How Often Should You Change Your Workout Routine?

If you’ve found a workout routine that’s ideal for your needs, goals, experience level, and schedule, (or perhaps created one of your own), there’s something you’ll soon be asking yourself…

When, why, and how often should I change my workout?

In this article, I’m going to answer that question in terms of changing certain aspects within your workout (like the exercises you’re doing), as well as changing the entire workout routine to something completely new/different.

But first…

The Big Myth About Changing Your Workout

Have you ever heard that:

  • You need to constantly make changes to your workout routine for it to be effective?
  • You need to “keep your muscles guessing“?
  • You need to “shock your body” into improving?
  • You need to prevent your body from “getting too used to what you’re doing“?
  • You need “muscle confusion workouts” in order to keep making progress?

Does any of this sound familiar?

Cool, because it’s largely a bunch of myth-based bullshit.

Don’t misunderstand me here, there are definitely some legitimate reasons for making changes to your workout (we’ll get to them in a minute).

But this stuff? This is all nonsense that only prevents people from making progress. Here’s why.

Why Changing Things Too Often Doesn’t Work

The biggest reason comes down to the fact that progressive overload is the key to getting results out of any workout routine.

In the context of weight training and goals like building muscle, this means you need to increase the demands being placed on your body by gradually getting stronger over time (e.g. lifting more weight, lifting the same weight for more reps, etc.).

And in order for this type of progression to occur as well and as often as it can, you need consistency, and you need it over a sufficient duration of time.

After all, how are you supposed to progress at something when you’re constantly changing what it is you’re trying to progress at?

That’s why this whole “change your workout every 3 weeks, shock your muscles, keep your body guessing” garbage is only going to be counterproductive to your goals.

And the same thing applies to “program hoppers” who hop from one program to the next in search of some non-existent magical workout routine that’s going to work as unrealistically fast as they wish it would. Good luck with that.

In the end, progression is the only “change” your body truly requires. And that’s going to entail sticking with the same program for a lot longer than many people seem to realize.

Good Reasons To Change Your Workout Routine

Now, while you do need to avoid changing your workout too often, it’s also unrealistic (and incorrect) to think that you’re going to do the same workout the same way forever.

You’re not.

At some point, changes should be made for a variety of reasons. These reasons include:

  • Continued progression.
  • Training body parts in other beneficial ways.
  • Getting the benefits of other exercises and variations.
  • Getting the benefits of other types of equipment.
  • Preventing overuse injuries.
  • Better suiting new goals you may have.
  • Mental freshness, preventing boredom, and keeping things fun.
  • And more.

So yes, you do want to change things at some point. It’s a necessary part of the process, and a necessary part of long-term progress. You just want to avoid doing it so often that it hinders progress rather than helps it.

And that brings us to the next questions.

How often should you change your workout, and what kind of changes should you make?

Recommendations For Beginners

Here’s what I recommend to beginners who are using my beginner workout routine.

Because of the untrained (or detrained) state beginners start out in, they are primed for long-term consistent progression.

But one thing they must have in order to make it happen is consistency.

They need to spend a significant amount of time doing the same handful of primary exercises in the same manner with a focus on consistent progression (and perfecting their form) so the magic of “beginner gains” can do its thing.

For this reason, I don’t recommend making any changes to the the beginner program until progress finally begins to stall (which usually doesn’t happen until months down the line).

At that point, you have the option of deloading and/or bringing the rep range down to 6-8 on the major compound exercises (which are initially 8-10).

But beyond that, I’ve found beginners do best when they simply stick with the program exactly as it is until it stops working.

Which means that your first truly significant change should be your eventual switch from the beginner routine to some form of intermediate routine.

And so the new question becomes, when should a beginner switch to an intermediate routine? I cover that right here: When Should A Beginner Move To An Intermediate Routine?

Recommendations For Intermediate And Advanced Trainees

Here’s what I recommend to intermediate and advanced trainees who are using programs like The Muscle Building Workout Routine, The 5-Day Workout Routine, or any of the workouts included in my Superior Muscle Growth program.

Let’s start with the most major change of all: a complete change of the overall workout program itself.

Changing From One Routine To A Different Routine

There honestly is no official set-in-stone rule for this.

However, my general recommendation is to stay with the same overall workout program for a minimum of 12 weeks.

What’s the maximum amount of time you should spend using the same workout program? There really isn’t a maximum. You could potentially stay with the same overall workout program and training template for years while just making various smaller changes within it.

Speaking of which…

Making Changes Within A Workout

As for these smaller changes, how often should they be made? And what kind of changes should you make?

Well, there’s lots of stuff you can optionally change within a given workout program. This includes components like:

As long as they’re made intelligently, changes like this can be fine (though again, they shouldn’t happen TOO often).

However, out of everything I just listed, exercises are by far the easiest, most common, and least-likely-to-screw-up changes you can make.

Changing Exercises

And it’s really as simple as just switching any exercise to another similar type of exercise.

For example, you can change:

  • The dumbbell version of an exercise to the barbell version of that same exercise.
  • A dumbbell fly to a cable fly.
  • A seated exercise to the standing version of that same exercise.
  • A row to another row.
  • An incline press to any other incline press,
  • An overhand grip to an underhand or neutral grip version of that same exercise.
  • A machine version to a free weight version of the same exercise.
  • One deadlift variation to another similar deadlift variation.
  • A pull-up to a chin-up or lat pull-down.
  • A split squat to a lunge.
  • A biceps curl to any other biceps curl.
  • The reversed/vice-versa version of any of the above.
  • And on and on and on.

