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How Many Exercises Do You Need to Maximise Muscle Growth?

Find the perfect number of reps, sets and exercises for you to maximise your results.

Find the perfect number of reps, sets and exercises for you to maximise your results.

What are the Advantages of Having more Muscle Mass?

Having more muscle mass offers several advantages for overall health, fitness, and daily functioning. Here are some of the key advantages:

Increased Strength: More muscle mass generally equates to increased strength. Building and maintaining muscle helps you perform physical tasks with greater ease, whether it’s lifting heavy objects, engaging in sports activities, or performing daily tasks like carrying groceries or climbing stairs.

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Enhanced Metabolism: Muscles are metabolically active tissues, meaning they burn calories even at rest. By increasing your muscle mass, you can boost your basal metabolic rate (BMR), which is the number of calories your body burns at rest. This can be beneficial for weight management or weight loss goals.

Improved Body Composition: Higher muscle mass contributes to a healthier body composition by reducing body fat percentage. Muscles are denser than fat, so as you build more muscle, your body becomes more toned and defined. Aesthetically, this can result in a leaner, more athletic appearance.

Increased Bone Density: Resistance training, which is often associated with muscle building, also stimulates bone growth and improves bone mineral density. This is particularly advantageous for preventing conditions like osteoporosis and reducing the risk of fractures, especially in older adults.

Better Insulin Sensitivity: Having more muscle mass can improve insulin sensitivity. Muscle tissue plays a crucial role in glucose metabolism, and by increasing muscle mass, you can enhance your body’s ability to use insulin effectively, reducing the risk of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.

Enhanced Functional Abilities: Building and maintaining muscle mass improves functional abilities and enhances overall physical performance. It can help you move with greater ease, maintain balance and stability, and improve posture. This can be particularly beneficial as you age, helping you maintain independence and reducing the risk of falls and injuries.

Increased Metabolic Flexibility: With more muscle mass, your body becomes more efficient at utilizing different energy sources. This metabolic flexibility allows you to switch between carbohydrates and fats as fuel sources during exercise or even during periods of fasting or low-calorie intake.

Improved Mental Health: Engaging in strength training and building muscle has been linked to improved mental well-being. Regular exercise, including resistance training, releases endorphins, reduces stress levels, boosts mood, and improves cognitive function.

It’s important to note that individual results may vary, and it’s essential to engage in muscle-building activities safely and with proper guidance. Consult with a healthcare or fitness professional to develop a suitable exercise program tailored to your specific needs and goals.

Different Extremes

When it comes to building muscle, there are two extremes on either end of the spectrum.

One camp uses a few basic barbell compound lifts such as the squat, deadlift, overhead press and bench press.

The other method is to hit each muscle group with as many different exercises as possible to attach it from many different angles and stimulate hypertrophy.

So, which one is best? Or should you use a mix of both?

Why are the Basic Compound Barbell Exercises so Effective for Building Muscle?

Basic compound barbell exercises are highly effective for building muscle due to several key reasons:

Multi-Joint Movements: Compound exercises involve multiple joints and muscle groups working together to perform the movement. For example, the barbell squat engages the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and core muscles. This recruitment of multiple muscle groups leads to greater overall muscle stimulation and activation compared to isolation exercises that target only a single muscle group.

Heavy Loading: Compound exercises typically allow for heavier weights to be used compared to isolation exercises. Heavy loading places a significant mechanical stress on the muscles, triggering muscle fibres to adapt and grow. This is known as progressive overload, a fundamental principle for muscle hypertrophy (growth).

Hormonal Response: Compound exercises elicit a greater hormonal response compared to isolation exercises. They stimulate the release of anabolic hormones, such as testosterone and growth hormone, which play a crucial role in muscle growth and repair. These hormones promote protein synthesis, muscle tissue regeneration, and overall muscle development.

Efficient Time and Energy Use: Compound exercises allow you to work multiple muscle groups simultaneously, making your workouts more time-efficient. By incorporating compound movements into your routine, you can target several muscle groups in a single exercise, maximizing the effectiveness of your training session.

mobilise your shoulders for overhead strict press 5 Barbell Exercises you Need for Muscle Mass

Functional Strength and Real-Life Applications: Compound exercises mimic movements commonly encountered in daily activities or sports. By performing exercises that involve multiple joints and muscle groups, you enhance your functional strength and improve your ability to perform tasks requiring coordination, stability, and overall physical power.

Core Stabilization: Many compound exercises engage the core muscles to stabilize the spine and maintain proper posture throughout the movement. This not only strengthens the core muscles directly but also improves overall stability, which is essential for proper form and injury prevention in other exercises and everyday activities.

Overall Muscle Balance: Compound exercises promote balanced muscle development by involving multiple muscle groups. This reduces the risk of developing muscular imbalances, where some muscles become disproportionately stronger than others. Balanced muscle development helps prevent postural issues and reduces the risk of injury.

