If you’ve found a workout routine that’s ideal for your needs, goals, experience level, and schedule, (or perhaps created one of your own), there’s something you’ll soon be asking yourself…
When, why, and how often should I change my workout?
In this article, I’m going to answer that question in terms of changing certain aspects within your workout (like the exercises you’re doing), as well as changing the entire workout routine to something completely new/different.
The Big Myth About Changing Your Workout
Have you ever heard that:
- You need to constantly make changes to your workout routine for it to be effective?
- You need to “keep your muscles guessing“?
- You need to “shock your body” into improving?
- You need to prevent your body from “getting too used to what you’re doing“?
- You need “muscle confusion workouts” in order to keep making progress?
Does any of this sound familiar?
Cool, because it’s largely a bunch of myth-based bullshit.
Don’t misunderstand me here, there are definitely some legitimate reasons for making changes to your workout (we’ll get to them in a minute).
But this stuff? This is all nonsense that only prevents people from making progress. Here’s why.
Why Changing Things Too Often Doesn’t Work
The biggest reason comes down to the fact that progressive overload is the key to getting results out of any workout routine.
In the context of weight training and goals like building muscle, this means you need to increase the demands being placed on your body by gradually getting stronger over time (e.g. lifting more weight, lifting the same weight for more reps, etc.).
And in order for this type of progression to occur as well and as often as it can, you need consistency, and you need it over a sufficient duration of time.
After all, how are you supposed to progress at something when you’re constantly changing what it is you’re trying to progress at?
That’s why this whole “change your workout every 3 weeks, shock your muscles, keep your body guessing” garbage is only going to be counterproductive to your goals.
And the same thing applies to “program hoppers” who hop from one program to the next in search of some non-existent magical workout routine that’s going to work as unrealistically fast as they wish it would. Good luck with that.
In the end, progression is the only “change” your body truly requires. And that’s going to entail sticking with the same program for a lot longer than many people seem to realize.
Good Reasons To Change Your Workout Routine
Now, while you do need to avoid changing your workout too often, it’s also unrealistic (and incorrect) to think that you’re going to do the same workout the same way forever.
At some point, changes should be made for a variety of reasons. These reasons include:
- Continued progression.
- Training body parts in other beneficial ways.
- Getting the benefits of other exercises and variations.
- Getting the benefits of other types of equipment.
- Preventing overuse injuries.
- Better suiting new goals you may have.
- Mental freshness, preventing boredom, and keeping things fun.
- And more.
So yes, you do want to change things at some point. It’s a necessary part of the process, and a necessary part of long-term progress. You just want to avoid doing it so often that it hinders progress rather than helps it.
And that brings us to the next questions.
How often should you change your workout, and what kind of changes should you make?
Recommendations For Beginners
Here’s what I recommend to beginners who are using my beginner workout routine.
Because of the untrained (or detrained) state beginners start out in, they are primed for long-term consistent progression.
But one thing they must have in order to make it happen is consistency.
They need to spend a significant amount of time doing the same handful of primary exercises in the same manner with a focus on consistent progression (and perfecting their form) so the magic of “beginner gains” can do its thing.
For this reason, I don’t recommend making any changes to the the beginner program until progress finally begins to stall (which usually doesn’t happen until months down the line).
At that point, you have the option of deloading and/or bringing the rep range down to 6-8 on the major compound exercises (which are initially 8-10).
But beyond that, I’ve found beginners do best when they simply stick with the program exactly as it is until it stops working.
Which means that your first truly significant change should be your eventual switch from the beginner routine to some form of intermediate routine.
And so the new question becomes, when should a beginner switch to an intermediate routine? I cover that right here: When Should A Beginner Move To An Intermediate Routine?
Recommendations For Intermediate And Advanced Trainees
Here’s what I recommend to intermediate and advanced trainees who are using programs like The Muscle Building Workout Routine, The 5-Day Workout Routine, or any of the workouts included in my Superior Muscle Growth program.
Let’s start with the most major change of all: a complete change of the overall workout program itself.
Changing From One Routine To A Different Routine
There honestly is no official set-in-stone rule for this.
However, my general recommendation is to stay with the same overall workout program for a minimum of 12 weeks.
What’s the maximum amount of time you should spend using the same workout program? There really isn’t a maximum. You could potentially stay with the same overall workout program and training template for years while just making various smaller changes within it.
Speaking of which…
Making Changes Within A Workout
As for these smaller changes, how often should they be made? And what kind of changes should you make?
Well, there’s lots of stuff you can optionally change within a given workout program. This includes components like:
- Exercise order.
- Rep ranges.
- Progression methods.
- Rest periods.
- And more.
As long as they’re made intelligently, changes like this can be fine (though again, they shouldn’t happen TOO often).
However, out of everything I just listed, exercises are by far the easiest, most common, and least-likely-to-screw-up changes you can make.
