Even for the most experienced enthusiast, fitness is a complicated subject. And, despite the increasing number of reliable online sources, it can be difficult to find answers you can trust. With the rise in popularity of strength training among average gym-goers, personal trainers and gym owners have begun hearing one question more often than others: how many exercises should I do per week to build muscle?
While the answer varies for each person depending on goals, training age, and level of fitness, there are some facts that stay consistent no matter who you are.
Throughout this article, we’ll give you the basic information you need to decide how many workouts you should do per week, what training structure interests you most, and how to continue learning about fitness. If you still have questions by the time you’re done reading, we recommend reaching out to one of our expert personal trainers or group fitness instructors for extra guidance.
Three Reliable Workout Routines
When planning out your weekly workout routine, it’s essential to make sure that you give enough attention to each of the major muscle groups. While some fitness professionals may break each muscle group into more specific categories, the five main muscle groups are:
Barring any specific goals or muscle imbalances, the average person should ideally train each muscle group twice per week for maximum results, with one to two exercises per muscle group during each workout session. That said, different workout routines structure these sessions in different ways, and which one is best depends entirely on your preferences and circumstances. Below, we’ll outline three reliable, time-tested routines.
Push Pull Legs (PPL)
This routine breaks down your weekly workouts based on movement patterns rather than just by body part. This means one workout focused on pull exercises, one on push exercises, and then one completely dedicated to legs.
Typically, people who use a PPL routine will do two push days, two pull days, and one leg day per week for five total days with four or five exercises on each day. To help reduce boredom or burnout, most people swap some movements every few weeks for other exercises of the same type. Also, individuals can adjust each movement’s rep range or how much weight they use depending on their goals. A basic PPL routine would look something like this:
Seated Dumbbell Overhead Press – 3 sets of 10-12
Flat Barbell Bench Press – 3 sets of 5
EZ-Bar French Press – 3 sets of 10-12
Cable Chest Flys – 3 sets of 12-15
Bent Over Barbell Row – 3 sets of 8
Lat Pulldowns – 3 sets of 8-10
EZ-Bar Bicep Curl – 3 sets of 12-15
Reverse Delt Flys – 3 sets of 8-10
Barbell Squats – 3 sets of 8-10
Glute-Ham Raises – 3 sets of 12-15
Weighted Lunges – 3 sets of 8-10
Machine Leg Extensions – 3 sets of 10-12
Full Body Workout
Rather than working a specific muscle group each day that you train, full-body workouts generally train fewer overall days each week but perform more exercises during each session to work every muscle group. This means fewer days in the gym to build muscle but longer gym sessions for the days you do go.
Typically, a full-body workout routine will be split into two, three, or four days with rest days in between and use different exercises each day while still targeting the entire body. It’s important to remember that because you’re training your whole body each session, recovery is even more crucial than normal. Make sure you’re eating enough good food, drinking water, and getting enough sleep between sessions.
A basic full-body training split looks something like this:
Sumo Deadlifts – 3 sets of 5
Kettlebell Swings – 5 sets of 8-10
Barbell Overhead Press – 3 sets of 5
Leg Press – 3 sets of 8-10
Rope Tricep Pushdowns – 3 sets of 10-12
Bulgarian Split Squats – 3 sets of 8-10
Dumbbell Incline Press – 3 sets of 5
Pull-ups – 3 sets of 8-10 (assisted if needed!)
Leg Curls – 3 sets of 8-10
Hammer Curls – 3 sets of 12-15
Landmine Press – 3 sets of 8-10
Dumbbell Row – 3 sets of 10-12
Back Hyper-Extensions – 3 sets of 12-15
Weighted Lunges – 3 sets of 8-10
Hanging Knee Raises – 3 sets of 12-15
As the name might suggest, an upper/lower split outlines different days each week for upper body exercises and lower body exercises. Usually, this type of workout program uses four lifting sessions each week–two for upper, two for lower–and three to four exercises for large muscle groups with isolation exercises for smaller muscles.