While compound barbell exercises are highly effective, it’s important to ensure proper form and technique to minimize the risk of injury.

Why Does Muscle Hypertrophy Work when You Hit Each Muscle Group with Many Different Exercises?

Hitting each muscle group with many different exercises can be effective for muscle hypertrophy (growth) due to several reasons:

  • Variation of Stimulus: Different exercises place varying degrees of stress and tension on the muscles. By incorporating a variety of exercises, you can target the muscle from different angles and with different movement patterns. This variation of stimulus challenges the muscle fibres in unique ways, leading to greater overall muscle development.
  • Muscle Fibre Recruitment: Different exercises emphasize the recruitment of specific muscle fibres within a muscle group. For example, one exercise might primarily target the outer portion of the chest muscles, while another exercise targets the inner portion. By using a variety of exercises, you can ensure that you’re engaging and stimulating a broader range of muscle fibres within the muscle group, leading to more comprehensive growth.
  • Overcoming Plateaus: Our bodies are adaptive and tend to adapt to the stresses placed upon them over time. By incorporating different exercises, you can break through plateaus and prevent your body from adapting too much to a specific exercise or movement pattern. Constantly challenging the muscles with new exercises helps promote continued growth and progress.
  • Balanced Development: Different exercises can target different aspects of a muscle, such as specific regions, angles, or functions. By incorporating a variety of exercises, you can ensure more balanced development of the muscle group as a whole. This helps prevent muscular imbalances and enhances overall aesthetics and functional strength.
  • Enhanced Mind-Muscle Connection: Performing different exercises for a muscle group can improve your mind-muscle connection. As you become familiar with different exercises, you develop a better sense of how to activate and engage the target muscle effectively. This heightened mind-muscle connection allows for more focused and efficient muscle contractions during each exercise, maximizing the stimulus for growth.
  • Joint Health and Injury Prevention: Repeatedly performing the same exercise can potentially place excessive stress on specific joints or ligaments. Incorporating a variety of exercises distributes the load across different joints and movement patterns, reducing the risk of overuse injuries and promoting joint health in the long run.

It’s important to note that while incorporating a variety of exercises can be beneficial, it’s crucial to prioritize proper form, technique, and progressive overload. Also, individual preferences and goals should be taken into account when selecting exercises.

How Many Exercises Do you Need to Maximise Muscle Growth?

Jeremy Ethier explains his thoughts, “When deciding on how many exercises to do per muscle group, some people will take what I’ve mentioned and over-apply it into their training routines by hammering each muscle group with 6 or 7 exercises every workout. Don’t. If you do that, once your muscles get used to what you’re currently doing, you’ll have no leftover exercises to introduce it to in order to potentially stimulate more growth.”

Biceps-and-Dan-BaileySource: Photos Courtesy of CrossFit Inc

“So, just how many exercises should you do per muscle group? An effective option is to pick about 2-4 exercises for each of your muscle groups that work very well for you and cover a good variety of movement patterns. Then, simply distribute these throughout the week as needed and feel free to repeat some of those exercises on multiple days if needed. But limit the number of exercises you use per muscle in each workout to 3 or 4 at most.”

“Here’s an example of how you could distribute 4 exercises per week for chest into 2 workouts per week:”

4 Exercises:

– Flat bench press

– Cable flyes

– Incline dumbbell press

– Banded push-ups

Push Day 1:

– Flat bench press

– Cable flyes

Push Day 2:

– Incline dumbbell press

– Banded push-ups

Then simply throw in however many sets you need for each exercise in order to meet your weekly volume targets.

Push Day 1:

– Flat bench press: 3 sets

– Cable flyes: 3 sets

Push Day 2:

– Incline dumbbell press: 3 sets

– Banded push-ups: 3 sets

Total Weekly Chest Sets: 12 Sets

Here’s a step-by-step plan for how you could apply everything we covered on how many exercises you should do per muscle group:

  • Step 1: For each muscle group, pick about 2-4 exercises to perform per week. Use a good variety of exercises that not only work very well for you, but also cover different angles and muscle functions.
  • Step 2: After you pick your exercises, distribute them throughout the week. Avoid performing more than 3-4 exercises per muscle in one workout. Instead, split them up into multiple workouts.
  • Step 3: Allocate a number of sets for each exercise in order to hit your weekly volume targets for that muscle.

Information in Video Format

Who is Jeremy Ethier?

Jeremy Ethier gained popularity for his informative and well-researched videos that focus on topics such as muscle building, fat loss, proper exercise form, workout programming, and nutrition. He emphasizes the importance of evidence-based practices, citing scientific studies and research to support his recommendations.

His videos often include workout demonstrations, explanations of exercise techniques, and practical tips for achieving fitness goals. Jeremy Ethier’s content aims to help viewers understand the science behind fitness and make informed decisions about their training and nutrition strategies.

