how many exercises per muscle group

How Many Exercises, Sets, and Reps Should I Do Per Muscle Group & Workout?

June 01, 2021

A question that we encounter frequently from people just getting into weightlifting is “How many exercises and sets should I do per week or per muscle group?”. The answer to this question is determined by several unique variables to the person. The general consensus is that each major muscle group should be exercised twice a week. If you’re new to weight lifting or you’ve spent years in the gym, this article can serve as a quick reminder of the major muscle groups, most effective exercises and guidelines for sets and reps.

how many reps per set

What are Sets and Reps?

The fitness world comes with its own vernacular, and two of the most common words you will hear are sets and reps. Reps stands for repetitions, or the number of times you do a specific exercise. Sets, means the number reps you’re completing before taking a rest. For example, if a workout calls for 3 sets of bench press with 12 reps in each set, then you would be expected to do 12 reps three times for a total of 36 repetitions.

How Many Sets per exercise Should I do?

Ask this question to 5 different personal trainers and you will get 5 different answers. To drill down to a halfway decent answer, you must first set the parameters to which the question is being asked. Is this for a beginner or advanced lifter? Do you want to build mass or lose fat? How often does this person workout? The answers to all these questions will help guide you to an answer that fits your situation.

American College of Sports Medicine recommends 2-3 sets of 8-12 reps to be the sweet spot; coming close to failure on the last rep of each set.

How many sets per muscle group should I do per week?

Numerous studies have been conducted in this area with the majority agreeing that more volume/sets leads to more growth. This study in 2010 saw that people who did 4-6 sets per week per muscle group had around 80% more muscle growth compared to those who completed one set per muscle group per week. This study in 2017 reinforced the results that the more sets you do the better the results.

There is however a limit to when higher sets/volumes are beneficial and can actually become detrimental to your gains. The same researcher from the aforementioned study, James Krieger, studied the meta-analysis and concluded that 10 sets per muscle group seems to be the upper limit of beneficial outcomes. If you’re doing more than 10 hard sets of a particular muscle group in one day you might be doing more harm than good as this “junk volume” can hinder your recovery.

Take this with a grain of salt, as the exact effects can vary depending on the person’s fitness level, how long they’ve been training and the type of exercises being performed. For example, a total of 10 hard sets comprised of squats, deadlifts and lunges will be more taxing on your muscles than leg extensions, quad curls and calf raises.

How many Reps per exercise should I do?

The number of reps you do per set should be aligned with your end goals.

  • Reps to Increase Power: 1-3 reps of big compound movements at 70-95% of your 1 rep max.
  • Reps to Increase Strength: 4-6 reps of compound movements at 85-90% of your 1 rep max.
  • Reps to Build Muscle: 8-15 reps of compound and isolation movements using 65-75% of your 1 rep max.
  • Reps to increase Endurance: Over 15 reps of smaller compound and isolation movements using 30-60% of your 1 rep max.

Some popular workout programs include:

  • Push/Pull Split: This workout programs will have you doing push exercises on the same day, think bench press, overhead press, squat. Then you will do pulling exercises the next day; think rows, deadlifts, pull ups.
  • Upper body/Lower Body: In this workout program you will have 2 days of upper body exercises and 2 days of lower body exercises weekly.
  • 5 x 5: In this program you will be doing 5 sets of 5 reps for the big compound lifts such as deadlifts, squats, rows, overhead press etc. usually 2-3 days per week.
  • Full body: As the name implies you will targeting all major muscle groups during each workout. The rep range should be 6-12 reps.

How Many Exercises Per Workout?

As mentioned above you should aim for 15-25 total sets per workout with each exercise being 2-3 sets of 8-12 reps. This means you should do around 5 to 8 different exercises during that single workout if you're doing 3 sets of each exercise. Or you could be doing 7-12 exercises if you're doing two sets of each exercise. Remember we are trying to stay at/under 20 sets per muscle group per week if you're working the same muscle group twice a week.

For Losing Fat:

To lose fat you should be doing a high volume of reps per set. Still sticking within the guidelines above, not to exceed certain number of sets and reps, you must turn up the intensity on these exercises. You can reduce rest times between sets. You can also try to execute HIIT or EMOM or AMRAP circuits to get that heart pumping, that sweat dripping and those calories melting.

Related:

For Building Muscle:

To build muscle it is important to note the concept of Time Under Tension (TUT). This is the amount of time the muscle is under tension or strained during a particular exercise. In essence, you should try to lengthen the time of each phase of the movement. The phase of the movement we are most concerned with is the stretching phase where you should try for slow eccentric movement. Think of when you do a bicep curl, you can curl the weight up fast but you should slowly lower the weight. As mentioned above, the goal is hypertrophy so you will want have a good mixture of both compound movements and isolation exercises with a rep range of 6-12 reps per set.

