Q: “How many sets per body part is recommended if you are doing a total body workout? I usually do compound movements (e.g. I do a total of 18 to 20 sets of chest exercises for the week).”
My Answer: It depends on a number of things. For one thing, how many other body parts are you including in these full body workouts? If you go with the bodybuilding standard, then you have 8-9 body parts in which to hit:
That doesn’t leave you with very many sets per body part. Two to three sets per muscle group is really all you can do. This is perfectly fine for beginners and older lifters. But for those who’ve been in the Iron Game for awhile, 2-3 straight sets doesn’t do much. There is a way to get around the low set total and add some needed volume. I go over this in the “Supercharging H.I.T.” chapter from Neo-Classical Bodybuilding.
But if you’re not a bodybuilder and don’t care to hit all of the above mentioned muscle groups, then I suggest an abbreviated strength program. This program will hit each muscle group directly or indirectly through compound movements. Since you have fewer exercises, you’ll have time to add more sets to each movement:
Bench press (chest, triceps)- 5 sets
Medium grip chinups (back, biceps, abs)- 5 sets
Standing military press (shoulders, triceps)- 5 sets
Squats (quads, hamstrings)- 5 sets
Bodybuilding programs tend to be body part based, while abbreviated programs tend to be movement based. If you alternate between these 2 types of programs, then you’ll better progress than if you stay on just one program.