“It’s been 4 weeks, should I change my programming?”
“I have been doing the same exercise for 6 weeks, I need to change it.”
“OMG, if I have to do the same routine one more time I am going to lose my mind!”
These are the kinds of things that we hear all the time from our audience. Just go to our social media community and search for this question and you will see hundreds of posts on this question.
So today, we will address this idea and give you a little insight into how often you should change your programming, and maybe why you shouldn’t change it all that frequently.
Going Back to Go Forward.
Let us begin with a story that is a thousand years old.
There is an old Greek story about a man named Milo of Croton, who built an enormous amount of muscle and strength. How he set out upon doing this was that he carried a newborn calf upon his shoulders day after day. Overtime, the calf grew and would weigh just slightly more than the day before. Not a huge amount, but just a tiny bit, day-by-day. In turn Milo’s body would respond to the slightly heavier calf and would grow to match the stress placed upon his body. By the time he and the calf were full grown, Milo had the strength to carry a full grown cow on his shoulders.
Now, there is a large difference between a newborn calf and a full grown bull, but the day-to-day changes would be minimal and essentially unseen. But if you take a step back and look at the big picture there was a drastic increase in load. This is the same way that we would approach training. The thing that matters the most with your training is not how novel a training stimulus is, or how often you change how you load your body, but through small progressive increases in loading your body in a similar manner day after day, for weeks, months, years, and decades.
The central idea of the story of Milo is that our body responds best to systematically overloading the body by small amounts over time. This process is known as progressive overload. This is a process that takes some time, focus, and a bit of patience. Just like weight loss is not always perfectly linear, neither is strength. Some days you will feel a little weaker than the day before, and some days you will feel much stronger than the day before. But like weight loss, consistently working toward a goal for an extended period of time is the best way to get there.
Taking the above, most people tend to change the training up whenever they come to a stall in progress, which for a lot of newer lifters is usually whenever they should keep pushing.
A lot of people start a new program and notice great increases in strength in the first 3 to 4 weeks before it slows down, or they even stall or slightly regress. The last thing you want to do at this point is to change to a new program as this is when your body is actually being challenged. In the initial 3 to 4 weeks of a program, your body is learning to fully recruit the muscles necessary for the particular movement pattern. So, if it requires 3 to 4 weeks to fully and more efficiently recruit the muscle required for exercise why would you change to a different program? For most people, it comes down to wanting to see more progress or because they are not entertained by their exercise program anymore.
When we look at professional bodybuilders or people with generally amazing physiques, these individuals are able to put blinders on and hammer particular movement patterns week after week, month after month, year after year while at the same time tracking their progress and progressively overloading, tend to grow.
We all know that one person that looks amazing and does whatever they want in the gym, but the truth is, we aren’t them. Can we eventually get there? Of course, but much the same with tracking macros and eventually being able to maintain or continue to make progress without tracking macros we need to first have training wheels and learn some basic principles that allow us to realize progress from our efforts.
Track your training, adding weight and/or reps when you’re able to or when what you’re doing already becomes easy. This will put your body into a position where it needs to adapt to the change in load and become larger as a means of handling it. One basic example is someone who started off with a 95lb squat, that eventually was able to squat 225 for sets of 10 who didn’t also become larger. It’s likely not going to happen, but I’m definitely open to people making their case.
Track your macros, track your training, progressively increasing in both areas overtime, and you will become a larger and stronger individual.
So Should I Ever Change My Program?
We have just made the argument that changing your program often means getting off the progressive overload path. This begs the question, “so should I ever change my program”. The answer to this is yes. But think about changing your program through a few different variables: weights, sets, reps, and exercise selection.
You can alter your program by changing the total load of an exercise (the weight). This will change whether your body is adapting to build more strength or more endurance. You can change sets and reps to change total volume to change whether your body is going to be adapting to add more muscle mass, more strength, more power, or more endurance.
You should at times change out your specific exercises to change movement patterns slightly to let your soft tissue recover. For example, you might switch from a 16 week squatting block to a 12 week leg press block and then go back to a squatting block. Or maybe you switch from regular bicep curls to hammer curls every 8-12 weeks.
How Often Should I Change My Programming?
Generally, changing your program should be done in a pre-planned fashion, not just on a whim. You should plan out ahead of time a solid training block and then pre-plan your changes. These are not hard rules, but training blocks for most people should be in terms of months, not weeks. Many effective problems should be 8,12,16, or more weeks. The goal is not muscle confusion or changing the program up frequently, the goal is to progressively overload, just like Milo.