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Why You Should Not Change Exercises Too Often?

January 04 2009

If you think you need to change exercises to keep strength and muscle gains coming, you should keep reading.

Why people change exercises too often?

To confuse/shock the muscle: This is the most popular reason for changing exercises. You cannot confuse or shock a muscle, period. It is physiologically impossible.

Muscles are passive tissues that contract when told to do so. It doesn’t have a brain of its own to get confused.  It is as stupid as saying if you pull an elastic band in a different angle you confuse and shock the band.

Muscle Magazines said so: Most of the changing exercises concept come from muscle magazines (for example the Weider muscle Confusion Principle).

  • Most models are genetically gifted and use “real” supplements. Unlike naturals, they can do whatever they want and still grow.
  • They need to put out a magazine every month. New exercise pictures are a great way to fill magazine pages every month.

Why you should NOT change exercises too often?

Learning Curve: Every exercise has a learning curve called Neural Changes or Adaptations (nervous system adaptations). It is just like learning to ride a bike. You get better at whatever you do with practice.

This learning period take a few weeks or a few months depending on the exercise & the skill level.

Muscle Increase: The muscle increase is minimal during the time when body learns to do a new exercise. Muscle increases largely come after the neural changes plateau as shown in the figure.

Neural adaptations vs muscular adaptations

Figure: The neural changes plateau after 8-20 weeks. And then the muscle growth becomes more prominent.(Reference 1)

So if you keep on changing exercises every 4 or 6 weeks, the body never gets a chance to increase the muscle involved in that particular exercise. By the time your learning curve (or neural adaptations) plateaus, you unfortunately jumped onto a different exercise.

Strength Increase: The strength increase you experience in the learning period is mainly improvement in skill or neural adaptations than due to muscle growth. This disappear once you stop doing that particular exercise.

Recommendations

  • Keep 2-3 basic exercises for each body part, like incline bench press, dumbbell press for chest and rotate them. This way you don’t have to stick with one exercise.
  • You can change single joint exercises like dumbbell curls, chest flyes and so on. The neural adaptations are minimal for single joint exercises.
  • If you hit a plateau in an exercise, it is time to re-analyze your program and diet and not to change the exercise to “shock” your muscles..

Reference 1

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brett | Fri January 09, 2009  

hi
I am just wondering what studys have been undertaken to prove that 6 weeks is not long enough in order to change your exersies.???

Anoop | Fri January 09, 2009  

It is pretty much established that neural adaptations dominate strength increases in the early phase.

These are mainly done by studies with surface electrodes and deep needle electrodes to measure neural drive and motor unit recruitment. These changes have been shown up till 20 weeks. These studies show significant increase in strength but little changes in muscle size during this period.

If you ask a power lifter and they will tell it’s all about technique, technique, and technique.

Hope it helps

Shannon | Wed January 28, 2009  

Hi Anoop

I am confused. So if I change exercises, will I not increase muscle?? I was told you need to mix it up because your muscles adapt. I get more confused every time I read your articles grin

Anoop | Thu January 29, 2009  

Hi Shannon

I am not saying you will not increase muscle at all. There will be increase in muscle but this will be less than if you stayed with an exercise for longer. The graph is a continuum and it depends on the skill level level and genetics of the person. I just posted one study because that’s the groundbreaking study by DG Sale which introduced this concept in 80’s. This is the study which is quoted in every literature which explans neural adaptations and strength training. DG Sale is one of the pioneers in the field of neural adaptations.

And this is not anything groundbreaking or “my” theory. This has been known for quite a few years. If it was something really groundbreaking, it would have been an Advanced article and not a Beginner level article.  The thing is that most of the right stuff never really reaches 98% of the people. What people hear or read is often stuff from muscle magazines and buffed up people who read muscle magazines. So I understand when you say you get confused reading my articles.

I got banned from a forum because they thought this is something too controversial. And obviously since some of them couldn’t admit they are wrong, they felt t like my tone and attitude was inappropriate for the forum. The moderator and some of the senior members had a lot to say but nothing relevant to the discussion.  It is really funny to see how people talk about how research is important blah bah and in the very next line talk about “how they got excellent results this way and that way”. Everyone get results. If you eat, sleep, and lift, you will get results. The question is what is optimal or what really works than what works.

