How often should you change your workout?

So, how often do you change your workout? Or, even better, how often are you supposed to change your workout?

I ask this question because, more often than not, the answer most people will give is wrong. In a lot of those cases, it’s also quite dumb.

For example, have you ever heard something along the lines of “you should change your workout every 6 weeks to shock your body.” Feel free to replace “6 weeks” with 2 weeks, or 4 weeks, or 8 weeks, or 10 weeks or your own favorite set time frame.

Either way, it’s all still wrong and quite dumb.

That whole idea of having to change your workout every X amount of days, weeks or months to “shock your body” is complete BS.

As I’ve mentioned before, the #1 thing you need to do to get anything resembling good results from any form of exercise is consistently force your body to improve. It’s the progressive overload principle. If you want to increase muscle, strength, flexibility, speed, explosiveness, endurance or just your overall fitness level, you must work to increase the demands you are placing on your body.

For example, if you can only jog for 5 minutes before having to stop to walk, the only way you will ever be able to jog more than 5 minutes is by gradually forcing your body to try to jog more than 5 minutes. Try 5 minutes and 20 seconds next time. Then 5 minutes and 40 seconds the time after that.

If you can currently lift 50lbs for 8 reps, the only way you will ever increase muscle or strength is by working to lift 50lbs 9 times, or 10 times, or 55lbs 8 times, or something similar.

The point I’m getting at here is that the only thing that makes your body improve is gradual progression. Changing your workout every X weeks to “shock” your body is just nonsense that, if anything, is only counterproductive to what you actually need to do.

Think about it. How can you progress at something if you are constantly changing what it is you are doing? Your goal with exercise (assuming you’re not a fan of crappy results) is to do something consistently, and then progress at it as often as you can. If you keep changing it, all you really end up doing it stopping yourself from progressing.

Progression is the one and only type of change that your body requires.

So, does that mean your workout should stay exactly the same for the next 50 years? Not exactly. There are 2 reasons you SHOULD change your workout. They are:

  1. When progress stops.
    If what you’re doing is working, keep doing it until it stops working. It seems like a pretty simple concept, but apparently it isn’t. One of the dumbest things I hear/see people do all the time is find something that works, and then change it solely because it’s been “6 weeks and it’s time to change it.” That’s just silly.

    If you’re doing something that is working well, don’t stop doing it. Whether it works for 6 months, a year, 5 years, 10 years or 50 years, as long as it’s working and progression is still happening at an acceptable rate, there is absolutely no reason to change it. No matter what some bad source of information tells you (bodybuilding magazine, some dumb personal trainer at the gym, some idiot on a fitness related forum, etc.), your workout doesn’t need to be changed, and your body doesn’t need to be shocked. It just needs to progress, and as long as you’re doing that… that’s all that really matters.

  2. When boredom starts.
    There is however one other reason that I feel would warrant a change to your workout… boredom. Now, hear me out. If you’re getting bored with your workout every other week, you really just need to suck it up and stop being such a baby. Seriously. However, if after a somewhat longer period of time (where there was at least some sane amount of consistency) you become bored with what you’re doing to the point where it may hinder your progress… you should probably change something.
    What that means is, if you become so bored and/or uninterested with your workout that it’s preventing you from working hard and putting in a good amount of effort, or even causing you to miss or think about missing some workouts, you should change something. Even if what you’re doing is working, make a change. Because, while the short term progress may be good, if it’s going to cause long term problems (like you quitting because you’ve lost interest) then this is the one time when change should be made even though what you’re doing is working.

Now, the next question you may have is, if one of the above reasons presents itself, what type of change should you make to your workout? Something big? Something small? Well, this one is entirely up to you.

For a cardio example, if you’re currently jogging on a treadmill, you could make a change as small as jogging somewhere else (outside, around a track, etc.). You could also make a change as big as riding a bike or swimming.

For weight training the number of options become even larger. If you currently work certain muscles on certain days, you could keep everything in the workout the same and just change the days. You could change exercises. You could switch a machine exercise to a barbell exercise, or a barbell exercise to a dumbbell exercise. If you rest 2 minutes between sets, you can rest a minute and 30 seconds between sets. If you do 3 sets of 10 reps, you can do 4 sets of 6 reps, or 5 sets of 5, or 3 sets of 12, or 4 sets of 8, or 8 sets of 3, and so on. If you normally do exercise A and then exercise B, you can do exercise B first and then exercise A.

