How many times have you heard someone say to switch up your workout to keep your body guessing? Probably a lot! Variety in any type of training is the key to driving results - be it weight lifting to build muscle and strength or focusing on cardio and strength training, switching things up is important! But there's a fine line when it comes to variety in an exercise routine, and in fact, changing it too often can actually drive poorer results.
So, how often should you change your workout routine?
"It depends" is probably not the answer you want to hear, but it's true! Everyone's workout program depends on factors that are unique to them like age, activity and strength levels and fitness goals. With that being said, there are still some general guidelines to finding your magic number so you can switch things up in your training program at an optimal time that drives new stimulus and better results! And we're going to help you find yours by breaking down how to determine when and how to change your workout routine that can be applied to any fitness goal!
Why changing things too often doesn't work
Everyone should know that the more you do something, the easier it becomes. It applies to almost everything in life, but especially fitness! When you're weight lifting or doing high-intensity cardio you're putting your body under stress in order to give it a challenge that drives results. During the recovery phase, your body is learning to handle that stress, and the more you go on a 5k run or deadlift, as examples, the easier it'll be for your body to recover. Once your body is able to handle that stress you burn fewer calories because you're not putting as much effort thus reducing your muscle-building or fat loss results. In order to give your body a challenge, you need to practice progressive overload! Contrary to popular belief, this entails not only increasing weights, but also the volume of your workout, using different exercise techniques (isometric holds, slowing down the tempo), and even a variety of new exercises. But progression takes time, you need to be consistent with what you're practicing in order to perfect it, and it typically takes a good amount of time!
Our muscles don't get confused if we switch up our workouts constantly, but they'll never fully improve at any one skill if you're constantly switching things up. And that is why you don't want to switch things up too often, as we said earlier, there's a fine line with how often you change your routine. So, you shouldn't really be hopping from one workout program to the next, instead you have to focus on making incremental progress in a handful of exercises that remain in your routine, and change your workouts from time to time to keep you mentally stimulated, but also your body!
When should you change up your workout routine
Now that you understand why you shouldn't shock your body and change your routine every 2-3 weeks, let's look at some guidelines that will help you figure out when to change things up in your current routine..
First, have indicator exercises that stay in your training indefinitely, and keep track of your progress. For example, compound exercises like deadlifts or bench press, should always be a part of your training program. Those that are running or training for endurance will have certain types of training that they stick with like long-distance runs, or short distance sprints. The point is, figure out what exercises or routines should stay so you can strive to improve. Keep track of your progress in a notebook (or using the Fit With Iulia app 😉 ), enter the sets, reps, weights, and any pertinent notes that way you know what needs to be changed and when.
Aside from regularly practicing and progressing on key indicator exercises, you should switch up your movements on a semi-regular basis to help you:
Train muscle groups in other beneficial ways, like by using different free weights or different exercise variations.
- Prevent overuse injuries.
- Better suit new fitness goals you may have.
- Prevent boredom and keep things fun!
So, when do you know when to change things up?
For most people, 4-6 weeks seems to be a good time frame to change up your strength training exercises, running routine, etc. Now, this doesn't mean you need to make all these drastic changes at once! Focus on making subtle changes that will keep things interesting while adding a little bit more of a challenge to help give your body what it needs to continue making progress. But this is just one timetable, you can extend it even longer if you feel like your progress hasn't stalled - hence why tracking progress for indicator exercises is important. BUT, If you're a beginner, we'd highly suggest sticking to the same workout program for at least 6-12 weeks. This is because beginners often start untrained and require a larger amount of time doing the same primary exercises in the same manner in order to perfect their form and continue making consistent progression. Once progress begins to slow down or stall, then beginners can make changes in their routine to maximize their progress.
What to tweak in your routine to maximize progress
Now that you have a general guideline of when to start switching things up, it's time to find out how to do it correctly so you can maximize progress. Instead of changing to a completely different workout after 4-6 weeks, make these small changes:
Try a different type of equipment - When you're weight training, you don't necessarily have to stick to the same free weights every time. Yes, barbell squats and overhead presses are more effective, but using a different weight or equipment like kettlebells, dumbbells, and cable machines can help place a different challenge on your muscles that maximize muscle growth. Same goes for those focusing on cardio for weight loss! If you typically run on a treadmill, trying running outdoors instead, or go cycling outdoors instead of using a stationary bike.
Switch to a new set of exercises or style of training - Aside from your indicator exercises, don't be afraid to try new challenging variations. For example, once you master barbell squats start introducing one-legged squats (also known as pistol squats), or if you usually do reverse lunges switch it up to walking lunges. This can apply to so many exercises! Just remember, keep practicing indicator exercises with constant progressions (adding weights, increasing reps and sets), and change up the rest of your exercises every 4-6 weeks. Choose unilateral exercises or isolation exercises that help zone in on a specific muscle that you're trying to increase muscle mass. The same applies to cardio for weightloss, switch up the style of training! If you've been doing 4 weeks of moderate-intensity cardio, consider switching the training style and doing high-intensity cardio like HIIT.
Change your tempo - Sometimes a simple change in your tempo can make any exercise more challenging. For example, slowing down while performing pull-ups adds time under tension which will make your muscles work 10x harder. Another example, is placing an isometric hold at the top of the movement. For example, when performing a hip thrust, instead of increasing the weight, add a 4-5 second hold at the top to contract the glutes. You'll feel as if you've added weight, but you're really just increasing the tension!
Change your rest times - Reducing your rest times when doing HIIT, running, cycling, or weight training, is a good way to increase your metabolic demand, keep your heart rate elevated , and provide a new challenge for your muscles to perform when they're not necessarily fully recovered. However, be careful applying this method when lifting heavier weights. If you're lifting for strength, opposed for hypertrophy, then do the opposite and increase your rest time to optimize your lifting performance!
Create supersets - Supersets refers to grouping two movements to help create a bigger work capacity, plus they're great for full-body workouts. For example, performing a Romanian deadlift to a barbell row, or doing triceps dips and then finishing off with as many banded tricep pulldowns. This will help to influence your conditioning, and help stimulate muscle growth.
Pair or Group Your Movements - Substituting straight sets for supersets or trisets can be a great way to trigger a greater work capacity, influence your conditioning, and even stimulate more muscle growth – especially if you use compound sets in an isolation training workout for bodybuilding.
As you can see, you don't need an entirely new set of exercises or training program to stimulate weight loss or muscle growth. You just need small, subtle changes that you implement into your workout plan every 4-6 weeks! It'll help keep things fresh, and give your body new challenges to adapt to. Just remember, this is a general guideline, so use it as such to help you create effective workout plans that get you the progress you want! Track your progress to determine when it's the best time for you to switch things up because at the end of the day, you are the one that knows your body best.