There are only a couple of forums in which I feel there are people who really understand research, take time to read research , and can make some intelligent debate . Or maybe I should say these are the people who genuinely have a desire to learn and don’t mind being wrong at times. It is no surprise why this profession have never achieved the credibility and acceptance that it deserves.

Hope I will not get banned from here (:-.

Mumford | Thu February 12, 2009  

This article has been enlightening. For my workouts, i usually keep the same routine except that i switch barbell exercises and dumbbell exercises every week (they are still the same exercises). I have been doing this for a while and received progress, as i am proficient in both db and bb type exercises now. However I am afraid this alternating is not optimal for increasing strength and muscle mass. Should i continue this training?

Anoop | Thu February 12, 2009  

Hi

As long as you stick long enough with whatever you are doing, you will be fine. The problem only arises when people don’t stick with things long enough

So if your weight in dumbells or barbell exercise is stuck, you know something is wrong. But if you keep changing stuff every now and then, you will never have a clue whether you are doing something wrong, or even right.

Hope it helps

Kevin from Home Gym Reviews | Thu March 12, 2009  

Always keep these two basic exercise principles in mind:

A workout must exceed some threshold of intensity in order to stimulate growth and begin building muscle mass. Overload the muscles in your routines to get them pumped up. To put it bluntly: if you do a sissy workout then you should expect to see only sissy results!

The second principle involves working with progressive resistance. As your body will often reach a plateau and stop improving, you should progressively increase the amount of resistance (i.e., lift heavier weights), as well as perform more reps. You will also want to change your exercise routine every few weeks. This will deny your body some of the muscle memory it is accustomed to, and will keep the muscles guessing with new lifts, presses, and rows.

Anoop | Thu March 19, 2009  

Hi Kevin,

Could you be more specific please.

What you mean by muscle memory and what has it got to do with changing exercise routine? And how do you keep your muscles “guessing”?

Becky | Thu December 24, 2009  

I love this article!
I have been doing the same routine consistently for several months and am very pleased with my results.

Great site!
Thanks again…

Aaron | Mon January 18, 2010  

Hi Anoop,

The one thing that makes no sense to me when someone argues the reasoning for “muscle confusion” is to prevent the muscles from adapting to the exercise. Why don’t they realize that getting your muscles to adapt (which to me means grow bigger and stronger to handle the work load) is a great thing? Is that not the entire point of training? Stimulate the muscles, which in turn adapt- grow, and then progress by increasing the variables(reps, resistance, TUL, etc.)
If someone is constantly changing their program how will they ever know which program is producing results? You’ve got to give it time, and when you plateau make the changes to the variables before scrapping the entire routine.

Anoop | Mon January 18, 2010  

Hi Aaron,

Yes and that’s my point too.

When you change exercises what happens is that you are using weights much lighter than what you could have if you had stuck to the exercise longer.Simply put, your muscles are getting much less loading.

And as I said you can pick a few exercises and rotate so that you don’t have to do the same exercise again and again.

stewy | Wed February 17, 2010  

Hey, I know this is an old thread, but I was wondering if you could give me a workout plan of the idea you are describing. I know you started in the recommended section but i was wondering if you would put it into something I can put into practice? I’d really appreciate it. great theory!(since thats what you have to say nowadays ha) great thread!

Anoop | Wed February 17, 2010  

Hi Stewy,

Pick one exercise each for back, chest and legs. Keep doing that exercise for ever. Change the rest of them.

or If you need change, pick 2 or 3 exercises each for back, chest and legs and rotate them. Do the first set the first week, the second set the second week and so on.

Ollie | Mon March 15, 2010  

Hi

I’m curious as to if your rotating two seperate routines continuously is beneficial. I have a basic weight training routine containing squats, deadlift pull ups, arnold press and chest press/push ups.

Additionally I have a muay thai routine with more emphasis on power, stamina and martial arts. This is circuit based and includes complex body weight compound movements such as power squat thrusts, rollover chinups, power split squat twists and alternating scissor crunches.

I generally work out every other day and change between the routines each time so it’s still very consistant. I have seen results and I feel much stronger but was interested on you opinion on what I’m doing and whether this counts as constant change.

Anoop | Tue March 16, 2010  

I think that’s fine. You comment about getting stronger means that you have been using those exact exercises so that’s good.

When people say, I don’t know if I am getting stronger because I change exercise a lot, then it becomes a problem.