There’s literally dozens of changes you can make, some big, some small. I personally make fairly small changes when it comes time to make a change. For example, I’ve been using the same

Monday: Upper body
Tuesday: Lower body
Wednesday: Off
Thursday: Upper body
Friday: Lower body
Saturday: Off
Sunday: Off

split for years now and see no reason to change that simple template. What I will change are things like set/rep ranges like in the examples I mentioned before. An exercise I’m doing 3 sets of 8-10 with may become 4 sets of 6-8 or the other way around. Or, I’ll switch from lunges to split squats, or pull ups with an overhand grip to pull ups with an underhand grip. Back squats to front squats. Standing overhead presses to seated overhead presses. Barbell rows to dumbbell rows. I’m sure you get the picture.

In case you’re wondering, these changes do NOT happen daily, or weekly, or even monthly. They happen only when one of the 2 reasons mentioned above happen. Otherwise, I’m not “shocking” a damn thing.

And, if you would like to get good results from your workout, adopting this common sense concept is probably a pretty good idea.

11 thoughts on “How often should you change your workout?”

  1. I tend to get hung up on change and that can lead to burnout because I get overwhelmed with what I need to do next. I’ll take your advice for sure! Thanks for the recommendation.

  2. Derek: That’s another good point that I completely left out. It’s so good in fact that it actually reminded me of a whole other point that I failed to mention… the people who become obsessed with doing the “best” workout there is, and constantly change what they’re doing every time they read/hear about some other workout that sounds “better” than theirs. I think I’ll edit in something about that later.

  3. Great article! I see so many articles advocating the “constant change is good” approach. This kind of advice is usually directed towards women, I might add.

    I have been doing the same routine for the past 9 weeks and I have seen really great results. However, just this past week, I was really dreading my weight training workouts and it was affecting my intensity level.

    For this week, I decided to change my routine. Instead of doing heavy lifting, I am doing all bodyweight exercises. I still get a pretty intense workout and it’s nice to have something new.

  4. when doing very heavy weights is it better to train 3 days a week or is it better to cut back to 2 days a week.
    thanking you jim from down under

  5. I’ve recently begun reading you articles. They keep me interested and are well written. Thank you for all the knowledge you share. I feel it has giving me a better understanding of what I’m doing. I was wondering though if your suppose to do your excercises in the same order evrytime or mix them up? What do you think? Thanks!

  6. Swayze: I know exactly what you mean both about the constant “change is good” articles and the dread-like feeling of certain workouts after a certain period of time. THAT is when change is good.

    Jim: Impossible question to answer without knowing the specifics of the workout.

    Clint: Definitely keep the same order every time as, once again, this is a big part of keeping things consistent. When it does come time for a change, switching around exercise order is one way of doing it. However, changes like doing smaller exercises before bigger ones is never a good idea, even as part of “change.”

  7. Thanks for this article. I’m not big into changing things and I’ve often doubted the wisdom of such advice. Since I’ve gone from 265 pounds to 115 pounds on a stable routine, I think I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing. It’s been working for years, why rock the boat?

  8. It’s great to finally read an article about what really works. I am a creature of habit and dread change. Then when you hear someone say change is NOT always a good thing it makes you feel better. Thanks for being so straight forward with what you had to say. To bad I already did my workout for the day because I would love to take your advice right now.

  9. I agree. Sometimes it can be tough to make yourself stick the extra weights on the bar, after becoming comfortable and confident at your current level, but you do need to constantly challenge yourself. It’s even better when you find out it wasn’t so hard, and that the extra weight just made you “feel” it more and you’ll stick with that for a while. No more turning back. I did that this morning. I might regret it next week, lol – but now at least I’ll know what I’m capable of and continue on moving forward.

    QUESTION: I was recently wondering, what’s better for you, or does it matter – you work out say 3 times a week for 2 hours, a total of 6 hours, or say 4 days a week, or even 5 days a week for a total of 6 hours? Would you recommend more sessions, less time – or more time, less sessions. Sometimes I get busy and so to make up for it, I’ll work out longer, but I don’t know if I should be making myself get to the gym the day before instead, or if it’s makes a different. Sorry for the long winded question. THANKS!!!

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