And it’s really as simple as just switching any exercise to another similar type of exercise.
For example, you can change:
- The dumbbell version of an exercise to the barbell version of that same exercise.
- A dumbbell fly to a cable fly.
- A seated exercise to the standing version of that same exercise.
- A row to another row.
- An incline press to any other incline press,
- An overhand grip to an underhand or neutral grip version of that same exercise.
- A machine version to a free weight version of the same exercise.
- One deadlift variation to another similar deadlift variation.
- A pull-up to a chin-up or lat pull-down.
- A split squat to a lunge.
- A biceps curl to any other biceps curl.
- The reversed/vice-versa version of any of the above.
- And on and on and on.
Basically, for most people, similar versions of the same type of exercise are virtually all interchangeable with each other, especially when your goal is building muscle.
So let’s pretend the workout you’re using called for some kind of row for your back (aka a horizontal pulling exercise). You might initially do bent over barbell rows in that spot. Then you might eventually switch it to bent over dumbbell rows, then eventually seated cable rows, then eventually t-bar rows, then eventually a Hammer Strength machine row, and then maybe switch back to bent over barbell rows again.
And many of the exercises I just mentioned can be done with a variety of different grips (overhand, underhand, neutral, wide, narrow, etc.), thus giving you dozens of other options.
My suggestion would be to make yourself a list of a few of your favorite exercises for each muscle group, and then just gradually rotate through them over time by inserting a new one into the appropriate spot in your workout (in place of the current exercise… NOT in addition to it) while keeping everything else (split, set and rep ranges, rest periods, exercise order, etc.) exactly the same.
Like I said a minute ago, you could keep the overall template of the workout program the same for quite a while and just occasionally change the exercises within it. You could then go an indefinite amount of time without needing to change anything else.
As long as progress is still going well and you’re happy with what you’re doing… that’s really all that matters.
And so the question then becomes… how often can the exercises be changed?
How Often To Change Exercises
Once again, there really is no set-in-stone answer. Progress (have things stalled, even after deloading?) and personal preferences (some people prefer more or less variety than others) would be the main factors to consider.
Generally speaking, though, your primary exercises should be changed the least often and your isolation exercises can be changed the most often. Your secondary exercises fall somewhere in the middle.
More specifically, I’d recommend keeping the primary compound exercises the same for a minimum of 12 weeks, the secondary compound exercises for a minimum of 6 weeks, and the isolation exercises for a minimum of 3 weeks.
Please note the emphasis on the word “minimum.”
The exercises absolutely DO NOT have to be changed this often. You can definitely go longer than this before changing them. This is just my recommendation for how long – at the very least – you should stay with the same exercises before considering making changes.
So, for example, if you get to the 12th week and you’re still progressing well on some primary exercise (and still enjoy doing it), then definitely stick with it for as much longer as you want.
If, however, progress is stalling (and deloading didn’t help) and/or you’re just sick of the exercise, that’s a good time to make a change when that 12th week comes along.
But if that doesn’t happen until the 14th week, or the 15th week, or the 16th week, or longer… then there is no need to change a thing.
The same goes for the secondary exercises and isolation exercises at the 6 and 3 week marks, respectively.
If everything is going well, the exercise is still doing what it’s there to do, and you are still enjoying the exercise, definitely feel free to keep on using it well past that point.
If not, or you’re just getting bored with that exercise, then feel free to change it.
Basically… if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. That really sums up most of what you need to know about making changes to your workout routine.
For me personally, I don’t change my primary exercises often at all. That’s just my preference.
I’m more likely to keep those exercises the same for much longer than the 12 week minimum and then just regularly deload when needed and occasionally change other aspects of how they’re being done (e.g., different set/rep ranges, different progression methods, etc.).
As for secondary and isolation exercises, I change those with a bit more regularity (though still certainly not TOO often, and typically longer than the 6 and 3 week marks).
Also keep in mind that when you are changing exercises, you don’t have to change all of them at once.
Meaning, if you only have a reason to change one primary exercise at some point, then you should only change that one exercise… not every primary exercise. Or if you wanted to replace three secondary exercises at some point but wanted to keep two other secondary exercises… then only change those three.
Again… if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
And finally, one last note about making major (overall routine) or minor (exercises within the same routine) changes is the timing of when they’re done.
The ideal time to make some of these changes is at the end of a training cycle during the deload period.
This is especially true for when you’re changing the overall program itself or just many primary and secondary exercises (isolation exercises, on the other hand, can be changed mid-cycle without any problem at all).
This isn’t a requirement, but it makes plenty of sense from the standpoint of allowing you to spend that lighter deload period adjusting to the changes you made, breaking into a new program, learning/relearning new exercises, figuring out how much weight you should be lifting for those new exercises, etc.
Plus, it also means you’ll be totally fresh and ready to begin a new training cycle that incorporates the new change(s) you’ve made.
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