Earlier this week, I posted a question from Kayt Render about how often you should change up your workouts. Before specifically addressing this question, I thought it was important to address something a lot of trainees ignore: whether or not you are actually PROGRESSING in your workouts.
If you are simply doing the same workout over and over again, and not changing/progressing any aspect of your workout, after a few weeks, based on your “training age” (i.e. how long you have been training PROPERLY) you will be completely adapted to that workout. I listed 6 different ways you could slightly vary your workouts from week to week to ensure you make continual progress.
You see, it doesn’t take a very big change to force your body to keep adapting and improving. You can simply add some weight, add some sets or reps, decrease the rest periods, change the exercise slightly by changing the angle, etc. So in one sense, you could do the “same workout” for months on end without ever needing to start a completely different workout, as long as you were making small changes from week to week and month to month.
While it’s difficult to give you an exact time frame of when you should overhaul your workout entirely, let me give you some general guidelines based on the following factors: training age, goals, what type of training program you are using.
1. Training age: The longer you have been training (properly), the more stimuli your muscles and your nervous system need to make adaptations.
That’s why someone who is brand-spanking-new to training can make relatively huge gains in muscle mass and strength, while losing body fat for the first several months (or more) of their training. Everything they are doing presents a new stimulus to their body and their body, in turn, responds very quickly.
On the other hand, someone who is a veteran of the iron game might train their ass off for a year just to put 10 lbs. on their squat or gain 5 lbs. of muscle.
You also must keep in mind that beginners need lots and lots of practice doing the same movements over and over again to groove proper movement patterns. Plus, if you’re relatively new to lifting, your exercise pool will be relatively small. Once you get stronger, you will be able to add a lot more exercises to your repertoire.
2. Goals: In general, the more specific your goal, the more often you need to change your workout.
If your goal is simply to look good and feel good, you should be lifting heavy weights 2-3 days a week, walking often, occasionally doing intervals, sleeping a lot, eating good food, and managing your stress levels. You should make sure you squat, hinge, push, pull, and do single limb and core movements at least twice a week each, and try to make sure you’re always progressing using one of the variables I listed in part 1 of this article. In general you would use 2-4 sets of 6-12 reps for most exercises, and start with your “biggies” (i.e. squats, deadlifts, chin-ups, bench press, etc). That’s about it. Pretty simple.
If you have a really specific goal (powerlifting meet, figure competition, sports performance goal), it’s likely that you will need to be changing up your workout much more often. For athletes their training programs change based on whether they are in the pre-season, in-season, post-season, or off-season, and for powerlifters and figure competitors, ramping up and tapering their workouts is crucial to ensure that they “peak” on just the right day. This requires a lot more planning and forethought, as well as listening to your body each day and adjusting your workout accordingly.
Training Program: If your training program has built in progressions, you won’t need to switch it up as often.
For example, 5/3/1, Westside templates, The Juggernaut Method, and other great training programs include specific percentages, progressions, and methods for ensuring that you don’t plateau during their program. Many lifters run these programs for years on end without ever changing that many variables. They might switch out a main lift, or an accessory movement occasionally, but for the most part, they are sticking with similar lifts in similar rep ranges.
On the other hand, if you use a more generic program that doesn’t include specific progression (which can be fine, depending on your goals), you may need to switch your program every 4 to 8 weeks to ensure you continue to make progress.
Well Kayt, I hope I helped to answer your question! Remember, you don’t have to make monumental changes to your program to continue making progress. That being said, occasionally it’s fun to try something completely and totally fresh and new to re-energize and motivate you.
And remember, if you don’t have a trainer, you DO NOT have to re-invent the wheel. Find a solid program by a solid coach that fits your goals, and follow it for the prescribed amount of time. Good Luck!