Q: Hi Denis,
I’ve been doing the same training routine for a long time now. I hear of some people who change their routine almost every workout. Others I know stick with it for months, even years. What’s your opinion on this?
. . . Jim Whelan
A: Hi Jim,
One thing I don’t believe in is that so-called "confusion" principle, where people think they are tricking their body by constantly changing their routine every workout. One of the big mistakes people make is changing their exercises and/or routines too frequently, which prevents them to fully benefit from their program. Training is about progression, and to ensure significant progress you need a plan that will get you where you want to be.
If you want your body to be in constant evolution you need to chose and follow some path or goal. Every time one of my clients comes to me for a new program, I always start from what he has done in the past by asking him what worked well and what didn’t, and then I build from that. That means that most of the exercises comprising the base of his program will stay and some new ones will be incorporated. This will enable him to make steady progress on these exercises while imposing a new stress on his body by learning new ones (forcing adaptation). That way, you don’t have to start all over again every time you change your workout. It also permits you to apply changes without losing the positive neurological adaptation effect you have already gained from performing a specific exercise, because as you get better at it and are able to feel the working muscle more, and/or use heavier weights, you’ll become even more efficient, which will inevitably give you better results.
Changes can (and in my opinion should) be subtle. It could be a slight variation in the rep scheme, a switch in the exercise order, a substitution in exercise category (cables, free weights, bodyweight, machines), or using a different intensification technique (supersets, giant sets, rest/pause, negatives, etc.).
As for the time you should stay on a particular routine, I usually give my clients 8 weeks on a program (12 at most). I tell them to stick with it as long as they see significant results. This period will be immediately followed by a full recovery week of detraining when I have them do whatever they want, as long as it is outside the gym! This phase is necessary if you’re looking for a steady progression and want to avoid injuries and chronic musculoskeletal disorders. It allows better recovery of not only the energetic, hormonal, and musculoskeletal system, but also the neurological system (which takes the longest to recover from cumulative stress).
The time you should stay on the same routine will vary depending on your own ability to adapt (genetics) and the type of routine you are following. For example, someone very experienced will adapt faster than someone who is still learning the proper mechanics of the exercises he’s performing. The same will be true if you’re on a routine that has you perform the same workout every other day (like a push-pull or full body workout), because doing the same workouts more often over the 8-week period will lead to a quicker adaptation than if you use a multi-split routine.
One thing I’ve been recommending for more than a year (for myself and some of my experienced clients) that gives interesting results is using a two-week cycle approach where I make two versions of the routine (often using a traumatic/non-traumatic approach) which I alternate every week. It means that by the end of an 8-week phase, I will have performed each routine four times. I got the idea from reading some of Charles Poliquin’s material. It enables me to cycle the intensity and/or the volume of the same program, ensuring efficient recovery and progress at the same time. This strategy will, of course, allow you to stay longer on the program. To be honest, it has proved to be very effective, but I think it’s more suitable for experienced trainers, so I wouldn’t recommend that kind of approach for a beginner or intermediate who is still adapting to weight training.
As you can see, designing a weight-training program can become a little complex when you’re willing to consider as many factors as possible in order to make it work.
The important factor to consider is progress. As long as you make some, you’re on the way to success.
Have a nice workout!
. . . Denis Pedneault, Canadian Champion 2005, 2006