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When You Should Change Your Exercises?

January 18 2009

People change exercises every 4-6 weeks with no rhyme or reason because they read it in a fitness magazine.This article is a continuation of the article, Why You Should Not Change Exercises Too Often? So when do you know it is time to change exercises?

Weak Point Training: If you have a weak point or a lagging body part, changing your exercise is a great way to solve the problem.

For instance,  if you have weak quads ( front of the thighs), changing squats to smith machine squats would make sense. Another example would be close grip bench press, if you think your triceps strength is holding you back in your bench press. Yet another example is taking a wide grip in bench if you think your chest is weak or you are weaker at the bottom half of your bench press.

Muscle Feel & Stretch:  You might have noticed with certain exercises you can feel & stretch the muscle you are working a lot more than with other exercises.  If changing, change to exercises which give you a better stretch & feel.

For example, we know chest is the primary muscle used for bench press. But some folks don’t feel a thing on their chest when doing bench press and feel a lot more on their chest when doing dumbell bench press. This could be due to a number of reasons, including individual & exercise biomechanics, propioreception, skill level in that exercise, and so on.

Muscle Architecture: The architecture and biomechanics of the muscle determines how many exercises you should be doing for that particular muscle group.

For example, you need two exercises to target the triceps muscle: One for the long head and the other for lateral & medial head. Long head can only be emphasized effectively if your bring you arm overhead, like in skull crushers.

Triceps Muscle architecture

Trapezius is another example which needs more than one exercise to effectively hit all the areas because of its unique muscle architecture. You can change exercises to focus on the upper , middle, and lower muscle fibers.

De-Loading: De-loading means to unload or to rest. You can deload certain areas of the muscle by changing exercises, and this is the main reason why people feel better when they change exercises, I think.

But this will only work if the exercise you are changing to is working a different area of the muscle than it was with the previous exercise. This is always a hit and miss strategy if you are changing exercises randomly. For example, if you change from flat to incline, you wil be resting or deloading the lower chest muscle. But If you were to change to decline or dumbell press, you will still be still working the lower chest and not deloading.

An ideal or a proper deload will be to take time off from the gym or cut back on your weights a bit.Changing exercises only takes care of the peripheral fatigue and not the systemic fatigue.

Variety: Variety to prevent boredom would be last on my list. Psychological factors do play a role in people sticking with exercises but preventing boredom will not help your muscle grow per se.

If you want to meet certain goals, you will have to do things which you may not like. 

  • Keep an exercise at least for 12 weeks. It takes a few weeks for the body to learn an exercise and hence for you to use the heaviest weights possible in that exercise. So if you keep changing exercise every 4-6 weeks, your muscles get a lot less stimulation to grow.
  • Change exercises but do keep the above points in mind and you will do a lot better than changing exercises randomly.

I intentionally keep my articles really short and to the point, especially a beginner level article. If you think you don’t understand or you disagree with certain points or have suggestions, please feel free to comment below.

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Jim @ Total Body Fitness | Tue February 10, 2009  

Thanks for this article. Short, sweet and answers a question I have been pondering and researching for some time.

Anoop | Tue February 10, 2009  

Hi Jim

Good to hear that you found it useful.And thanks for the comment.

I didn’t write about the injury prevention aspect. But injury prevention could be one benefit of changing exercises. Atleast it sounds good in theory.

Just curious: What was your question?

Jim @ Total Body Fitness | Sun February 15, 2009  

I find that people/clients who log their progress are encouraged when there is continuity in their routine so they can see their progress. I will have clients and myself change in order to keep variety and balance. However, I tend to transition them slowly only changing one exercise at a time per body part since learning 15 new exercise can be overwhelming.

Anoop | Tue February 17, 2009  

Good point.

I usually have them change single joint exercises and ab exercises. Neural adaptations are lot less for single joint exercises.

Also, if I have clients who have a tough time getting motivated, I tell them to change exercises frequently. What is the point of telling them not to change and all that, when that is what keeping them motivated to workout.

And if you do not change exercises every 4 weeks and show them some cool exercises, you obviously do not know what you are doing.

Jim @ Total Body Fitness | Sun March 15, 2009  

I will usually keep it simple as well, like take a standing exercise and change it to a seated version or change their grip. I realize these things alter CNS patterns, but I would think it would not be as much as a completely new exercise.

BTW I thought all brilliant trainers changed exercises every workout (sarcasm).

Anoop | Sun March 15, 2009  

Hi Jim,

I don’t really mind changing exercises. What I don’t understand is when people talk about “muscle confusion” and how muscle adapts to the same exercise and change with no rhyme or reason

And I can understand trainers changing exercises every 4 weeks. Charles Poliquin once said changing exercise every 4 weeks concept came so that their clients kept on paying them. Makes sense.

And Hollywood trainers change exercises every 2 minutes.

TheDane | Fri February 26, 2010  

Good stuff. Im glad I found this place.
I’ve heard a lot about changing your exercises often.

I, myself, have been running a HST rutine for some time now. After 6 weeks I adjusted slightly, but only in the sense that I would change say Barbell Benchpress with Dumbbell Benchpress.

From reading your article, that would seem ok.


Anoop | Sat February 27, 2010  

Hi Dane

Thanks for commenting.

Yes, and Bryan pretty much says the same I am sure. I used to write in the HST forum for 2-3 years when Bryan came up with HST.

matt | Sat June 26, 2010  

Its nice to see a site like this where you can pick up more tips, i’m not a personal trainer myself but have been in the forces and played rugby so have picked alot of stuff myself, but its always nice to learn more about the body and how it works thanks and keep up the great tips.

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