Why You Should Avoid Program Hopping
When we start exercising consistently, two truths emerge: repetition helps us achieve our goals, but too much repetition fosters boredom. So how do we resolve this issue while continuing to improve?
To answer the question, “How often should I change my workout?” we must the answer two other questions:
1. What do you mean by “change?”
2. What are your goals?
What Do You Mean By Change?
In general, everyone should be doing squats. That does not mean everyone should be doing barbell squats. A squat is a foundational human movement, so everyone who seeks optimal functioning should do it. However, there are truly endless variations of squats, so periodically switching to a different variation while keeping the main movement is acceptable.
What Are Your Goals?
If you are seeking significant strength and muscular development, then you need to stick with it and get after it. The first few weeks of a challenging strength-training program results in primarily neurological adaptations. You’ll feel stronger and more fluid in the exercises almost from one workout to the next. By the time you “plateau,” you are probably right at the start of your most significant muscular gain. If you alter the program at this point, you’ll be starting all over at the neurological adaptation stage.
With general fitness goals, however, it is less necessary to plug away at the same routine. How often can you tweak your program? It varies widely by individual, but anywhere from 4 to 12 weeks. If any changes are made at four weeks, these are typically minor adjustments that make existing movements more beneficial to the individual. But remember, these alterations only apply to those with general fitness goals. Those with more “hardcore” training goals should stick with programs and exercises longer.
One final point: I’ve found great success – and surprised a few clients – by simply changing the smaller things: exercise order, lifting speed, reps, rest or any other variables. It makes an existing routine feel new and challenging without actually changing it.
Once you get an effective program, get into it, do the work and make sure to keep it steadily progressive so your body adapts as things get a little more challenging. Too many people focus on the minute details in exercise programs, but should instead remember one simple tip: If you want change in your body, you need to challenge your body. And that challenge should come from progressive overload, not from constantly changing exercises.