How many exercises per workout do you need?

Achieving your fitness goals begins with a well-structured workout routine. As a certified personal trainer, my clients often ask, “How many exercises per workout do you need to be effective?”

It’s a vital question because the correct number of exercises can make or break your fitness journey.

how many squats per workout do you need

It is usually followed right behind with, “How many reps per workout do you need to grow muscle?”

In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the factors that influence the ideal number of exercises per workout session when it comes to strength training.

Whether you’re starting your journey, an intermediate enthusiast looking to level up, or an advanced athlete striving for peak performance, the number of exercises you incorporate can significantly impact your results.

Factors influencing the number of exercises

Fitness goals

Your fitness goals, like getting stronger muscles, losing weight, or having more endurance, decide what exercises you should do.

To gain muscle mass, you’ll focus on exercises that make your muscles work hard, like lifting weights.

For weight loss, it’s about burning calories, so activities that get your heart pumping, like running or dancing, are great.

If endurance is your goal, choose exercises that improve your stamina, such as biking or swimming.

Remember, your goals shape your workout plan. So, know what you want, and pick exercises that match your goal.

Training experience

Exercise needs can vary for beginners, intermediate, and advanced fitness levels:


  • If you’re new to working out, starting with simple exercises is important.
  • You’ll want to build a strong foundation, so basic moves like push-ups, squats, and walking are good.
  • Too many complex exercises might be overwhelming and increase the risk of injury.
  • Focus on learning proper form and gradually increasing intensity.


  • After gaining some experience, you can add more variety to your workouts.
  • Incorporate new exercises and increase the challenge.
  • This might mean adding weights or trying more advanced bodyweight exercises.
  • You should still prioritize good form to prevent injury.


  • Advanced trainees have been working out for a while and can handle more intense workouts.
  • You might use advanced techniques like supersets, plyometrics, or high-intensity interval training (HIIT).
  • Your body adapts to exercises faster, so it’s important to keep changing your routine to keep progressing.
  • However, don’t forget about safety – even advanced exercisers need to use proper form.

Your available time

If you are short on time, you may need to focus on fewer exercises. But even if you only have 30 minutes, you can still get a good workout in. You can do more intense exercises or focus on compound exercises that work multiple muscle groups at once.

The type of workout you are doing

If you are doing a full-body workout, you will need to do more exercises than if you are doing a workout that focuses on one muscle group.

For example, a full-body workout might include 6-8 exercises, while a leg workout might only include 3-4 exercises.

How many exercises per workout should I do?

The ideal number of exercises per workout session is 3-4 different exercises.

woman doing smith machine deadlifts in the gym

Using three to four exercises will allow you to get a good training session, but it depends on your preferences and the type of movements you are doing. 

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.

Selecting your exercises appropriately and training them with sufficient volume and intensity will be enough to make great progress.

Does it change per muscle group?

Should you do more exercises if you are working major muscle groups? Or does it not matter regardless if it’s leg day and doing squats vs your arms and bicep curls?

If you are doing compound lifts involving different muscle groups, it might be good to do fewer exercises depending on your ability.

You should consider:

  • One to two primary compound exercises per workout (examples include squats, deadlifts, bench press, pull up and chest press)
  • Two to three secondary exercises per workout (lunges, step-ups, bicep curls and tricep extensions)

How many reps do you need to grow muscle?

The number of reps you can complete depends on the muscle, exercise, difficulty level and goals. Regardless, prioritize rep quality and form.

woman doing smith machine thrusts in the gym

The suggested repetition sets standard practice. If you want:

  • Stabilization and muscular endurance: 12-20 reps
  • Muscle hypertrophy: 6-12 reps
  • Maximum strength: 1-5 reps

The guidelines for physical activity for adults set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is to accumulate either 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity cardio exercises per week plus at least two full body strength training workouts.

This 2021 study by Brad J. Schoenfeld published in the Journal of Sports looked at the 1-5 rep range, 6-15, 15+ found very similar muscular development and growth. It didn’t matter the amount of reps. 

Every exercise doesn’t have to be the same amount of repetition. Some exercises and goals will require fewer repetitions. 

What will boost your workout is the intensity of your lift and the amount (weight) of lift.

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