients is that they just rely on other leg exercises like leg curls and presses for their glutes training.
But a more targeted approach with a certain foot position in the leg press or by doing glute bridges could have a better impact.
Aim to do 3 exercises with 3 sets each:
- Barbell glute bridge
- Romanian deadlift
"The gluteus maximus is the largest muscle in the human body. It is large and powerful because it has the job of keeping the trunk of the body in an erect posture. It is the chief antigravity muscle that aids in walking up stairs."
These are another important set of muscles that some people don't pay enough attention to.
While the quads are the more visible, the hamstrings can look out of proportion if you don't exercise them enough.
It's also one muscle that athletes commonly injure, and building up enough strength may help prevent that .
Aim to do 2 to 3 exercises for your hamstrings on leg days with 3 sets of each:
- Hip extension
- Leg curls
- Leg press
It's just as important to train small muscle groups. And to avoid the lollipop effect of skinny calves, you should always pay attention to your training frequency for these muscles.
It's not enough to think the other lower body workouts will cover them .
Aim to have at least 2 dedicated calf exercises on your leg days and do 4 sets of each:
- Standing calf raises
- Heel drops
- Seated calf raises
How Many Sets And Reps Should You Aim For?
How many sets and reps you should aim for heavily depends on your goals.
Before you start each session, you have to not just figure out how many exercises you'll do for each body part but also how many sets and reps.
Let's take a closer look at some of those goals.
Weight lifting should be an important part of your weight loss routine, and one thing that may speed things up is targeting large muscle groups with lots of reps.
Your rep range should be 12 to 20 reps across at least 3 sets.
Toning is where you want some extra muscle mass, but you don't want that bodybuilder effect in major muscle groups. Here are two ways I tell clients to approach it.
Either aim for about 12 reps consistently across 3 sets, or do the 8 reps bodybuilders aim for, but just do 2 sets.
For maximum bulking, it's all about building muscle mass through a combination of compound and isolation exercises. When you're focusing on smaller muscle groups like the upper arm, then aim for 6 to 8 reps and 4 sets.
Related: How Long Should Workouts Last?
Combining Exercises For Multiple Muscle Groups
Based on the above information, you should be aiming at doing about 9 exercises or sets per muscle group and possibly extending that to 12 per week for larger muscle groups.
But what you might also want to consider is that you might be able to achieve better muscle growth by taking an occasional full-body workout approach .
The question then becomes how many muscle groups to target in one training session.
And here's my advice.
It's OK to do a full-body workout once a week where you combine lower and upper body workouts to cover legs, arms, chest, shoulders, and back.
However, don't aim to do three exercises for each body part. That could end up being 30 exercises times 3 reps and way too much to safely build muscle tissue.
If you're combining multiple body parts, aim to keep your total workout session time to 90 minutes and evenly dedicate time to each part.
Can You Do Too Many Exercises per Muscle Group?
Yes, you can do too many exercises per muscle group. This can happen on dedicated days where you do more than 4 isolation workouts on one muscle or with a full-body workout where the total number of workouts adds too much strain.
Should You Do Isolation or Compound Exercises for Muscle Groups?
You should do both isolation and compound exercises for individual muscle groups. Anyone just starting out to get more ripped might be better off with compound movements to strain more muscles. And to shape individual muscles, you can switch to isolation ones .
Have You Decided How Many Exercises To Include?
Whether you're trying to lose fat or build muscle most effectively, there is a limit to the number of exercises you should do for each part of your body.
Avoid making the mistake of picking a few chest or bicep exercises and then constantly repeating them. Instead, aim to do about 9 sets across 3 exercises for each muscle group.
You'll have much better results and will start shaping a more athletic body. And if you need help with building a leaner body, check out our full training guide here.
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