Truth about adding more exercises or more sets?


When it comes to improving your fitness regimen, the debate often centers around whether it’s more effective to adding more exercises or more sets to your workout routine. Both strategies have their merits and can contribute to overall progress, but understanding when and how to incorporate them is key to maximizing your results.

Adding Exercises:

Variety and Muscle Stimulation:

One of the primary benefits of adding more exercises to your routine is the increased variety it offers. Each exercise targets muscles from different angles and with varying degrees of intensity, which helps prevent plateaus and keeps your muscles guessing. Incorporating a wide range of exercises also ensures that you’re targeting all the major muscle groups for balanced development.

Skill Acquisition and Functional Fitness:

Introducing new exercises challenges your coordination, balance, and proprioception, which are essential components of functional fitness. Learning new movements can also enhance neural adaptations, improving your mind-muscle connection and overall athletic performance. Whether it’s mastering a new yoga pose or perfecting your deadlift form, adding exercises can help you develop a well-rounded skill set in addition to building strength and muscle.

Injury Prevention and Joint Health:

Overreliance on a few key exercises can lead to overuse injuries and muscle imbalances. By diversifying your routine with additional exercises, you can reduce the risk of repetitive strain injuries and promote joint health. Including exercises that target stabilizer muscles and address common weaknesses can help shore up any imbalances and enhance overall structural integrity.

Adding Sets:

Progressive Overload and Muscle Growth:

Increasing the number of sets for a particular exercise is a classic method of implementing progressive overload, a fundamental principle of muscle hypertrophy. By subjecting your muscles to greater levels of tension and fatigue, you stimulate additional muscle fibers and promote greater growth and strength gains. Adding sets allows you to push your muscles beyond their previous limits, forcing them to adapt and grow in response to the increased demand.

Time Efficiency and Workout Intensity:

For those with limited time to spend in the gym, adding sets to existing exercises can be an efficient way to ramp up the intensity of your workouts without significantly extending their duration. By maximizing the workload within each exercise, you can achieve a greater training stimulus in less time, making your workouts more time-effective without sacrificing effectiveness.

Focus and Mindset:

Adding sets can also be a mental challenge, pushing you to dig deeper and tap into your reserves of mental toughness and determination. As you strive to complete additional sets with proper form and intensity, you cultivate discipline and resilience, traits that are valuable both inside and outside the gym. Pushing through the discomfort of extra sets can build mental fortitude and confidence, reinforcing your commitment to your fitness goals.

Practical Considerations

Now we have explored the theoretical considerations about how many exercises we want to distribute our volume across and we need to explore the practical considerations which may also influence our decision.

First is equipment availability. Depending on where we train, we may be limited in what equipment we have available. Therefore, the number of exercises we can perform may be limited for each muscle group. For example, if we train in a home gym with just a barbell, plates and a rack, we have far fewer exercise options compared with a fully equipped commercial gym. In this case, even if it would be theoretically beneficial to implement more exercises, we simply cannot do so. Therefore, if we want to increase volume, we have to just perform more sets of the same exercises.

The second practical consideration is equipment setup. The more exercises we have in a single training session, the more equipment we need to set up and pack away. While this has nothing to do with hypertrophy gains directly, it is definitely an important consideration. From a practical perspective, this can make the training session more inconvenient for a variety of reasons.

If we train at a busy time in the gym, for example, we may have to wait for equipment to become available before we can use it. It will also take longer to set up and pack up equipment for each exercise, and it means we may need to do more warm up sets for each new exercise compared with performing more sets with fewer exercises.

practical recommendations:

First, it should be understood that total weekly volume is the most important variable about this discussion

Whether we change the number of exercises we perform or we change, the number of sets probably doesn’t have a major influence on muscle growth outcomes provided that volume is equated. However, there is probably a balance here where we don’t want to perform too many exercises for any particular muscle group, and we don’t want to perform too few. As a practical guideline, I would recommend to perform around 2 to 4 exercises per muscle group across the week.

Some muscles may require more exercises to maximize muscle growth, such as the pecs, lats, and trapezius. While other muscles may not need as many exercises

such as the biceps, hamstrings, and calves. Furthermore, our decision should be based on practical considerations too, such as equipment availability, equipment setup, and what training styles we enjoy. Then, once we have implemented our chosen number of exercises, we can then further manipulate volume by adjusting the number of sets for each exercise.


Ultimately, the decision to add more exercises or more sets to your workout routine should be based on your individual goals, preferences, and constraints. Experimenting with different approaches and listening to your body’s feedback can help you find the optimal balance that maximizes your progress while minimizing the risk of overtraining or burnout. Whether you choose to expand your exercise repertoire or crank up the intensity with extra sets, consistency and dedication are the keys to unlocking your full potential in the gym.

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