How Often Should I Switch Up My Exercise Routine?Posted on Jun 30th 2010 1:00PM by Joe Dowdell
I usually see two major scenarios when it comes to people changing their exercise programs. On one hand, you have individuals who rarely change their programs at all. They go into the gym and repeat the same routine (i.e., same exercises, same reps, same equipment for the same amount of time). These people often look the same after months of training.
Then, there is the other group. These trainees change their training programs way too often; for some, almost every workout. Ironically, some of these people are actually under the guidance of a trainer. Anyway, inevitably, I'll run into one of these people at a dinner party or some event and they'll find out that I own a gym and I'm a trainer, and they'll start to tell me all about their training routine. The conversation usually goes something like this:
"I love working out and I see my trainer three, four or sometimes even five times per week. He or she is so amazing. Every time I go to the gym, we always do something different."
Now, you have to understand, at this point in my career, I've had this conversation a thousand different times. So basically, I've come up with this analogy to see if I can get them thinking as to why this might not be such a great idea.
"Interesting ... and, what if I was to say to you that every time I see you I am going to try and teach you a different foreign language. (They usually look at me like I'm nuts, but I continue on.) Do you think that you will ever be able to understand, speak or fully master any of the languages that I'm trying to teach you?"
They usually give me a very puzzled look. So, then, I explain to them that when you are training, you are not just training the cardiovascular system and the muscular system, but you are also training (i.e. programming) the nervous system. The nervous system is what actually sends the messages to the muscular system to perform a particular movement pattern. It's also what helps you refine various movement patterns and allows you to get stronger and have more control when performing these patterns.
According to my conversations with world-class strength coach, Charles Poliquin, unless you are an elite level athlete, you do not need to change the training program as frequently as many people do. Charles has successfully worked with more elite athletes from just about every major sport than any other coach that I know.
Elite athletes should change their program about every six workouts. So, you should ask yourself this question: Are you an elite-level athlete? On average, for the vast majority of people, especially at the intermediate/advanced level, I would change the training program every three to four weeks (i.e., three weeks for the advanced and four weeks for the intermediate individuals). Beginners can stay on a program even longer -- sometimes up to six weeks.
If you are someone who feels like you need some variety, purely from an attention perspective, than having an "A" program and "B" program is a great way to add a little variety into your strength training workouts, but still giving your body the opportunity to get the most out of each exercise. In this situation, you would perform the "A" program on Monday and Friday and the "B" program on Wednesday of week one. Then, during week two, you would switch the "B" program to Monday and Friday and the "A" program to Wednesday, and so on.
Depending on your level of training, after four to six weeks you could change both programs. In addition, another way to manipulate your training program over the course of three to six weeks without actually changing the exercises would be by changing some of the other variables, such as the sequence (i.e., the order in which you perform your selected exercises), the number of sets and reps, the tempo (i.e., the time it takes to complete one repetition) and the rest periods between sets and/or exercises. By changing any of these variables, you are actually changing the program without necessarily changing the exercises themselves.
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Whether you're looking to bulk up, slim down, or get fit for a particular match or race, That's Fit has you covered. Joe Dowdell, personal trainer, strength coach and co-owner of one of Men's Health's top 10 gyms in America, is available to answer all of your training questions. Please send your questions to personaltrainer [AT] thatsfit [DOT] com. You can also follow Joe on Twitter.