Do you find yourself wondering: How many exercises should you do per workout?

I get it. Creating your workout routine can be confusing and a complete pain. But it shouldn’t have to be.

In this post I will show you exactly how many exercises you should do per workout and why it is important that you stick to this suggestion so you can start structuring workouts that get you results.

We will also look at the different muscle groups and some set and rep recommendations.

Shall we begin?

How many exercises per workout?

How many exercises per workout

The simple answer: 2 to 4 exercises per workout.

Why is 2 to 4 exercises ideal?

It prevents too much variety

2 to 4 exercises per session prevents too much variety in your routine. Variety may be exciting, but it doesn’t get you results. To build muscle and continually progress you need to incorporate progressive overload. This means you need to always strive to do more.

Either lifting more weight, more reps per set or more sets. These continually challenge your muscle because you are making it harder by adding more work. Which then helps to stimulate muscle growth. More muscle means a higher metabolic rate which means more calories burned and a shapelier body.

And that doesn’t even begin to cover the benefits of adding more muscle to your body. But progressive overload can only be achieved if you are able to track and implement it.

If you are constantly changing your exercises from one week to the next, you can’t track your exercises and you certainly can’t progress. Limiting your workouts to only 2 to 4 exercises reduces the risk of adding to much variety. Although some variety is necessary, too much is going to hinder your progress.

It prevents overtraining

When you’re doing 15 to 20 exercises per workout it is so easy to over train, especially when you are training several days a week. Overtraining eventually leads to reduced performance because your body will be too tired to continue at the same pace.

Overtraining can also lead to increased blood pressure, loss of appetite, sleep disturbances and emotional instability. This means going overboard in the gym will also seep into your private life, making it difficult to function.

Not to mention that you will quickly plateau and possibly quit since you won’t see results.

It prevents fatigue


Only having 2 to 4 exercises planned for each session means that you will not be fatiguing yourself excessively during the workout. If you are doing 15 exercises in one session, you are going to be exhausted.

This means your performance will be reduced and you won’t be able to lift heavy when it matters. Ideally you should be focusing on progressively overloading one compound movement from each movement pattern so that you can build muscle all over.

If you are fatigued from going crazy with too many exercises, you won’t be able to focus on the compound movement you’ve chosen. It is better to focus on a handful of exercises that you can maximize on, than spread yourself thin over many exercises.

It saves time

How many exercises per workout to save time

Nobody wants to be in the gym for 3 hours. Life is busy, your to do list is never ending and you do have a life outside of gym. Restricting your workouts to 2 to 4 exercises per workout means you will be able to get in and out of the gym quickly. And still get a great workout that will get you results.

It will also make it easier to maintain the habit of exercising since you won’t need to dedicate a huge amount of time to train. Consistency is important. Going to the gym 3 to 4 times a week is far better than going to the gym for 2 hours and the quitting because you can’t keep up with the habit.

How many exercises per workout for full body sessions?

If you are training full body, you will not be able to train each muscle group in each session. Therefore, you will need to create a routine that hits each muscle group during the week. Aim for 4 to 6 exercises per full body workout with a combination of exercises from different muscle groups.

Since you are training only a few times a week, your chance of overtraining is reduced, and you will be spending less time in the gym overall.

How to structure your workout using movement patterns

There are 6 basic movement patterns. Together, the exercises from each category work all the major muscle groups in your body.

To ensure that you structure a balanced training routine, you must select exercises from each category. For example, if you select one knee dominant exercise, you need to select a hip dominant exercise and so on.

The basic movement patterns include:

Hip dominant

Knee dominant

Vertical push

Vertical pull

Horizontal push

Horizontal pull

How often should you train each muscle group?

How often should you train each muscle group
To build muscle you need to train each muscle group at least twice a week. If you aren’t interested in building a specific muscle group, you can train that group once a week. But you do no need to hit every muscle group in your weekly training routine.

The Major Muscle Groups

Muscle groups

Upper and lower back muscles

Your upper and lower back is comprised of the following muscles:
Rhomboids, latissimus dorsi, upper, middle and lower trapezius and erector spinae. There are a few other muscles, but these are the main muscles you need to know about.


Your quads are made up of 4 different muscles, the vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, vastus intermedius and the rectus femoris. These muscles are collectively known as the quadriceps.

Hamstrings and Glutes

Gluteus minimus, gluteus maximus and gluteus medius are the muscles that make up your butt muscles.

Your hamstrings are made up of 3 different muscles, the biceps femoris, semitendinosus and semimembranosus.


The calves have two main muscles, the gastrocnemius and the soleus.

The shoulder muscles

The muscles of your shoulders are the front, rear, and middle deltoid. These three muscles together, when trained properly, help to give you beautiful round shoulders.

Biceps and triceps

These muscles are the muscles in your upper arm and include the biceps brachii, coracobrachialis, brachialis and the triceps brachii.

The chest muscles

The major muscles of your chest are your pectoralis major and pectoralis minor.

The abs

How many exercises per workout-Abs

The three main muscles in your abdomen are your obliques (internal and external), rectus abdominis and transverse abdominis.

Don’t panic. You don’t need to know the name of every muscle listed here. You only need to know the main muscle groups to help you structure your work outs effectively.

How many sets and reps should you do?

Your goal will dictate how many sets and reps you need to do for each exercise.

For endurance you need to complete 2 to sets of 12 or more reps with a weight that is challenging but still allows you to complete the set with good form.

For hypertrophy, or muscle building you need to do 3 to 4 sets of 6 to 12 reps. Again, you need to select a weight that is challenging but still allows you to lift with good form and complete the set.

To build up your strength, you need to complete2 to 6 sets of 6 or less reps. The weight for your strength sets will be much heavier since you will be completing less reps per set.

Since you need strength in order to lift the weights and to continue progressing, you need to create a routine that incorporates both strength and hypertrophy sets.

What’s next?

First you need to choose whether you will be following an upper/lower body split or a full body program.

From there you need to make a list of the different exercises that you like doing from the 6 different movement patterns.

Then you simply need to select 4 exercises per workout from your list of exercises and make sure that you are training each muscle group throughout the week.

Now that you know how many exercises to do per workout and how many sets and reps, you are ready to create your own workout plan.

Anna Mathis, CPT,CNC
Anna Mathis, CPT,CNC

Anna is a certified personal trainer, certified nutrition coach, and science junkie who has a passion for teaching women about weight training, nutrition, and wellness.