How often do I need to change my workout?

January 30, 2016

Q: I recently started lifting weights and have had good results but I’m confused about when to change up my program. I have read a lot of articles that say you have to constantly change up your routine if you want to make progress. What are your thoughts on this issue? What types of changes do I need to make to keep making progress?

A: If you want to continue to make progress you must learn to change your workouts but there’s method to the madness, and it depends on your experience level. If you intensify your workout too fast, you miss out on the basic mechanics and limit strength needed to transition to more advanced exercises. Change it up too slow and you will drift off into a plateau and receive little results for your effort.

Untrained - 6 months to a year

Untrained people who have never lifted weights before don’t need to change their routines as often because their bodies will react to almost anything. Instead they should focus on the basics of learning proper form and increasing their limit strength. This takes time and works best if you focus on 6 to 8 basic movements learning how do the lifts properly while isolating specific areas of the body such as back, legs, chest, arms, shoulders and core. Once you’ve mastered these exercises you can begin to add more advanced movements, but take your time and establish a strong foundation that will set you up for great results and few injuries in the future.

Trained - 1 year to 5 years

Trained people who have been working out for 1-5 years are no longer getting the easy results of the beginner and must learn to throw their bodies a curve ball now and then by adding new training splits, exercises and rep schemes. I’d suggest changing 1-2 of these variables every 3-5 weeks to keep the body off balance and continue forcing results.

A training split is which body parts you chose to work on different days. A good example of changing a training split would be starting with a full-body workout with 1 exercise per body part and 3 sets per exercise, then progressing to a 3-day training split with 3 body parts per day and 2 exercises per body part and eventually moving to a 4-day training split with 2 body parts per day, 3 exercises per body part. As you can see, the volume of work per body part changes for each split, making the program more difficult.

You can also change exercises by upgrading what you’re already doing with more difficult movements. A example would be changing leg extensions to dumbbell squats, cable rows to dumbbell rows, seated leg curls to walking lunges, triceps pushdowns to dips and regular crunches to bicycle crunches.

Lifetimer - 10 to 20 years

Lifetimers who have exposed their bodies to a decade or more of hard work and tried every workout under the sun can quickly adjust to almost any stimulus you can throw at them. At this point, no two workouts should be the same anymore as they have to constantly try new and innovative things to get a response from their muscles. The good news is, they have developed a tolerance for pain that makes it easy to push themselves to the limit on a daily basis, but they must be willing to work outside their comfort zone. Techniques such as super sets - working 2 body parts back to back without rest, giant sets - working the same muscles back to back with no rest, or metabolic interval training - working a variety of muscles in succession back to back with no rest should be used on a regular basis to keep the body from getting used to the routine.

So as you continue your quests for fitness, remember it’s important to take it slow in the beginning and learn to do basic exercises correctly while increasing strength. As you gain experience allow your workout to evolve, changing things frequently as your body becomes more capable of handling more intense workouts.


Subscribe to the Daily Newsletter