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Continual gains, both in strength and muscle size is one of the most common goals to working out and training. However, the longer you train, the harder it is to experience greater gains. One of the tried and true methods of maintaining continued improvements is to always be changing your program. But how often should you be changing your program? And how do you go about choosing what type of program works best for you? This week’s Q & A will address the popular question of ‘How often should I change my workout program?’

1. How often should I be changing my workout program? What is the best way to change my workout program?

The first 6 months of resistance training and weight lifting are always going to be your best. This is the time where you’re making the most strength and muscular gains. This is due mainly to improved neuromuscular connections (mind-muscle connections) that improve the neural connections and recruitment of muscle motor units to help you lift more. After those first 6 months, your body is still particularly sensitive and adaptive to increasing intensity and volume of exercise, which helps you to further gain strength and muscle. Unfortunately after about two years, things start to plateau and taper out. By the second year of training, significant gains in strength and muscle size will be progressively harder to achieve. However it is still possible and comes about through changes in training as well as through nutrition and supplements.

Changing and choosing the right workout program for you though takes a fair bit of time and effort. Studies have shown that individuals respond differently depending on the stimuli. Some trainers work better with higher volumes, whereas some trainers work better with lower volumes. In addition, everyone adapts at different rates to training stimulus as well. When designing or choosing your own workout program, you should always focus on a few key principles:

  • Intensity (Load or weight)
  • Volume (reps x sets x load)
  • Rest Intervals
  • Exercise Selection
  • Repetition Speed
  • Muscular Failure

Each time you change your workout program, you should be changing one or more of these variables depending on your overall goal, whether it’s to increase strength, power or hypertrophy. Programs commonly last 4-12 weeks, however, you should try to change your program around once you have 2 weeks where there is no obvious improvement. Again, this figure is subjective, but is a good guide. 

Take Away Point – Listen to your Body

Plateaus are easy to pick up, but most people tend to persevere through a lull in their progress. While that can work sometimes, it can make for a longer process of gains. When you have a period of 2 weeks where you feel like you’re putting in some decent effort, but are seeing very little results in terms of gains in strength or size, then it’s a good indication for switching up your program. Change and adjust the variables as mentioned above and always monitor your progress. Information is power.

1. Schoenfeld BJ. ‘The mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy and their application to resistance training.’ J Strength Cond Res. 2010 Oct;24(10):2857-72.
2.  Finn HT, Brennan SL, Gonano BM, Knox MF, Ryan RC, Siegler JC, Marshall PW. ‘Muscle activation does not increase after a fatigue plateau is reached during 8 sets of resistance exercise in trained individuals.’ J Strength Cond Res. 2014 May;28(5):1226-34.

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