When, Why, How & How Often Should You Change Your Workout Routine

As I explained last time (Changing Your Workout Routine Too Often), one of the worst things you can do is change your workout routine too often.

You don’t need to “shock your muscles” or “keep your body guessing” or do silly muscle confusion workouts or anything equally dumb. It’s a myth. You also shouldn’t be jumping from one program to the next in search of some ultimate magical routine that’s going to work unrealistically well/fast. It doesn’t exist.

Truth is, just about every workout routine that isn’t completely terrible will work to some degree as long as you provide the time and consistency needed for it to work. If you keep changing things, that just can’t happen.

Now, does that mean you should NEVER change your workout routine? Of course not.

You most certainly should change things, but only when it truly makes sense to. Making a change before that point is just counterproductive.

In order to understand what I mean, we’re going to need to answer the following questions:

  • When, why and how often should you change your workout routine?
    Meaning, what are the reasons for making changes? How do you know when it’s time to change something? How frequently should those changes be made?
  • How should you change your workout routine?
    Meaning, once you finally figure out when/why/how often to make changes, what types of changes should you make?

So, let the answering begin…

The 4 Reasons You Should Ever Change Your Workout Routine

The way I see it, there’s really only 4 possible reasons for most people to make a change to their workout routine:

  1. If what you’re doing stops working for an extended period of time. This is really the #1 (and most obvious) reason to change your workout routine in some way: when it is no longer doing what it’s supposed to do and producing the results it’s supposed to produce. (And of course, make sure you’re being sane here. If you have crazy unrealistic goals and expectations, no program will ever produce the results you want it to produce.)
  2. If your goals change. For example, if your primary goal was always strength related, and now your primary goal has switched to building muscle or losing fat or anything else (or vice-versa), changes should be made to your program to reflect the changes in your goals.
  3. If you get really bored. If you become so bored to death with what you’re doing that it’s beginning to hurt your motivation to train, then it’s time to change something to bring your interest/desire/motivation back. (Again, you need to be realistic here too. You can’t act like you “get bored” with a workout after a week or two. In that case, you just need to suck it up and stop being a baby.)
  4. If something out of your control requires a change. Meaning, let’s say some outside reason presents itself and forces you to change something. For example, if a change in your schedule warrants a change in your workout, or if you have some sort of injury that prevents you from doing something you are currently doing. Stuff like that.

In my opinion, these are the only reasons the majority of the population should ever even consider making a change to their workout routine.

What Kind Of Changes Should I Make?

Now, let’s say one of the above reasons does present itself. How exactly should you change your workout routine?

As usual, this answer depends on a million different factors. In most cases though, you’d probably be able to keep the overall setup and structure of your routine exactly the same and just make smaller changes to things within the workouts.

For example, if you are doing incline dumbbell presses, you could switch that to incline barbell presses or the incline Hammer Strength machine press.

If you’re doing standing barbell curls, you could switch that to seated dumbbell curls.

If you’re doing seated cable rows, you could switch that to t-bar rows, or bent over barbell rows, or some type of chest supported row.

If you’re doing split squats, you can switch to lunges.

If you are doing some exercise with an underhand grip, you can switch to an overhand grip. If you’re doing some kind of bilateral exercise (both arms or legs are used at the same time), you can switch to a unilateral exercise (each arm or leg is trained individually). And so on and so on.

Switch an incline press to any other incline press, a bicep curl to any other bicep curl, a row to any other row, a dumbbell exercise to the barbell version of the same exercise, etc. etc. etc. Pretty simple.

More often than not, these are the types of changes that would be made most often. Just replacing an exercise (or a bunch of exercises) with another similar exercise of the same movement pattern and/or target muscle group(s). It’s not rocket science.

Beyond that, there are plenty of other changes that can be made without truly changing the entire program altogether.

For example, if your program uses a 4 day Upper/Lower split (with an A and B workout for each like The Muscle Building Workout Routine), you could usually change the order of the workouts. Do Upper Body B and Lower Body B first in the week, then Upper Body A and Lower Body A. Or, start with lower body instead of upper body.