Soni | Sat January 08, 2011  

Good article.
Soni

steven | Fri January 28, 2011  

I have no idea if your still monitoring this thread but I had a question…so would it be a good idea to like stick with bar bench but switch up how I lift it. Like reps, or doing drop sets, or negatives

Anoop | Fri January 28, 2011  

Hi Steven,

All the comments pop up on the home page so I see them.

Yes. And you can always do other chest exercises. You just have to keep rotating it.  Or you can dumbells and stuff after your flat. Or one cycle you just do the flat second for high reps, while you do the incline for low reps and first.

The point is if you want to get stronger/ or better at a skill you have to keep practicing it.

Jonathan | Wed February 02, 2011  

Hi Anoop

I was just wondering how long I should wait to switch up a workout. I mean, in the graph the muscles don’t grow to their fullest until after 20 weeks according to the picture. Therefore, should I wait over 20 weeks to do a fill redesign of my workout? I am just starting to workout. And one other question. What are your views on protein supplements? Do you find them useful?

Anoop | Thu February 03, 2011  

Hi Jonathan,

Thanks for the comment and welcome to Exercise Biology.

The whole point is make sure that you are progressing in your workouts. The rest is just details. So I would say keep it no less than 8 weeks or thereabouts.And atleast have one exercise that you don’t change like squats, bench, rows or chins and such.

And please register in the forum. I and other senior members will be more than happy to help you.

Protein powder is useful around your workouts. I wouldn’t recommend it during non-workout times. You can do it, but not a healthy way to look good.

Bryce | Thu February 17, 2011  

Hey, great article. I am currently on rippetoe’s SS. It’s heavy compound lifts three times a week. Someone suggested I should do 2 weeks of rippetoe, increasing weight and such, and then one week of an isolation superset program. So it would be 2 rippetoe 1 iso 2 rippetoe etc… I was wondering if this would screw with my neural adaptation to rippetoe. I’ve been on it close to six weeks and my strength gains are slowing down. Hopefully this means neural adaptation is over and muscle will start taking over.

Thanks in advance!

Anoop | Fri February 18, 2011  

Hi Bryce,

Thanks for the comment!

There will be always neural adaptations. The extent of adaptations will be much higher in the beginning.Can’t pin point when it ends and such. 

If you are looking for a muscle building routine, you can do Rippetoe’s routine with a higher rep like 8 or 10 and more sets. And maybe add one or two isolations in the same day. Makes sense?

If you are adding a whole isolation week, you are basically butchering the program. It is good that you came to me and didn’t ask Rippetoe this question (:-

Mike | Fri August 12, 2011  

Anoop

Quick question: I work out 4-5 times a week and often do change a exercises or two or I do it in different orders and different repetitions every week. Is this bad? I am having some trouble putting on muscle. I haven’t been moving up in weight progressively every week.

What do you recommend?

Anoop | Sat August 13, 2011  

Hi Mike,

I don’t think it is bad.

My point is have a few exercises where you can gauge your exercises. Most people have bench press, squats and deadlift as their core exercise. So pick a few core exercises. You can change the rest of them. Makes sense?

Please register in the forum if you need more help.

shams | Sat September 24, 2011  

Will you please help me with this connundrum.  If i am doing seated rows on a pulley for eight weeks. Can i then switch it for inlcine bench rows on a pully with exactly the same weight as i was doing on seated rows before switching? In both the exercises, same muscles will be trained but from different angles.  And what about progressive overloading.  Once a trainer reaches a stage in a given exercise where he simply cannot overload the weight any more, is it not appropriate for him to move to another exercise for the same muscle.

Scott | Thu September 29, 2011  

My program which I do 3 times a week

Shoulder press 4x15
Lat raise 3x6-8
Chest press 1x15, 1x12 ,1x10 and 1x8
Flys 3x6-8
Lat pull down 1x15, 1x12 ,1x10 and 1x8
Seated row 3x6-8
Leg press 3-15

All to maximum .. Think this ideal if so should I keep doing it to see benefits or change the program ?? As I hit a stage where I haven’t increased on weight ?? Thanks

Anoop | Mon October 03, 2011  

Hi Scott,

Thanks for the comment.

If you are doing it 3 times/ week, you better have a way to manage the fatigue. Or you will be hit pretty hard by the 3rd or 4th week.

