Changing and adapting ones programme is crucial for long term athletic development. If we do not change/adapt programming then after a while progress will slow and potentially regression will occur. But how often should we change our programming? And how? These are questions I shall discuss in this blog.
The short answer is, as always, "it depends". But the truth of the matter is that it does depend. It depends on your goals/needs, your athletic history, your current training and more.
Your programming should be tailor made for you based on your goals and needs. Everyones programme should be different and the progress people make on programmes will be different too. So how often you need to change your programme will be hugely dictated on what you are adapting it from and what your current status is as an athlete.
Any sort of effective programming should already have some sort of progressive overload planned. Whether you increase the reps, sets or weight, reduce rest times or improve exercise execution - you should plan to challenge the body more each week with at least one of these elements. This in itself is adapting the programming and challenging the body to continually progress.
But how often should you change exercises? Well, yet again, that depends as well. If you are an individual who is looking to improve their performance in a sport, then your programme should be based of a macro-periodisation plan. That plan will outline when you need to be in top physical shape (as strong, fast and as fit as possible). In most (if not all) cases an athlete will undergo a series of different cycles which peaks them to a certain event. These cycles could be a "strength phase", into a "strength speed phase" into a "speed strength phase" etc. This is designed to develop a number of different athletic characteristics within an athlete as they go through phases of focusing on various things (whilst not losing the development they've already had). The length of these phases will be dependent on the individual. For example, if the athlete needs to increase muscle mass - then more time will be spent in a hypertrophy phase. If the athlete has a lot of muscle mass and strength but not a lot of power, then more time in the "strength speed/power" phase will be appropiate.
The types of exercise will differ depending on what type of phase you are in. For example, in a hypertrophy phase you might see more isolation work (working one muscle at a time) and other exercises designed to increase muscular activation and contractibility. However during a phase like "speed strength" you'll see exercises which are more ballistic like Kettlebell Swings, Weighted Jumps and Power Push-ups. So by planning out a macro-periodisation plan and all the meso plans within it, we are pre-determining what sort of exercises will be utilised. It is important to note that the exercises utilised will also be dependent on the needs of the athlete.
But what if you are someone who is looking to improve their physique? Exercise selection and how often you change it is just as important. How much adaptation you receive from an exercise will depend on a few factors.
1) Exercise execution & muscular activation
2) How you manipulate reps/sets/weight on a weekly basis
3) Your nutrition outside the gym
4) How hard you work inside the gym & motivation
Assuming that you are optimising all these points, then how often should you change up your exercises? Well you should aim to change the exercises approximately 2 months (depending on the person). By manipulating reps, sets, tempos, weight, rest times and executions you can do a lot with exercises so you may as well "squeeze" as much out of them as you can before doing the same with a whole new lot of exercises. Of course it is fun doing new exercises frequently, but developing existing exercises and progressing them as much as possible is more productive for muscule accumulation.
When do I know when I should change the exercises?
Well we have already covered one: Exercises should change when you enter into a new phase of training. The development needs of the new phase means that exercises will need to change to suit that acute need.
When you stop seeing progression: Whether performance has stalled or your physique developlemt has stalled. If you see a slow down or even a stop in progression your body may need a new stimulus.
Motivation levels drop: This ties into the previous point, but if your motivation to train has dropped maybe you need a new stimulus to not only see more progression, but also to be excited about doing new things in your training.
Injury: unfortunately injuries can occur. Of course we all take precautions to reduce the risk of injury, but sometimes s*** happens both in the gym and outside it. However, having an injury should not be an excuse to stop training. By changing your programme you can develop other areas whilst the injured area recovers.
So in summary - there are many reasons why you need to change/adapt your programme. A change in training phases, to drive more adaptation and to keep you motivated. When you need to change will depend on your overal goal (or macro periodsation plan) and your rate of progression (which is subjective). You should only change your programme when you have to (don't do it just for the sake of it). You should be monitoring your progress and evaluating the programme week by week to be sure when the right time is to change things up.
If you have any questions regarding this subject please get in touch!