By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 1 February 2017)
While many personal trainers recommend changing up exercise routines regularly, there are no research-supported guidelines for this. However, there are some findings that can help you choose the best workout strategy.
How often should I increase the weight I lift?
Repetitions are the number of times you lift a weight during each set. If your goal is to gain strength or develop larger muscles, you won’t necessarily need to change the exercises you do, but you will need to increase the weight you lift when you can do 10-12 reps of an exercise comfortably, or 6-8 if you’re doing a higher-weight, lower-repetition program to build strength fast.
How often should I change my strength training routine?
Frequently changing the exercises you do is unlikely to provide benefits, and will increase the risk of injury because poor form is more common when doing new exercises. However, every month or two (or whenever your current routine becomes too easy), you can benefit from either increasing the weight you lift or shifting to more difficult exercises targeting the same muscles (for example, if you’ve been doing regular push-ups, shift to decline push-ups). If you do exercises that target all the major muscle groups each week and increase the weight you lift when you can do your upper repetition range easily, you should keep making progress.
What is periodization?
Periodization is a training strategy that typically includes cycles of lower-weight/higher-reps, higher-weight/lower-reps, and rest. Periodization is used by competitive athletes because they can plan their cycles to be in peak form for each competition and recover fully in between competitions. However, strength trainers who lift weights regularly can make significant gains with non-periodized programs, so periodization is not necessary if you don’t plan to compete.
Does muscle confusion work?
Muscle confusion strategies are based on the theory that you need to mix things up regularly to stimulate greater strength and endurance gains. It assumes that you need to switch the strength training exercises you do regularly, forcing your muscles to adapt. There is no good evidence to support this theory. For those who want to build strength, research supports a progressive overload approach. In other words, increase the amount of weight you lift when you get to the point where you can do your maximum repetition range comfortably.
How often should I change my cardio exercise routine to improve performance?
Many competitive runners cover many miles each day and do no other type of training, and they not only maintain a high level of fitness, but in many cases, continue to improve their performance. Therefore, if running performance is your goal, you can probably stick with a regular routine, though top runners often mix it up during the week, alternating between longer, slower runs; shorter, faster runs; and high-intensity interval training (HIIT). Thus, variation is built into their training. Some top athletes in cardio sports also follow a periodized training schedule.
How often should I change my cardio workout routine to lose weight faster?
If weight loss is your goal, you’ll need to either keep increasing the duration of your workouts or mix things up regularly, because when you do a particular type of exercise consistently, your body becomes more efficient at doing that exercise, which means you’ll burn fewer calories in the same timeframe. Regularly changing the duration, intensity, or type of cardio exercise you do will enable you to continue burning calories at a higher rate.
The time it takes to become efficient at performing a particular workout will vary from one person to the next, so there is no guidance regarding how frequently you should make changes to your routine. However, a good rule of thumb is to switch exercises or increase the intensity or duration when your workouts start feeling easier.
Note: Research indicates that you’ll lose more weight by combining cardio and strength training than you would with cardio alone.
Switch your program if you’re not getting results or feel unmotivated to continue
As a general rule, it’s time to change your routine if you stop making progress or you become bored and unmotivated.
Different bodies respond differently to the same routines due to genetics and other factors. Researchers have found that some people don’t respond well to certain types of exercise, but see significant gains when they switch to another, so if you’re not getting results, try something else.
Enjoyment (or at least tolerance) of exercise is also important. The best exercises are the ones you’ll actually do on a regular basis. There is no routine that works for everyone, and there are lots of different types of exercise that provide good results. Experiment to see what works best for you.
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