T Nation

Few Exercises Vs. Many Exercises


I'm just looking to get some insight here... for bodybuilding (aesthetic) purposes, do you think it's better to concentrate on just a few exercises (the big ones), and work the hell outta them? or is it more beneficial to use a great variety of exercises and vary the program? i just wanted to get some discussion going... .


Could you give an example of a collection of exercises that one limits oneself to (or mostly does) that you'd consider "few" ?


the more of a beginner you are, the less exercises. As you get more advanced you add more exercises. A complete beginner can get by on Bench, squat, deadlift, row. As they get more advanced; vertical press, pullup, and then comes all the isolation and assistance work. If you cant do a BW pullup, or better yet 10+ pullups, all the curls and straight arm pulldowns in the world aren't gonna do anything.


i'm sorry... i think i may have failed to articulate myself properly in my first post... let's examine the clean and jerk, shall we? obviously, the clean and jerk is a complex movement that can be broken down into more basic parts (deadlift, upright row, front squat, overhead press.) to build size and shape most efficiently, would it be advantageous to practice the clean and jerk, as it is, with as high a volume as one can tolerate? or is breaking it down into its composite parts and working them separately more desireable?

because, i gotta tell you, i did a little experiment in the gym the other day in which i tripled my usual volume in the clean and jerk... just to see how it would turn out. ultimately, i can say that it was probably the hardest thing i've ever done in the gym... but it failed to make me sore... which leads me to believe that perhaps breaking down these complex movements into their requisite ingredients may be the way to go... for appearance's sake, anyway...


by the way, the last time i tested myself, i did 19 dead hang pullups. i'm certainly not an "advanced" lifter in any sense of the word... but i've been lifting long enough to feel justified in my curiosity, here.


I think you answered your own question

If you're just training for aesthetics I would argue that olympic lifts aren't necessary, as most bber's tend to split their training into more days so that they can focus on specific groups at a time, and oly lifts are typically full body exercises.


Come on man, you fucking hit it hard and heavy. Heavy compounds and throw in a finisher or two in at the end.


You probably know this, but keep in mind that soreness isn't necessarily the greatest indicator of a good work out.

Also, people break up the clean and jerk because they can usually lift more in the individual components (dead lift, front squat), thus making it more applicable to bodybuilding applications.


Yeah, they won't do anything... except make your biceps and lats stronger, and get you to a point where you can 10+ pullups a lot faster.


thank you for the feedback. i think part of the problem for me lies in the fact that, in the past, when i performed a very limited set of movements, i saw my strength skyrocket as a result. then when i became more interested in aesthetics, i incorporated many more movements and, although i'm looking better than i ever have, i feel like my strength definitely isn't improving as much as when i had that razor sharp focus... i guess you really can't have it both ways... thoughts?


Yea, and leg extensions are the way to squat a lot right?


Competitive weightlifting and powerlifting programs, even for field sport Olympic athletes (shot putters are freakin strong), generally stick to a few exercises and hammer the hell out of them.

However, they don't work the various ancillary muscle groups in a way that provides a good look.

So, do a good variety of exercises that are relevant to your needs, and train the hell out of them LOL!

To the average joe, bodybuilders and powerlifters/weightlifters are all really strong. However in the main movements tested powerlifters/weightlifters are generally stronger, and in those primary muscles have large muscle fibers compared to bodybuilders. However, bodybuilders (by virtue of their training style) achieve greater relative hypertrophy of type I muscle fibers, as well as balanced hypertrophy of more muscle groups.

After working with both groups for a number of years, I am much more appreciative of the "bodybuilding" style of training and lifestyle. Less injuries, more balanced appearance, take nutrition and overall health more seriously etc etc etc. Hence my choice 18 months ago to move away from my own sports specific conditioning work to seeing what is was like to train like a bodybuilder (thoroughly enjoying it!!).

So, pick your camp and away you go.


I agree, and I think this depends on the type of body someone starts with. I've always been very, very thin. So doing a few cycles of Bill Starr's 5x5 program (which is essentially a lot of Bench, squat, deadlift, row, and military presses) is helping me to build a solid foundation. I don't want to be a powerlifter, but training like one for a while has been very helpful.

