If your workout progress has stalled, it’s time to make a change.
You’ve been doing the same workout for months and while you saw changes at first, you’ve stalled and can’t figure out what you’re doing wrong. That great routine you pulled out of Men’s Health magazine worked for the first couple of months, but now your weights have stopped increasing and you haven’t seen changes in body composition for weeks. Why did this workout that worked so well stop working?
The body is an amazing machine and eventually adapts to stresses placed upon it. When you introduce a new workout routine you’ll initially notice muscle soreness and (providing your nutrition strategies are satisfactory) changes in muscle size or body composition. After repeating the same workout for a period of time the body eventually adapts and doesn’t respond with changes in strength and body composition.
WHEN TO CHANGE
How long is this “period of time”? The right time to change depends on the individual, but there are general guidelines to work with. A weight-training beginner may continue to see improvements for up to 8 weeks doing approximately the same routine. The more advanced an individual becomes, the more frequently the program needs to be changed.
Strength coach Charles Poliquin suggests that highly advanced athletes and those with an older weight-training age (5 years +) may need a program change approximately every 6 workouts. Most of us will fall somewhere in the middle, as long as you’ve been weight training consistently for at least 2 years under qualified instruction.
Changing your program every 4 to 6 weeks is appropriate for most gym goers.
There are psychological factors to consider as well. Some people cope better with more frequent changes to their routine while others feel better from maintaining the same program for longer periods. Don’t overlook the importance of psychology. If you’re the type of person who fears leaving your comfort zone, you may find frequent changes to your program overly taxing.
I once had a member at a gym I worked at tell me, “I used to have the most amazing trainer – we never did the same workout twice!”. I didn’t bother to get into a heated discussion with her about how she actually had a pretty useless trainer who didn’t have a clue what they were doing and just picked exercises at random for each session.
So why not just do a completely different workout every time you go to the gym? It’s well accepted that it takes multiple exposures to a stimulus for muscles to adapt. Each phase of a program should have a particular goal, whether it’s building particular muscle groups, improving posture, improving strength or power, etc. If you just randomly give the body exercises to do, it really doesn’t know how to adapt and won’t make appropriate changes.
WHAT TO CHANGE
When most people think of changing a program, they think of picking new exercises. Of course, exercises need to be changed regularly to get past plateaus and avoid injury. Deadlifts are a great exercise, but there are other great leg exercises that can be used: squats, lunges, split squats, box squats, prone leg curls, glute-ham raises, plyometric exercises, etc.
It’s difficult to incorporate all the exercises into one routine (you probably shouldn’t try!) so you need to cycle important exercises in and out of your routine. Exercise variables such as reps, sets, loads, tempo, volume and rest periods need to be changed within your program to provide variety and provide a stimulus for adaptation. The more experienced you are with weight training, the more important it is to have variation.
MAKE A CHANGE – NOW!
If you’ve been doing the same exercises, with the same sets and rep ranges, for several months, it’s time to change your routine to bust through that plateau. If you change your workout at the right time, you’ll get optimal muscle-building and fat-loss results.