How Many Exercises per Body Part?


You want to build muscle, but spending hours tweaking each body part in the gym is not on your agenda. That's OK -- because you don't always need to do several exercises for every body part. Choose compound exercises, which work multiple muscle groups with one lift, to avoid having to obsessively do three or four exercises per body part. For most people, a compound workout routine still provides results while keeping your gym time manageable and functional. If you'd still rather do multiple exercises for each body part -- be smart about your approach and how it can help you achieve your fitness goals.

Old-Fashioned Recommendations

  • Bodybuilding protocols in the 1960s to 1980s recommended you do at minimum three to four exercises per body part to train every fiber. Each of these exercises was to be repeated for three sets of eight to 12 repetitions. "Men's Health" points out that this regimen results in up to 144 repetitions for each muscle group. Performing that many repetitions is time consuming and may be counterproductive. You could end up overtraining, which will diminish your results and leave you benched with an injury. You may also be cheating yourself of your potential gains. If you can lift 144 repetitions of a weight per body part, you may not be lifting heavy enough weights to maximize your results.

Compound Exercises

  • A total-body workout usually consists of training all major muscles, including the legs, hips, abs, arms, shoulders, chest and back, in one session two to three times per week. For a total-body workout, you only need to do one exercise per muscle group -- but you should make it a compound movement. Examples of compound exercises are the bench press for the chest, pullups for the back and biceps, lunges and squats for the hips and legs, triceps pushups for the back of the upper arms and shoulder presses for the deltoids. These types of movements use one muscle group as the primary activator and multiple other groups for assistance and stabilization. For example, chest presses use the pectoralis major of the chest as the primary muscle but also engage the triceps and the front of the shoulders for assistance. When you perform triceps pushups later in the workout, you primarily target the triceps but still activate the pectoralis major for assistance. By using compound moves, you actually do hit every muscle group more than one time.

Total Repetitions

  • One exercise per muscle group is plenty if your goal is general health, athletic improvement or modest muscle gain. When designing your workout, aim for a total of 25 to 50 repetitions for each body part -- but not in one set. For example, you might do five sets of 10 repetitions of pullups to target the back. If you'd rather have variety in your routine, you could also opt to do one set of 12 repetitions of three different exercises for a body part. For example, do 12 repetitions of triceps dips, followed by 12 repetitions of kickbacks and finish with 12 repetitions of lying triceps extensions. The option you choose is really up to your personal preferences. To maximize your results, remember to leave at least 48 hours between sessions that train specific body parts.


  • Advanced strength-training athletes or bodybuilders may choose to do multiple exercises for each body part to improve muscular symmetry or to sculpt particular muscles to look good on stage. An injury, imbalance or weakness may also require multiple exercises for certain body parts. If you do choose to do more than one exercise per muscle group, consider splitting your routine up. Instead of trying to do multiple exercises for every part of your body in three full sessions per week, you might work your upper body on Mondays and Wednesdays and your lower body on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Splitting up your sessions makes your workouts last a manageable amount of time so your focus and energy stay high for the entire duration.

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