Dr. Bell, How many exercises should you do for one muscle? Meaning, if its chest day and I’ve already done an incline bench press, is it good to do a flat bench press as well? Or should I do a different chest exercise? And how many chest exercises should I do during a chest session?
How many exercises you should do for one muscle is dependent on many factors. Beginning Bodybuilders should start their first week with One Exercise, One Set/Body Part: (1)Chest, (2) Back, (3) Shoulders, (4) Biceps, (5) Triceps, (6) Trapezius, (7) Lats, (8) Low Back, (9) Abs, (10) Quads, (11) Hams, (12) Calfs.
For a Beginner, after the first or second week they can perform two sets for each body part. 24 Sets is very demanding for a Beginner.
If a beginner continues to increase volume, they must begin Split Routines. For Example: Upper Body Exercises on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Lower Body Exercises on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.
Advanced Bodybuilders use high-volume Programs like Body-Blasting, where they pick one body part/day and “BLAST” that body part with 20 or more sets.
How many exercises you do/body part is also subject to a variety of opinions. Powerlifters can do the basic Powerlifters Bench Press for 3 hours/ workout…though they may only do 18 Reps in a workout..since they typically do 1-RM Lift and talk about it for 10 minutes!
I am exaggerating (slightly) to tease my friends from my Powerlifting days when we thought a 5RM Set was a Cardio Day!
For Bodybuilders, looking to develop a symmetrical physique, increasing the amount of exercises typically takes precedence over the amount of sets. The Powerlifters focuses on relatively few exercises and do as many sets/exercise as their program design allows. The Bodybuilder wants to focus on as many exercises as possible to develop each muscle fully, with each specific exercise emphasizing a separate part of a muscle.
Using your example of the chest, if you perform an Incline Chest Press, the emphasis is on the clavicle portion of your chest. The Flat Chest Press puts the emphasis on your central pectoralis major, and the Decline Chest Press puts the emphasis on the lowest portion of your chest. Even changing grip from narrow, medium to wide will change the emphasis of the lift.
As a minimum, I recommend you do at least 3 exercises of 3 sets each. However, many Advanced Bodybuilders will do 3 or more sets of 5 or more exercises/body part.
Remember your GPO Principle and never increase Frequency, Intensity, Time or Type by more than 5% per workout and never more than one factor at a time. Build your volume (time) slowly to make steady gains without injury or overtraining.