You could also change sets and reps in an intelligent way that still keeps volume and balance the same. For example, if you’re doing 3 sets of 8 reps (24 reps total), you could switch it to 4 sets of 6 reps (still 24 reps total).

Again, pretty simple. And there are dozens of other similar changes you can make just like the examples shown above.

You can decrease or increase rest time between sets in a way that makes sense, change the order of exercises within a workout in a way that makes sense, try out a different type of training method (like alternating sets), take an exercise you were previously doing for higher reps and start doing it for lower reps (or the other way around).

The list goes on and on and on.

How Often Should I Make A Change Like This?

Pretty much only as often as one of those 4 reasons from before present itself. That’s my recommendation.

I know people like to say things like “change your workout routine every X weeks,” but that’s stupid. Maybe that routine was going to work perfectly well exactly as is for another 2 weeks or 4 weeks or 8 weeks or more.

So, rather than recommend how often you should make a change, I think it’s a much better idea to tell you when NOT to make a change.

And that is, don’t make changes to your workout routine when you have absolutely no reason to.

When your overall progress stalls for a significant amount of time, or just one (or a few) specific exercises stall for a significant amount of time, or if you’re just sooo bored with your program that it’s hurting your motivation to train… that’s the time to make a change.

And then obviously if some sort of outside reason requires you to make a change, or if you happen to change your goals and what you want to get out of you routine, then it would also make sense to make a change at that point too.

And in some cases, it may even be time to get rid of your entire program altogether and start something completely different.

But if there is one big point you should take from this article, it’s that if none of those 4 reasons I mentioned before actually exist… then you have no reason to change a thing.

In fact, as long as what you’re doing keeps working, feel free to keep on doing it forever.

When it stops, that’s when a change should be made.

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30 Comments

  1. Jamie says

    Hi so could this count as a mix up..
    say I was doing hammer curls with dumbbells followed by ez bar curls then sat down dumbell curls
    if I changed the order of these once every 8 weeks would this mix up stand as a proper mix up?

    thanks

    • says

      Changing exercise order is just one of MANY changes that can be made to your workout to make it somehow different than it has been.

      But whether or not it’s “proper” depends on too many additional factors to just give a simple yes or no.

  2. Gg says

    thanx Dude, I’ve been working out for three months n I was thinking maybe it was time to change my routine completely, now i’ll just make small changes

  3. Brett says

    So what your saying is not to have a week A and week B workout routine. Would it really be that bad to switch between 2 fairly similar routines every other week.

      • katie says

        so, in my case im 1 month and 3 weeks into a program that doesn’t seem to be working out.
        the muscle grouping is doable but not effective for me and I can feel it.
        I was going to wait until have completed 2 months of this program and then make the switch to something more effective and do that for a solid three months.
        shall I suck it up and finish by tweaking the muscle groupings (which is not significant)or change now?

  4. Matt says

    First of all: Your site is awesome. I learned a lot!
    Now my question: I switched to body weight exercises a while ago. I have two full body routines: one focused on building muscle (high intensity, low reps) and one focused on muscle endurance (lower intensity, higher reps). I keep alternating these workouts troughout the week (I train 3 times a week).
    Does this frequent change keep me from progressing or is it a good idea?

  5. WOW says

    Hello. Thanks for.all the info. I am still in the “shredding fat” stage with about 45-60 min of cardio a day on the elliptical. I seemed to hit a plateau. I switched to Zumba and some Jillian Michaels routines. My question is, Do I continue the new routine until I plateau again and go back or switch back in a couple of weeks?

    • says

      Often times, when someone asks me why they’re not losing fat and they provide a bunch of details about their workout but nothing about their diet… their diet is the reason.

  6. Jo says

    Absolutely right. I have been bodybuilding for couple of years now and had significant gains. I work out 5 times a week and have had mainly the same routine. In my case it has been working fine. Although, gains have now slowed down a bit (as it happens normally) but it is still working. Totally agree with the losing fat issue. Its all in the diet.

