Adapting to your workouts can be a double-edged sword. On one hand, it means you’re progressing and getting better. On the other hand, your body can actually become too accustomed to training, preventing you from further improving your fitness. Regularly changing your workout routine is the key to challenging yourself and keeping your body guessing.
To discover when and how often you should you change your workout, we enlisted the help of Matty Nguyen, a weightlifting, strength, and conditioning coach, and Dimitrios Kokkinis, a powerlifting coach, to give you some insight into the benefits of changing your workout regimen and tips on how to do so.
The Science Behind it All
The General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS) theory, developed by Hungarian-Canadian endocrinologist Hans Selye, explains why adhering to the same fitness regime for long periods of time can actually work against us.
Selye identified, in three parts, the responses that the body makes when a new stressor, such as exercise, is applied. Here is a short summary of what your body experiences when you begin a new workout:
Stage 1: The Alarm Phase
When a new stimulus is applied, such as beginning a new exercise regime, the body recognizes this and initiates the first phase; this is the alarm phase, which lasts for the first one to three weeks.
When it comes to a new fitness program, you may feel pretty sore and tired after the first few sessions. This is completely normal, as your body is in shock at having something completely new thrown at it.
Stage 2: The Resistance Phase
Following the alarm phase, the resistance phase kicks in; this is where your body begins to adapt. You may find that the exercises that you found difficult at first, have now become easier to do and require less effort to complete.
Stage 3: The Exhaustion Phase
The final stage is when your workout no longer has the same initial effect it once did. You may have noticed that your progress has stalled and you are not making the same significant improvements that you saw at the start.
So, why should I change my workout routine?
While there are many reasons to regularly change your workout routine, here are two fundamental benefits:
1. Break Through a Fitness Plateau
Selye’s GAS theory explains why our body’s ability to adapt is also the very thing that works against us in fitness. When we become too accustomed to our regular routine, it stops challenging us; therefore, no longer generating the same results that it once did.
So, what’s the solution? Give your body a new stimulus and challenge. Switch things up and change your training. Not only is it a great way to get us out of this fitness funk, it can help us avoid a plateau in the first place. It will get your body out of a state of predictability, so it’s always guessing and working.
When you’ve been doing the same thing for a while, the excitement eventually wears off. So, it makes sense that if you perform the same workout routine week after week, you may find yourself growing bored.
While mixing up your routine may help with physical challenges, such as hitting a plateau, Nguyen explains, “The benefits of regularly changing your workout routine extend to the psychological factors of fitness. Mixing up training will allow some people to keep the fun in training.”
Kokkinis agrees, adding, “Variations in training can help avoid staleness and boredom.” Basically, to help keep yourself motivated and avoid growing bored, stop repeating the same exercises, and change your workout routine. Not only will it help you physically, but you will also remain mentally stimulated.
How Often Should I Change My Workout?
According to Nguyen, how often you change your workout routine depends on how you approach your fitness. For general fitness, every four to six weeks is ideal; however, if you have a longer term plan, like with a macrocycle, every 12 to 16 weeks is best.
Kokkinis also mentions the benefits of weekly small changes that help us see a measurable improvement. By incorporating these small changes, you are giving your body new challenges, while still ensuring that you are able to track your progress.
However, it’s important to bear in mind that you shouldn’t change your workout routine too often. “We want to avoid too much change, too much of the time,” says Kokkinis. He adds, “If there is no consistency in your training, it becomes nearly impossible to track an improvement at a specific task.”
No matter the changes that you incorporate into your workout routine, it should still be physically and mentally stimulating. This will ensure that you are motivated to hit the gym, work towards your goals, and have fun at the same time.
How Should I Change My Workout?
Okay, so now that you know why and when you should change your workout, what sort of changes can you implement?
When it comes to changing your workout routine, Kokkinis points out, “There are many parameters of training you can change, like: increasing the number of sets, resting less, changing exercises and rep schemes.” Another alternative is “even changing your training schedule altogether.”
Sounds like a lot of info to take in? Just remember F.I.T.T:
Frequency: How Often You Workout
You can increase or decrease your sessions.
Intensity: How Hard You Workout
You can usually judge this based on your heart rate. If you like long-distance running at a steady pace, try doing some short and intense sprints, for a change.
Time: The Length of Your Workout Session
This typically correlates with the intensity. If you workout at a higher intensity, your sessions can be shorter, but lower intensity means you can have a longer workout.
Type: What Kind of Workout You Do
It could be well worth it to incorporate some different types of workouts into your exercise routine to give you a well-rounded fitness approach.
You can even change different cardio types. As Nguyen says, “Cardio can come in many different forms and cross training is a popular method of cardio. Being able to incorporate different exercises into a circuit to make it a cross training workout can be more fun than just running on the treadmill or riding a bike for an hour. Depending on the exercises, it can also burn more calories.”
However, switching cardio workouts isn’t the only change you can include. Try some cross training, where you do a fitness activity that is different from your typical one. If you are into strength training at the gym, try doing some yoga. If you are a runner, try including some strength training.
You will be surprised to see the benefits that seemingly opposite and unrelated activities can have. For example, runners who include strength training find that it helps with their running, as the weight exercises assist in strengthening key muscles used in running.
Your fitness goals also play a part in what type of cross training you should do. “Development of any aspect of fitness, like developing any other skill, is specific to its training. If you want to get better at running, you need to practice running. If you want to get better at squatting, you need to practice squatting,” says Kokkinis.