Among workout splits, an upper/lower routine is one of the simplest and may be best for those just getting into strength training. An example of an upper/lower routine would look something like this:
Standing Barbell Row – 3 sets of 6-8
Incline Barbell Bench Press – 3 sets of 8-10
Barbell High Rows – 3 sets of 8-10
Lateral Raises – 3 sets of 12-15
Chin-Ups – 3 sets of 6-8
Bodyweight Dips – 3 sets of 8-10
Linear Leg Press – 3 sets of 10-12
Seated Calf Raises – 5 sets of 12-15
Glute-Ham Raises – 3 sets of 10-12
Box Squats – 3 sets of 6-8
Machine Leg Extensions – 3 sets of 10-12
Quality Over Quantity
When trying to build strength or muscle, it’s easy to fall prey to the idea that more is always better. Whether it’s how many exercises you do, how many reps of those exercises you perform, or how much weight you lift, the mentality of “more” is often less effective than the mentality of “better.”
For strength training, this means focusing on high-quality reps with a full range of motion and proper technique. With chest exercises, for instance, focus on fully contracting and stretching your chest muscles during each rep. By making quality the primary goal of your workout routine, you minimize your risk of injury, learn how to use your muscles in a safe and healthy way and reduce wasted effort from low-quality repetitions.
How Muscles Grow
The human body is an amazing piece of machinery that speaks the language of necessity. So long as you learn to properly communicate your needs–and give it the proper resources–your body will perform astonishing feats to help you reach your fitness goals.
Specifically, your body responds to activities and exercises that make it struggle. In practice, this means that the reps closest to “failure” are the ones that most clearly tell your body that it needs to grow. By making sure to give the most possible effort to each gym session, you maximize the value of your workout plan and improve results.
No amount of effort, however, will cause progress if you don’t give your body the proper resources. For muscle growth, these resources are relatively simple:
Just like working out takes energy, building new muscle tissue during the recovery period also takes energy. In both cases, this energy comes from the calories found in food. To start, we suggest using an online calorie calculator to estimate your caloric “maintenance,” or the number of calories your body needs to maintain its current weight.
Then, take that number and add anywhere from 300 to 1000 calories, depending on how quickly you want to build muscle. Eating a larger surplus of calories each day will help you gain weight faster, but you will gain both fat and muscle. Eating a smaller surplus while training hard will mean slower weight gain but more muscle and less fat. Which you choose entirely depends on your goals and fitness values.
Generally, modern experts suggest 0.7-1 gram of protein per pound of body weight for muscle growth. That means that a 200lb individual should eat between 140 and 200 grams of protein per day. While this may seem like a lot, protein powders and foods such as lean meats, cottage cheese or Greek yogurt, and eggs can help bridge the gap.
Your body uses water to transport nutrients throughout your body and to the muscles you use while working out. Without proper hydration, this process is disrupted, meaning slower recovery, more muscle and tendon soreness, and less progress.
For most individuals, 120 to 150 ounces of water per day is enough to keep them hydrated. If you sweat heavily or perform strenuous cardio in addition to your resistance training, such as a HIIT class, consider adjusting your water intake to compensate.
Finally, hydration during a workout is just as important as hydration after you’re done exercising. Experts suggest drinking roughly 20 ounces of water two to three hours before exercising. This way, your body will have the hydration it needs to supply your muscles with nutrients during a workout.
Even more than nutrition, sleep is one of the most critical elements of any fitness routine, regardless of whether you want to lose weight, build muscle, or improve overall health. When you lift weights or perform other types of resistance training, you cause small breaks or tears in the tissue of your muscles. During rest periods (especially while sleeping), your body repairs these tears and makes them stronger, which in turn causes your muscles to grow.
When you don’t get enough high-quality sleep, however, this process becomes much less efficient. The longer you go without properly recovering from your workout routine, the more likely you are to become injured, stay continuously sore, or progress less quickly than you might otherwise.
Let Crunch Help
Whether you need help targeting a particular muscle group, advice on how much volume to include during each session, or want to learn different exercises to keep your routine interesting, a certified personal trainer is one of the best resources around. To get you started, our trainers can provide a sample workout tailored to your specific circumstances, with step-by-step support to ensure proper technique.
If group fitness classes are more your style, consider checking out our HIIT classes or boot camps. With a maximum-effort approach to training, these classes can increase muscle mass and muscular endurance, leading to better overall fitness and full-
body strength. For members on our Basic plan, try our complimentary trial class pass to see what our classes have to offer!
Crunch’s group fitness classes promote a culture of fun with no judgments. It’s an environment for all types of individuals with various goals. Find a Crunch gym near you to try our free trial membership, or join Crunch now. Your goals are made to be crushed. With Crunch, you’ll have the tools, resources, and support to make it happen.