Maybe divide into a push-pull scheme so you only hit a muscle group at the most twice a week.  These kind of 3times a week full body workout are hard to manage fatigue if you are not careful.

Join the forum if you think you need more help

Jamie | Mon October 03, 2011  

Hi Annop

I’ve been doing all school workouts for afew year aka full body training mainly based around compound workouts with afew isolation thrown in I have stalled on my progressive overload cant add any reps or weight to my workouts diet and rest is fine infact im just back from a week off my routine and still no further lol thanks in advance

Anoop | Sat October 08, 2011  

Hi Jamie,

How your diet like? Do you get 8 hours of sleep?

And why not try an upper-lower - upper,Lower routine?

Register int he forum if you need more help , Jamie.

Mike | Sun January 29, 2012  

Hey,im confused to by all this stuff hahaha i found a good workout routine i want to use involving dumbbells since i have room for them only,here is the link,www.building-muscle101.com/dumbbell-workout-routine.html The question is,should i just follow this program and not do muscle confusion and just add weight as needed?i don’t like worrying about confusion,i lifted weights before and for quite some time now when i was younger and never even herd of confusion,now im hearing all this mumbo jumbo about confusion all over the net and im lost bad,i don’t want to do confusion i just want a good work out program involving dumbbells that i can use without all the mess,after i get a room built for working out i will get barbells and do some more heavier lifting any help you could give me?i would be very grateful,

sun | Mon April 23, 2012  

Hi Anoop! there are a few questions that I have. I have an exercise routine that I do NOT want to change, ever. Is this possible to do the same exercise for the rest of my life if I wanted to? How do you deal with maintanence? Also you say to keep 2 or 3 exercises for a muscle and rotate them, isn’t that applying muscle confusion? I’ve heard that is how you do muscle confusion by not doing the same exercise and rotating them. I know what you mean about improving skill and strength in exercising, now that I have learned how to properly work a muscle I really don’t want to change to a new exercise just to relearn it. Once I’m happy with my results, how do I maintain it can I just keep the same exercise without adding more resistance and change ever? Thank you

Anoop | Fri April 27, 2012  

Hi Sun,

You can do the same exercise forever. Look at olympic lifters and power lifters.

I am not sure if I understand your question. the three exercises are if people get bored or if you want to hit a different muscle in the same group for example, upper chest.

Makes sense?

Daisy | Thu June 07, 2012  

Hello,

I’m considering working on my legs with the P90x leg workout on Mondays/Wednesdays/Fridays and its for about 45 minutes. Lots of squats, lots of lunges. Then on Tuesdays/Thursdays Im planning on working on my abs with a 30 minute video by Jillian Michaels that specifically targets the core, so we also do cardio, etc. I also want to add riding my bike on Tuesdays/Thursdays to add to the cardio-fat burning. 

And then off course Im watching what I eat, eating 6 meals a day and drinking lots of water.

I want to know if you think this will tone, specifically my legs and butt and will I lose fat so I can get as flat of a stomach as possible?

And according to what Ive ready above, I dont need to change my workouts if I dont want to? I can keep doing these workouts for as long as I want without changing it up??

Anoop | Thu June 07, 2012  

Hi Daisy,

Where is the upper body workout?

You cannot burn body fat from specific areas by exercising those specific areas. If that was the case, every guy would have a six pack right.

If you are burning more calories than you take in, you will burn fat.  Basically, calories in vs out.

I would just make sure you are not losing more than 1-2 lbs a week.

Just don’t know anything about you, so cannot give any more suggestions. You can register in the forum if you need more help.

Twana Porter | Wed July 18, 2012  

Hi Anoop,

I’m a 56 year old female and who is trying to lose some weight. I eat five healthy meals and snacks every three hours, and I’m drinking six - eight 16 ounce bottles of water daily. I’m not new to exercising, but I am just starting again after a relapse five months ago. I’ve always heard that your body will get used to doing the same exercises, so I decided to do some research to find out how often I should change up my workouts. I came across your website, and I’m so glad I did. I want to make sure I’m going the right thing and not wasting my time. Would you mind giving me some advice on my exercise routine?

I love using dumbells and I don’t want to change it, and I also love doing aerobic exercises like Zumba and Hip Hop Abs, Wii, etc. I understand that I shouldn’t change my workouts, but does that mean I should only do weight training and exclude any aerobic exercises? I work out with the dumbbells in the morning, and do aerobics later in the day.

