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How Many Exercises To Do For An Effective Workout

by grace gallagher and jordan smith, NASM-CPT - January 31, 2022

Whether you’re just getting started in the gym, you’re a runner dipping a toe into cross-training or you’re a seasoned pro looking to switch up your workout routine, you need to go into the gym with a plan. This includes nailing down just how many exercises you should do per workout. After all, you want to build muscle, improve your self-confidence or log faster miles.

The one thing you don’t want to do—overtrain and end up sore for days (or worse, injured). Of course, the amount of exercises you do per workout will vary depending on your goals, how much time you have, and whether you’re doing a full-body workout or working a single muscle group. Read on to get the breakdown on how many exercises you really need to be doing during every workout.  

how many exercises per workout

How many exercises should I do per workout? 

Like so much about fitness, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer to how many exercises you should do per workout. It will depend on your goals, how much time you have and whether you’re working one muscle or if you’re doing a full-body workout

If you’re looking for a short and sweet workout that targets your full body and gets your heart-rate up, you’ll want to try a HIIT workout. Here are two 30-minute HIIT workouts you can try that have just four exercises put pack a major punch. You can also do workouts that contain more exercises, for example a series of eight moves, but have fewer circuits. 

If you’re training one body part, you’ll want to limit the number of exercises you do to avoid overtraining. A good place to start is with a four to five move circuit (like this lower-body workout).

Another factor? What muscle you’re training. You will be able to do more exercises with a larger muscle group that fatigues less easily, such as the legs, than you would be able to do with a smaller muscle, such as triceps, who get tired more quickly. Instead of trying to get through a certain amount of exercises, listen to your body which will tell you when it can push a bit more, and when it’s time for a break.

how many exercises per workout

How many sets should I do per workout?

Once again, this depends on your goals. Looking to build muscle? You’ll want to complete more sets, and also increase the weight you’re using. If your goal is endurance, sticking to fundamental exercises (squats, lunges, push-ups, etc) and varying the reps you do, the variations of each move and the weight you use within sets will help ensure a solid workout.

At a minimum, you can try performing at least three exercises of three sets each per workout and see how it feels. As you become stronger and more experienced you can increase this to three sets of five or more exercises per body part. 

How many exercises should be done for each body part? 

How many exercises you should do for each body part will depend on how many muscles you plan on working that day, how much time you have and your fitness goals.

If you’re planning to work different body parts over the course of the week, such as lower-body one day, arms another, and one day of chest and back,  you may be able to do two to four exercises per body part Leighanne Stephens, CPT,  tells Lively.

For example, if you do a leg workout one day, it won’t matter if you’re sore the next day if you plan to do arms, so you may be able to fit in a few more reps or another exercise. But, if you only plan to do a few HIIT workouts per week, you’ll need a different approach.

How many exercises is too many for one workout?

“If you are trying to do a full-body workout then you may want to stick to one or two exercises per body part,” Stephens says. Otherwise, you’ll likely spend way over an hour for a workout if you add too many moves per body part. Plus, you’ll tire out and be unable to complete good repetitions of each exercise, which can lead to an ineffective workout or even injury.

How many exercises should you do a day?

“Exercising each day is not recommended by most,” Stephens says. “Unless you’re a top athlete with a very specific training, recovery and nutrition plan then you should definitely be taking rest days multiple times a week.”

While your body is at rest your muscles repair the micro-tears in the muscle fibers and allows your muscles to cope better at the same level of strain in the future. If you feel the need to move each day, it’s totally fine to stretch, go for a walk or try some gentle yoga poses.

“If you’re trying to tone up or become stronger you will lift heavier and limit your workouts to two sets of each exercise. There really isn’t a set number, your goal is to either do 8 to 10 reps for size or 12 to 15 reps for strength,” Hickey says.

how many exercises per workout

How many chest exercises should I do per workout?

Generally, in any one chest workout, three to four exercises are optimal, Sergio Pedemonte, CPT and CEO of Your House Fitness tells Lively. If you don’t feel like that’s doing the trick or you want to mix up your workouts, you could level up to six to eight exercises (performed safely) before you risk repeated wear and tear injuries.

But, you’ll want to take your goals into consideration when planning for chest day. For example, if you’re looking to strengthen the chest muscles without dramatically increasing muscle mass, you’ll want to do a limited number of exercises, but to build a bigger chest, you’ll want to add more moves (and more weight) into your routine.

The bottom line: The amount of exercises you do per workout depends on your current fitness levels and personal goals. It’s best to work with a certified trainer or health professional to come up with a workout plan that’s right for you.

Vital note: This article has been made available for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Your licensed healthcare professional can best provide you with the diagnosis and treatment of any medical condition and assist you as well in deciding whether a dietary supplement will be a helpful addition to your regimen.

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