For Beginners:

Those new to fitness should start with full body workouts until their bodies get accustomed to exercising. In each full body workout, each muscle group should be targeted, completing 2 sets of 10-12 reps. Make sure to give yourself adequate rest and recovery between workout days.

Full body workout example:

Choose one exercise from each of the 12 muscle groups listed below then complete two sets of  8-12 reps.

  • Monday: Full Body
  • Tuesday: Rest
  • Wednesday: Full Body
  • Thursday: Rest
  • Friday: Full Body
  • Saturday: Rest
  • Sunday: Rest

How many Exercises Per Muscle Group?

Once again, the number of exercises per muscle group should be influenced by individual circumstances including the goals of the person. However, we can say doing the normal “Bro Split” where you hit one body part per week i.e. Monday = Chest Day, Tuesday = Back Day etc. isn’t as effective as hitting all major muscle groups two times a week.

You should be aiming for 10-20 sets per muscle group per week split into two sessions. This will keep you fresh, avoiding potential over-training and should give you better gains. Aim for each workout to consist of 15-25 sets total but with less than 10 sets for a specific muscle group on one day. To go a step further, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends 8-10 multi-joint exercises per week.

Try this Upper/Lower Body Split:

  • Monday: Upper body
  • Tuesday: Lower body
  • Wednesday: Rest/Recovery
  • Thursday: Upper body
  • Friday: Lower body
  • Saturday: Cardio/Core
  • Sunday: Rest

HOW OFTEN SHOULD I TRAIN EACH MUSCLE GROUP?

Multiple studies show that the optimal results occur when people train each muscle group twice a week. By training each muscle group twice a week you can work hard with a high intensity without over-training in one particular workout session. This training schedule is also good because it can reduce your time commitment to working out but also give you some amazing results.

    How Many Muscle Groups Are in The Body?

    There are over 600 muscles in the human body! We will briefly touch on some of the best exercises for certain muscle groups. The following 12 major muscle groups that should be targeted in your exercise regimen.

    1. Trapezius
    2. Shoulders
    3. Chest
    4. Back
    5. Abs
    6. Triceps
    7. Biceps
    8. Forearms
    9. Glutes
    10. Quads
    11. Hamstrings
    12. Calves

    TRAPEZIUS

    What is the Trapezius?

    Usually referred to as “traps”, the trapezius is the triangular shaped muscle in your upper back. Often overlooked as part of the back muscles the traps can be targeted with particular exercises such as shrugs. Deadlifts also work the traps because of the strain it causes, the traps are forcefully engaged.

    The traps help with rotating and moving the shoulder blades while keeping them stable. Your head movements are sustained by your traps. The muscle fibers of the trapezius are split into three areas, the upper, middle and lower. The upper fibers are responsible for extending your neck while also elevating and upwardly rotating the scapula. The middle fibers retract the scapula and the lower fibers support the upper fibers in upwardly rotating the scapula. The trapezius is considered a superficial muscle, as we can see and feel it. Sometimes you will see bodybuilders with huge traps where it seems like the don’t have a neck, just their head sitting atop a triangle.

    how many exercises per workout

    What are the best exercises to build traps?

    There are some “big” lifts like deadlifts, snatches and cleans that help to build strength in the traps. The best exercise to build your trap are different shrug variations.

    The more targeted trap exercises include:

    • Military Press/ Overhead Press
    • Farmer’s Walk
    • Shrugs
    • Lateral/Side Raises
    • Face Pulls
    • Upright Rows

    Related: In-depth Guide to the Best Trap Exercises

    SHOULDERS

    What are the shoulder muscles?

    The shoulders are comprised of the front, side and rear deltoids. There are exercises that target a specific deltoid or multiple deltoids. The military press is one major exercise that works all three deltoids aka delts. The delts stretch from the clavicle to the scapula and down to the humerus. Protecting the glenohumeral joint, these muscles help with everyday tasks such as raising your arms to pick something up. They also help support pectoral function, as you will feel when you do a chest workout. Many people end up experiencing shoulder pain at some point in life so it’s important to keep these muscles strong and limber.

    how many sets and reps

    What are the best shoulder exercises to build muscle?

    The king of shoulder exercises is the military press or overhead press. Although the military press might be the best shoulder exercise, there are plenty of others that will also help make your shoulders stronger. The shoulder muscles are also engaged in other exercises such as incline bench press and deadlifts.

    Some exercises to build shoulder strength are:

    • Arnold Press
    • Single Arm Overhead Press
    • Handstand/Wall Push Ups
    • Front/Side/Rear Raises
    • Upright Rows

    CHEST

    What are the chest muscles?