Why is Sleep Important for Muscle Growth?

Sleep plays a crucial role in muscle growth and recovery. Here are several reasons why sleep is important for muscle growth:

Hormonal Regulation: During sleep, the body releases important hormones that are essential for muscle growth and repair. Growth hormone (GH) and testosterone, both of which promote muscle synthesis, are primarily released during deep sleep stages. These hormones stimulate protein synthesis, muscle tissue repair, and overall muscle recovery.

Protein Synthesis: Sleep facilitates protein synthesis, the process by which the body builds new proteins and repairs damaged muscle tissue. Adequate sleep helps optimize the body’s ability to synthesize and utilize dietary protein for muscle repair and growth.

Muscle Recovery: Sleep is a critical time for the body to recover from the physical stress placed on muscles during exercise. During sleep, blood flow to the muscles increases, delivering oxygen and nutrients necessary for repair and recovery. Additionally, sleep helps reduce inflammation and oxidative stress, allowing for faster muscle repair.

Energy Restoration: Sleep is essential for replenishing energy stores, particularly glycogen, which is the primary fuel source for intense exercise. Proper glycogen levels are crucial for optimal performance during workouts, enabling you to train at higher intensities and stimulate muscle growth.

Performance Enhancement: Sufficient sleep improves overall physical and cognitive performance, which can indirectly contribute to muscle growth. When you’re well-rested, you have more energy, better focus, and increased motivation to engage in intense workouts. Consistently performing at your best during training sessions can lead to greater muscle stimulation and growth over time.

Cortisol Regulation: Sleep helps regulate cortisol levels, a hormone that can have catabolic (muscle breakdown) effects when chronically elevated. Adequate sleep and proper stress management contribute to maintaining healthy cortisol levels, preventing excessive muscle breakdown and promoting an anabolic (muscle-building) environment.

Neurological Recovery: Sleep is essential for neurological recovery and motor skill consolidation. During sleep, the brain processes and consolidates the information learned during the day, including motor patterns and exercise techniques. This consolidation enhances muscle memory and coordination, leading to more effective and efficient workouts.

To optimize muscle growth, it is recommended to prioritize quality sleep. Aim for 7-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night, establish a consistent sleep schedule, create a sleep-friendly environment, and practice good sleep hygiene habits. By doing so, you can support muscle recovery, promote optimal hormone balance, and maximize your muscle growth potential.

Why is Protein Vital for Muscle Hypertrophy?

Protein is vital for muscle hypertrophy (growth) due to several key reasons:

Muscle Protein Synthesis: Protein is made up of amino acids, which are the building blocks of muscle tissue. Consuming adequate protein provides the necessary amino acids for muscle protein synthesis, the process by which the body builds new proteins and repairs damaged muscle fibres. Muscle protein synthesis is a key mechanism for muscle growth and adaptation to exercise.

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Muscle Protein Breakdown: During exercise, especially resistance training, muscle protein breakdown occurs. This is a natural process where muscle fibres are damaged or stressed. Consuming protein after exercise helps to counteract protein breakdown and initiate the muscle repair process.

Essential Amino Acids: Protein sources, such as animal products (meat, fish, dairy) and complete plant-based proteins (soy, quinoa, hemp), provide essential amino acids that the body cannot produce on its own. These essential amino acids are crucial for muscle protein synthesis and cannot be synthesized in sufficient quantities by the body.

Leucine and Anabolic Signaling: Leucine, an essential amino acid found in protein, plays a significant role in triggering muscle protein synthesis. Leucine activates a key signaling pathway known as the mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR), which stimulates muscle protein synthesis and promotes muscle growth.

Nutrient Timing and Muscle Recovery: Consuming protein-rich foods or supplements within the post-exercise recovery window (typically within 1-2 hours after exercise) is important for maximizing muscle protein synthesis and promoting muscle recovery. This window of time is when the body is most responsive to protein intake and utilizes the nutrients for muscle repair and growth.

Increased Thermic Effect of Food (TEF): Protein has a higher thermic effect of food compared to carbohydrates or fats. This means that a significant portion of the calories consumed from protein is burned during the digestion and absorption process. This can indirectly support weight management goals and body composition improvements by increasing calorie expenditure.

Satiety and Muscle Preservation during Caloric Deficits: When in a caloric deficit for fat loss, consuming adequate protein is essential for preserving muscle mass. Protein has a higher satiety effect, meaning it helps you feel fuller for longer and reduces appetite. This can be beneficial for maintaining muscle mass while losing fat and preventing muscle breakdown during periods of reduced calorie intake.

To support muscle hypertrophy, it is generally recommended to consume an adequate amount of protein, ideally spread throughout the day. The exact protein requirements can vary depending on factors such as body weight, training intensity, and individual goals. Consulting with a registered dietitian or nutritionist can help determine the appropriate protein intake for your specific needs and optimize your muscle growth potential.

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