I’m using Joyce Vedral’s DVD “Weight Training Series Workout 101” because it works the whole body. It’s a DVD that I’ve used in the past and have gotten great results from it. She uses what she calls the “Pyramid System” and “Super Sets”, using three different sets of weights, and she stagers the days so you don’t work the same area two days in a row.
Since I’m just starting again, I’m using 2, 3, and 5 pound dumbbells, and as I get stronger I will raise the weights.

Using her Pyramid System I do:

12 reps with the 2 pound weights
10 reps with the 3 pound weights
8 reps with the 5 pound weights.

I get a 15 second rest after each and every set.

This is my early morning workout schedule:

Day 1 - Upper Body
Day 2 - Lower Body
Day 3 - Upper Body
Day 4 - Lower Body
Day 5 - Upper Body
Day 6 - Lower Body  
Day 7 – Rest day

What do you think? Should I change anything? Is it ok to do some type of aerobics exercises as well?

Twana :>)

speer | Mon April 08, 2013  

Couldn’t you tell if you where getting stronger in an exercise by remembering your max and the next time the exercise comes around set a new pr in that exercise.

George | Sat November 02, 2013  

Great article…I noticed kevin “didnt have the balls or the knowledge to reply to your question Anoop….pick some exercises and master them….when u stall change the intensity or volume to kickstart growth….your muscles dont know the difference between incline benches or flat benches….but the cns senses the difference in intensity…I think this confuses the so called experts….

daniell | Thu January 09, 2014  

Hi!
I have a Schedule of a push/pull/leg split
i train 60-120 reps for each big muscle Group per week.
and 30-60 per small muscle Group per week.
i go for 8-10 reps and 3 sets. that mean i have room for about 5 different exercices for the big muscles groups. 3x8=24 x 5= 120! thats the limit for me about.
i train every muscles Group about every 4 or 5th day

so my question is should i go for 5 different exercices for the big muscle Groups?, or should i go for maybie only 3 different exercices and repeat that the second time i train per week :monday 60 reps: benchpress , incline , flyes,    Saturday: 60 reps benchpress , incline?

or should i variate between 5? so saturday will then be an e.x Cable crossovers and dips .

sorry for to much info hope you understand what i mean .
thanks for answer!

Robin | Sun February 02, 2014  

Excellent and very helpful. I specifically chose the exercises in my routine because I enjoy doing them and my body feels all over great after a workout. So glad to know I don’t have to change it up for no good reason. Thanks for this great advice.

Anoop | Sun February 02, 2014  

Just pick a few exercises that don’t change much. the rest of them you can change you know

Lars | Mon April 21, 2014  

Hmm, i am not quite sure if i understand.

I have my core exercises squat, deadlift, bench press, overhead press, dumbell row and some more
And then my assistance exercises like front raise, pushdowns, etc

Are you saying that its best to keep the core ones, but vary the assistance ones? I mean, can you be sure you are training everything if you arent varying the movements?

Rick | Tue June 10, 2014  

This is bad advice from someone who doesn’t know much about what he is criticizing.
First of all the terms “shocking” and “confusing” the muscles are meant metaphorically, and when Joe Weider promoted this technique it was a way of expressing what to do, not ment as literally “shocking” or “confusing” the muscles.
Second, no muscles can’t think but unlike your rubber band they are reactionary. After a point of working out your muscle growth can plateau and all this principle suggests is that you stimulate it differently. Your muscles can and do “adapt” to your routine after a while.
The real question is how often should you change your routine. I think some mag suggest you change more often than you need. In the end YOU need to decide how often YOU need to change. Constantly look at yourself in the mirror, if you get to a point you feel your muscles are not growing much despite intense workout, try another routine. You must constantly evaluate yourself.
Also if you just started body building, note that you will most likely experience faster gains when you first start, thats natural. But hey if your muscle building slows, maybe change routine a bit anyway. Either way its always good to experiment a little bit and find what works for you. Get RIPPED!!!! -Rick Z

johnny | Mon June 23, 2014  

There is something contradictional that I found in this article.

On lot of websites I found that the most muscle gain, for a untrained beginner, happens in first 2-3 months. How do you explain that? According to this curve, that is the period when you will get less then after that period…

What do you think?

Smileys

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