    Often referred to as “pecs” the pectoralis muscles connect the chest to the bones of the upper arm and shoulder. Located on both sides of your sternum is the pectoralis major and pectoralis minor. If you move your arms up, down or across your body then your pecs are being put to work. Most people love a good “chest day” in the gym as both men and women benefit (*get attention*) from having larger chest muscles.

    how many reps and sets should I do

    What are the best chest exercises to build muscle?

    You often hear people talking about how much they can bench as a sign of strength but when was the last time you heard someone saying how many weighted dips they could do? The best exercises to build a strong chest are bench press  and dips but there are a number of exercises that assist in developing the chest muscles, including:

    • Dips
    • Incline/Decline Press
    • Push Ups (wide/close grip/weighted/elevated)
    • Flys
    • Pullovers
    • Cable Crossovers

    BACK

    What are the back muscles?

    There are 40 muscles in the back (20 pairs), one the largest muscle groups in your body. We will only focus on the bigger back muscles such as the erector spinae, rhomboid, teres major and last but not least the latissimus dorsi.

    Frequently you will have people trying to build that “winged’ look by focusing on building their lats, which are the most well-known back muscle. The lats are involved in providing good posture, help to move your arms and shoulders while protecting and stabilizing your spine. Needless to say, the lats are a super important muscle, apart from making you look like a Superhero.

    The erector spinae muscles are located on both sides of the vertebral column and run next to the lumbar, thoracic and cervical segments of the spine. These muscles are essential for helping with rotation and keeping your back straight. You can recognize if someone does a lot of deadlifts if they have large erector spinae muscles.

    The rhomboids are found beneath your traps and they help to support the retraction of the scapula, give stability to your shoulders and aid in maintaining good posture.

    Lastly, the teres major located in the upper arm which helps with medial arm rotation and arm swinging. There’s also a teres minor that helps to stabilize the glenohumeral joint by holding together the ball and socket. These muscles are important to note because of how they work in conjunction with the rotator cuff.

    how many sets should I do

    What are the best back exercises?

    Back exercises can usually be separated into two areas; exercises to increase the depth of the back and exercises that improve the width of the back. Deadlifts are a great example to get a thicker back with pull ups being a perfect exercise to increase the width. A strong back is necessary are we age to help fend off back pain or other injuries.

    The best exercises for back include:

    • Deadlifts
    • Pull Ups/Chin Ups
    • Rows
    • Pulldowns
    • Back Extensions

    Related: 11 Deadlift Variations

    ABS

    What are the ab muscles?

    The abs include four groups muscles the rectus abdominis, the transversus abdominis, the internal obliques and the external obliques. The rectus abdominis is the most popular as this gives people the six pack look that is highly desired. Overall, these muscles enable us to move in various planes of motion and stay balanced while also protecting our spine.

    set of exercises

    What are the best ab exercises to build muscle?

    The best ab exercises you can do are actually not really considered “ab” exercises. By doing some major compound exercises such as deadlifts, squats, overhead presses; you will force your abs to be engaged which will help to build strength. However, if you do want to target your core more specifically there are a number of exercises that will do the trick.

    Always remember, we all have abs, they are just hiding underneath that belly fat. The old saying goes, “Abs aren’t built in the gym but in the kitchen”  which is half true but if you want strong well defined abs you have to put in the hard work. You will also need low body fat to get a glimpse of those abs.

    Some of the best isolated ab exercises are:

    • Crunches
    • Hanging Leg Raises
    • Planks

    TRICEPS

    What are the triceps muscles?

    The triceps brachii or “tris” are the muscle on the back of the upper arm with three heads; the long, lateral and medial head. The triceps enable us to straighten our arms and support us when pushing/pressing objects. The triceps are basically 2/3 of your upper arm but often get less attention than its neighbor, the biceps.

    What are the best triceps exercises to build muscle?

    The best triceps exercises are found in compound movements such as pushups, overhead press close/reverse grip bench press, pullovers and dips.

    There are multiple isolation exercises for the triceps that can help with improving the definition of the different heads of the muscle, for example:

    • Press downs
    • Skull Crushers
    • Overhead Triceps Extensions

    BICEPS

    What are the biceps muscles?

    The other portion of your upper arm is made of the biceps brachii which is a two headed muscle. Comprised of the short and long head, these muscles start from the scapula and come together at the upper forearm. The biceps support supinating and flexing the forearm and are important for pulling exercises.

    What are the best bicep exercises to build muscle?

    Once again some of the best exercises you can do to build strength in your biceps are compound movements such as rows, pull ups and close grip chin ups. You can add some isolation exercises into the mix if you want to improve those beach muscles.  

    Do these exercises for a massive pump:

    • Crossbody Curl
    • Preacher Curl
    • Incline Curls
    • Alternating Dumbbell Curls

    how many reps and sets to build muscle

    FOREARMS

    What are the forearm muscles?