Starting with isolation exercises didn't work for me. I was too small, and my body wasn't strong enough to support lifting enough weight to see any significant gains. If you ever see a 126 lb guy struggling through a set of one-arm dumbbell curls, please walk him over to the squat rack!

If you begin weight training with a more reasonable amount of muscle mass, maybe incorporating isolation exercises into the mix at the beginning would offer some benefit. Anyone have that experience?


I agree - if it is for bodybuilding purposes, there are two camps. Look at Dante, he uses just one exercise per bodypart, and while it has allowed him and his clients to become very large - i do personally believe that a little more balancing work is needed. Limiting oneself to one exercise per bodypart will stimulate growth - for sure, but i dont think that the most symmetrical and balanced physique can be achieved. Looking at pictures of Dante - i can only be further convinced of this fact... even if he is a behemoth!

If it is for strength/olympic lifts.. then both - in your example (OP) you mentioned the clean and jerk.. this will need to be trained in its full form for technical perfection, and in separate movements to make the harder portions of the lift easier.

However, if you look at the Deadlift.. there is little a Powerlifter does to train that lift, other than Squats and other lower body work. AFAIK, as squat strength increases, do does deadlift - and this is the reason why most PL regiemes have a Bench ME+DE day and a Squat/DL ME+DE day.

Short answer - it depends! Sorry if this is on the fence, but as with everything else in the iron sports, no one answer is correct.



Personally I've found greater gains in strength from changing exercises every so often than using many different exercises at the same time - both for strength and hypertrophy gains. But relatively speaking, I would say more exercises is better than less for bodybuilding purposes (as compared to say, developing strength) since you're more likely to be able to hit different muscle groups from different angles, and achieve a more balanced physique. I think using too few exercises tend to exacerbate muscular imbalances since you're using the same muscles in the same way every time.

Also, for your previous post mentioning that you get less soreness from doing clean&jerks as compared to deadlifting + front squatting + military pressing etc could it be because in the explosive C&J your time under tension is much less than the other slower movements?


Well, we never really did find out what "few" means to the OP, or "many." So I don't know if it's a question of comparing having only 5 exercises in the repertoire vs 12, or 20 vs rotating between 100 and never keeping any of them as never-long-omitted staples.

So anyway, answering generally:

For example, right now there are 30 different exercises I have in the regular rotation (at least twice per month, though many are 4x or 8x/month.) I wouldn't have known as I don't keep track of whatever number that is, as it isn't important, but went to count just now.

That is for bb'ing reasons. At times I have had more in the rotation. There's at least 50 that I've done a fair amount of in say the last year. At the moment I'm cutting and so training less than I do when eating more.

I don't want to go and count, but if one went and looked at say a typical Westside powerlifting program, he'd find fewer exercises done in a given month, but I would think at least 30 exercises over the course of a longer period of time, as a guess. Other powerlifters may not do that many over the course of time: Louie Simmons likes more variety than many do. In general it's not necessary for a powerlifter to hit as many angles or to do things just for aesthetics. For example, a PL'er might well never bother with rear delt flyes. He might even never do calves.

Then there is the novice or intermediate trainer. The novice should not do this many exercises. Better to learn a more modest number of exercises and learn them well and train them intensively.


squat, leg press, leg extension, leg curl, RDL ....


just squatting

I wonder which option is going to get a person to a big squat faster?


Exactly! that's why powerlifters never do direct/isolation tricep movements to get their bench up.



sorry about that. to answer your question, i've simplified the number of exercises i believe are necessary to cover all (most) of the bases (minus calves, abs, neck, and forearms) to 6 or 7. granted, i used the clean and jerk as my model and kind of "created" some of these moves. for example, i've been doing a movement that can best be described as kind of an open chain muscle up using the cable crossover machine. it's basically a combination of the pulldown and dip, with hip flexor and hamstring involvement, as well. so, i guess this quandry all boils down to say, 6 or 7 HUGE moves vs. 20 or 25 BIG ones. thoughts?


For bodybuilding, in the long run more exercises would help.

In the short run, if you're making very satisfactory progress with this, and you have no major weaknesses that you really ought to start catching up on now rather than falling yet further behind (relative to the strong points) then that's great. Roll with it if so.