You’ve gotten into a stride with your fitness regimen and you’re proud of your results so far, but in the back of your mind you’re wondering, “am I really optimizing my workouts?”
Working towards a fitness goal isn’t just physically and mentally challenging — it’s also a science. Transform how you work out and how quickly you reach targets by knowing how to structure your exercises per workout session so you get the most out of them.
How many exercises should you do per workout, and why? Let’s find out!
Any sudden, drastic change in your exercise routine should be discussed with your doctor or your go-to fitness professional.
If you’re wondering how many exercises per day in gym environments is enough or most beneficial for you, the answer depends. Three to four exercises per workout is typically a sensible goal, but for those just getting into fitness for the first time, two exercises is a great start. Similarly, most avid athletes can handle more.
Aerobic exercise and strength training are two basic forms of exercise. Though it’s possible to do both strength training and cardio in one activity, beginners should try two exercises per workout session.
It’s okay to start small. Try to achieve a weekly total of 75 minutes of intense aerobic activity like a running workout or 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity. With each session (at least twice per week), combine that cardio with 12–15 reps of one to two strength training exercises.
Gradually increase and work toward three to four exercises per workout that hit all major muscle groups.
Three to four exercises can be enough to cover a full-body workout at the intermediate level, but it of course depends on your preferences and the type of movements that you are doing.
If you choose the right three or four exercises, you can get that ideal balance of 80:20 compound vs. isolation exercises, at least 15 total repetitions of each, and every muscle group being worked at least twice per week.
Attempting more than four exercises in one workout may make the session drag, depleting focus and energy levels.
However, depending on what you’re doing and your energy for the day, five or more could be totally fine for you. Just ensure you’re doing two exercises per muscle group and enough sets per week to train each muscle group twice a week.
As long as you pay attention to each muscle group, putting extra focus on certain muscles or areas depends on your personal preference.
Do enough different exercises/sets per week to train all of these muscle groups at least twice a week through at least two different activities:
If you’re wondering how many different exercises per workout is most efficient, there is a window to keep in mind. Unless you’re highly experienced and committed to working out, you’ll get overwhelmed if you exceed a certain threshold. Keep it to around four exercises at once and two or three sets per muscle group, two to four times per week.
Most people thrive on 30–45 minutes per day. If you introduce too many different things, you run the risk of sacrificing focus, stamina, performance, and time.
When doing too much at once takes a toll on your energy levels, you aren’t doing quality repetitions and therefore won’t benefit much from those exercises.
At that point, the best-case scenario is your workout becomes less effective and demotivates you for next time. The worst-case scenario is that poor form causes stress, strain, or injury.
Overtraining means you’ve worked certain muscles too much to sufficiently recover and sustain the effort for your fitness goals. Be reasonable about your sets per muscle group within any given day.
When workout motivation pays off, we start to feel invincible, but everyone has mental and physical limits. We can’t continue improving if we don’t respect those limits.
There are many different ways to structure a training schedule. Choosing just one muscle group per day isn’t as efficient, so mix and match exercises targeting certain muscle groups.
Pick a routine that’s best for your fitness level, goals, schedule, and needs.
For an upper/lower body split, complete one day of two or three upper body exercises and one day of two or three lower body exercises, followed by a rest day. This works great at an intermediate level.
The full body split entails training your whole body — every muscle group in one workout, followed by a rest day, and repeat three times per week. Reaching both the upper and lower body through two or three exercises is straightforward, making this a great option for beginners.
Some upper body muscles engage more during pushing or pressing motions, while others come into play with pulling. For this split, you’d do three exercises each day, cycling upper body pushing, upper body pulling, then lower body workouts, plus one rest day.
The most realistic and efficient path towards muscle growth is to focus on each body part two to three times per week through strength training.
The number of quality repetitions you can complete depends on the muscle, exercise, difficulty level, goals, and ability. Regardless, prioritize rep quality.
For example, the more weight you’re lifting, the fewer reps you’ll do, and if you’re lifting less weight, you can complete more reps. Most people have a different 1RM (one-rep maximum weight) they can handle for different muscles.
If you’re aiming for general fitness with your resistance training, 12–45 total reps of an exercise per workout is sufficient. Doing 26–48 total reps helps build endurance, 36–72 is ideal for building muscle mass, and 24–36 total reps will suffice to maximize strength. Powerlifting is slightly different, requiring 9–25 total reps, and sometimes only 3–10.
Instead of all at once, spread these reps out throughout your workout, including rest breaks for a couple of minutes each.
Here’s the breakdown of how many sets to break those reps into for each exercise, from lowest to highest amount of weight lifted:
Look at your goal, type of exercise, and the number of workouts per week in your split to calculate your total sets per week.
Most people can effectively strive for fitness goals by working out once a day three to six days per week. If dividing that into two to three shorter workouts throughout the day is more compatible with your schedule, that’s great!
It’s possible to do cardio and strength-train all your muscles in the same number of sets per week in two to three workouts per day rather than a once-a-day schedule. Whatever works best for your body and your schedule is what you should go with!
How to structure your workout routine depends on your lifestyle, schedule, and physical abilities. For example, if the gym doesn’t work for you, check out tips to work out at home.
Your current strength and size have a big impact on the amount of cardio, weight, reps, and sets you can handle at once. There are many ways to individualize women’s strength training and cardio.
This is closely related to tip number one. Know where you are today to set goals for tomorrow, next week, and beyond. Find the best way to get there.
Are you trying to max out your power, your endurance, or are you trying to lose weight? How will you continue ramping up the challenge?
Nutrition and hydration are key parts of the workout equation. Eat nutritious foods that contribute to your fitness and energy levels, and stay hydrated throughout the day.
Remember, it’s not one-size-fits-all. Your current size and how hard you push in your workouts influence how much fuel and water you will need to maintain your energy levels.
Get ample sleep, and rest at least one day per week. Muscles go through a lot during exercise. They need time to repair themselves before working again.
Specifically, your muscles need 48 hours to rest after strength training whether you work out your whole body every other day or alternate muscle groups.
Hiring a personal trainer helps, but now, there are resources online, from fitness plans to free blogs and video programs to help guide your journey, regardless of if you do home workouts, gym workouts, outdoor workouts, or anything in between.
Yes. Four exercises per workout is an effective and efficient amount for most people.
Doing ten exercises per workout will make the session last a long time, potentially hurting your focus, energy, and performance.
To build muscle, work each muscle group two to three times per week, through two to four different exercises.
Do three to four exercises each leg day.
For a full-body workout, find three to four exercises that integrate the upper and lower body equally.
Hypertrophy, or building a specific muscle’s mass, is possible by working out that muscle with two to four exercises two or three times per week.
What type of split works best for you, and why? How many sets per week do you complete for each muscle group? How do you structure your routine to keep pushing your limits without breaking your resolve?
Share your progress on Instagram and tag us @goalfive. Then, head over to our women’s activewear collection to add something special to your workout routine.
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