    The forearms consist of multiple muscles that are divided by the anterior and posterior with corresponding levels such and the superficial, intermediate and deep tissue. Some muscles include flexor carpi radialis, abductor pollicis longus, brachioradialis and pronator teres. The muscles in your forearm are responsible for moving your wrists, hands and fingers. Forearm strength and grip strength are extremely important in both life and fitness.

    What are the best forearm exercises to build muscle?

    When doing most upper body exercises your forearms will come into play by holding and gripping the weight or bar. This means exercises like Farmer’s Walks are great to improve forearm and grip strength. By strengthening your forearms, you will be able to improve other lifts as well such as the deadlift or pull ups.  

    Besides the big lifts you can improve your forearm strength with:

    • Reverse Wrist Curls
    • Pinwheel Curls
    • Wrist Curls

    GLUTES

    What are the gluteal muscles?

    Usually called the glutes, these muscles start at the pelvis then insert into the femur. The three muscles are the gluteus minimus, gluteus medius and gluteus maximus. Your glute muscles are partly responsible for walking, running and jumping. Besides being super practical muscles, they also garner unending attention for other reasons. These days you can’t go online or visit a gym without seeing people working on improving their glutes.

    how many sets per workout

    What are the best glute exercises to build muscle?

    The best exercises for building your glutes are based in large movements such as squats. Many gyms these days are adding glute specific workout equipment amongst their lineup as the trend of bigger behinds continues.

    There are also glute specific exercises you for example:

    • Booty Band Lateral Walks
    • Glute Bridges
    • Fire Hydrants

    QUADS

    What are the quadriceps muscles?

    The quadriceps femoris aka “quads” are found on the front of your thigh and are comprised of, you guessed it four main muscles; the rectus femoris, vastus intermedius, vastus medialis and vastus lateralis. They start at the femur(thighbone) and ilium (hipbone) and attach to the patella (kneecap). These muscles support the extension of the knee and are essential for standing, walking and running.

    What are the best quadriceps exercises to build muscle?

    The best exercises for quadriceps are large compound movements such as squats and lunges. There are numerous variations of both squats and lunges so you should never get bored of working out these muscles. There are also isolation exercises such as leg extensions or terminal knee extensions (TKE) if you want to specifically target the quads or are rehabbing an injury.

    Some of the best exercises to build the quad muscles include:

    • Zercher Squats
    • Front Squats
    • Curtsy Lunge
    • Sumo Squat

    HAMSTRINGS

    What are the hamstrings muscles?

    Made of the semitendinosus, semimembranosus, and biceps femoris. We will focus on the biceps of the lower body; the biceps femoris otherwise known as the hamstrings. The biceps femoris is comprised of a long and short head. The short head of the hamstring is attached to the femur whereas the long head attached to the ischium (lower hip bone). The hamstrings help with hip extension, internal/external rotation and knee flexion. As there are millions of people who are sitting all day at desks, it’s important to stretch and work those hamstrings consistently.

    What are the best hamstring exercises to build muscle?

    The best hamstring exercises for building muscles are different types of deadlifts where your legs stay straight and get a massive stretch like stiff legged deadlift. Most gyms also have machines like the quad curl to isolate the effort of the hamstrings.

    The overall best exercises for hamstrings are:

    • Stiff Legged Deadlift
    • Romanian Deadlift
    • Good Mornings
    • Kettlebell Swings

    CALVES

    What are the calf muscles?

    The calves are made up of two muscles; the gastrocnemius and the soleus. The gastrocnemius is the larger muscle that you can see. It has two heads and plays a major role in running and jumping. This is the muscle that really defines one’s legs.

    The soleus is the smaller flat muscle behind the gastrocnemius and it helps to flex the foot so it points downward. This function called plantar flexion makes it so we can stand up and not fall forward. These two muscles are on the back of your lower leg and they help us to move forward by lifting our heels.

    What are the best calf exercises to build muscle?

    While some people are born with the genetics to have strong thick calves, others have to work extra hard to add mass to these muscles. If you're one of the lucky ones you can get a good calf workout in while doing other exercises such as lunges and split squats. If you're one of the unlucky ones then you might have to put some extra effort into building up your calves. Whatever the case, don’t be the one walking around with a massive upper body and chicken legs.

    Try some of the best exercises for building muscle in your calves:

    • Standing Calf Raises
    • Seated Calf Raises
    • Leg Press Calf Raises

      how many sets per week

      FINAL THOUGHT

      There isn’t a magical equation to find how many exercises, sets and reps that should be done for each muscle group. Fitness is a personal journey where you have to do the hard work to see what works best for you. There are plenty of fitness gurus on the web that preach a certain number of sets/reps is the best but that’s probably because it’s what worked best for them. The only way to determine what sets, reps and exercises are right for you is to get out there and get after it.



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