    Good work mate.

    Thanks

  7. Ollie says

    After changing my routine to similar exercises, is it fine to just keep two routines on rotate? Also is it a good idea to workout the upper body one day and legs the next?

  8. Ollie says

    I’ve changed my routine to:

    Workout Routine #1

    Mon: (Home)
    Exercise bike 10mins,
    Chest & back, biceps & triceps,
    Sit-Ups.

    Tue: (Gym)
    Cardio 10 mins,
    Shoulders & lats, legs
    Sit-Ups.

    Wed: (Home)
    Exercise bike 45 mins,
    Sit-Ups

    Thurs: (Rest)

    Fri: (Home)
    Cardio 10 mins,
    Chest & back, biceps & triceps,
    Sit-Ups.

    Sat: (Gym)
    Cardio 10 mins,
    Shoulders & lats, legs,
    Sit-Ups.

    Sun: (Rest)

    I realised I shouldn’t work muscles only once a week, I’m also trying to use the gym as little as possible, so I’ve put lats and legs together because I need gym equipment instead of just dumbells. Is this a good routine for improving muscle mass and appearance? Thanks

    • says

      People come to me all the time with their workouts and diets looking for me to tell them if it’s good or what should be changed or how it can be improved, but it’s unfortunately not something I do at all for anyone.

      It’s nothing personal of course. It’s just much too time consuming to go through every detail and provide the proper feedback. So, it’s just one of those things I always avoid doing. Sorry!

  9. Anders Carey says

    What I’ve been doing since I started working out about 6 months ago is a variation of “instinctive training,” I suppose. (Yes, I’m aware that instinctive training is bullshit.) Instead of following a strict routine, I keep a list of exercises on my phone for each muscle group and the weight and reps I completed the last time I did that exercise. Every time I work out, I’ve picked an exercise to do from that list and made a note that I did it this time, so I should pick another next time. (for example, I’ll do a dumbbell shoulder press one workout and the next, I’ll do the shoulder press machine with the same reps/sets.) So far it’s worked alright for me, and it’s much more convenient if the gym is busy – instead of waiting for that bench, I can just hop on over to that machine, etc. However, I’m questioning whether or not it’s a good idea if I should stick to a strict routine. Thanks for the help

    • says

      Nope, that would not be something I’d recommend. The key to building muscle is progressive overload, and the key to progressive overload is making gradual strength gains, and the key to making gradual strength gains is consistency, and the key to consistency is keeping each exercise in your routine long enough to allow for progress to be made.

      So… how will you consistently make progress on an exercise when you’re changing it to a different exercise every week?

    • says

      If you’re referring to the sentence “Mix it up. By changing your workouts daily you will trick your body into working harder and burning more calories.” then that’s pure fucking nonsense.

      Plus this person appears to be referring only to cardio. I’m referring only to weight training.

  10. Ryan says

    In a gym, they usually have a designated area with weight machines. My gym has a group of 7 machines. I go through this entire workout non stop, then rest for 3-4 minutes. I try and squeeze out 3 sets this way. I have been doing this for 3 weeks now. My question is am I better off increasing the weight over time on the machines, or to go to free weights to get different angles and positions on my muscles? Thanks for your help.

  11. Krasi242 says

    Ok I know this is a bit off the topic but hey.
    Ok so I’ve been training for 2 and a half years but seriously with gains for 1and a half and I’ve been using the good ol’ Push/Pull/Legs doing everything, except legs (ofc), 2x a week. And I haven’t been getting such good results lately. I mean I went froim doing 80kg for 6 reps to doing 80kg for 12 reps in about 4 months but I haven’t seen much size gains. So my question is:
    I’m clearly applying progressive overload but not seeing that much size gains so do would it be a good idea to switch to a bro split a.k.a. doing every bodypart 1x a week with more volume?
    Thanks!

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