Basically, for most people, similar versions of the same type of exercise are virtually all interchangeable with each other, especially when your goal is building muscle.

So let’s pretend the workout you’re using called for some kind of row for your back (aka a horizontal pulling exercise). You might initially do bent over barbell rows in that spot. Then you might eventually switch it to bent over dumbbell rows, then eventually seated cable rows, then eventually t-bar rows, then eventually a Hammer Strength machine row, and then maybe switch back to bent over barbell rows again.

And many of the exercises I just mentioned can be done with a variety of different grips (overhand, underhand, neutral, wide, narrow, etc.), thus giving you dozens of other options.

My suggestion would be to make yourself a list of a few of your favorite exercises for each muscle group, and then just gradually rotate through them over time by inserting a new one into the appropriate spot in your workout (in place of the current exercise… NOT in addition to it) while keeping everything else (split, set and rep ranges, rest periods, exercise order, etc.) exactly the same.

Like I said a minute ago, you could keep the overall template of the workout program the same for quite a while and just occasionally change the exercises within it. You could then go an indefinite amount of time without needing to change anything else.

As long as progress is still going well and you’re happy with what you’re doing… that’s really all that matters.

And so the question then becomes… how often can the exercises be changed?

How Often To Change Exercises

Once again, there really is no set-in-stone answer. Progress (have things stalled, even after deloading?) and personal preferences (some people prefer more or less variety than others) would be the main factors to consider.

Generally speaking, though, your primary exercises should be changed the least often and your isolation exercises can be changed the most often. Your secondary exercises fall somewhere in the middle.

More specifically, I’d recommend keeping the primary compound exercises the same for a minimum of 12 weeks, the secondary compound exercises for a minimum of 6 weeks, and the isolation exercises for a minimum of 3 weeks.

Please note the emphasis on the word “minimum.”

The exercises absolutely DO NOT have to be changed this often. You can definitely go longer than this before changing them. This is just my recommendation for how long – at the very least – you should stay with the same exercises before considering making changes.

So, for example, if you get to the 12th week and you’re still progressing well on some primary exercise (and still enjoy doing it), then definitely stick with it for as much longer as you want.

If, however, progress is stalling (and deloading didn’t help) and/or you’re just sick of the exercise, that’s a good time to make a change when that 12th week comes along.

But if that doesn’t happen until the 14th week, or the 15th week, or the 16th week, or longer… then there is no need to change a thing.

The same goes for the secondary exercises and isolation exercises at the 6 and 3 week marks, respectively.

If everything is going well, the exercise is still doing what it’s there to do, and you are still enjoying the exercise, definitely feel free to keep on using it well past that point.

If not, or you’re just getting bored with that exercise, then feel free to change it.

Basically… if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. That really sums up most of what you need to know about making changes to your workout routine.

For me personally, I don’t change my primary exercises often at all. That’s just my preference.

I’m more likely to keep those exercises the same for much longer than the 12 week minimum and then just regularly deload when needed and occasionally change other aspects of how they’re being done (e.g., different set/rep ranges, different progression methods, etc.).

As for secondary and isolation exercises, I change those with a bit more regularity (though still certainly not TOO often, and typically longer than the 6 and 3 week marks).

Additional Tips

Also keep in mind that when you are changing exercises, you don’t have to change all of them at once.

Meaning, if you only have a reason to change one primary exercise at some point, then you should only change that one exercise… not every primary exercise. Or if you wanted to replace three secondary exercises at some point but wanted to keep two other secondary exercises… then only change those three.

Again… if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

And finally, one last note about making major (overall routine) or minor (exercises within the same routine) changes is the timing of when they’re done.

The ideal time to make some of these changes is at the end of a training cycle during the deload period.

This is especially true for when you’re changing the overall program itself or just many primary and secondary exercises (isolation exercises, on the other hand, can be changed mid-cycle without any problem at all).

This isn’t a requirement, but it makes plenty of sense from the standpoint of allowing you to spend that lighter deload period adjusting to the changes you made, breaking into a new program, learning/relearning new exercises, figuring out how much weight you should be lifting for those new exercises, etc.

Plus, it also means you’ll be totally fresh and ready to begin a new training cycle that incorporates the new change(s) you’ve made.

What’s Next?

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jay is the science-based writer and researcher behind everything you've seen here. He has 15+ years of experience helping thousands of men and women lose fat, gain muscle, and build their "goal body." His work has been featured by the likes of Time, The Huffington Post, CNET, Business Week and more, referenced in studies, used in textbooks, quoted in publications, and adapted by coaches, trainers and diet professionals at every level.

44 thoughts on “How Often Should You Change Your Workout Routine?”

44 Comments

  1. 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

    • 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. 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. 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.

      • 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. 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. 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?

    • 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. 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. 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. 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

    • 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. 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

    • 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?

    • 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. 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. 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!

  12. I have likely misunderstood something here, so i must ask to clarify – are you really suggesting there is zero carryover from one similar exercise to another if you keep alternating between them? I’m referring to the person who asked about the shoulder press, first with dumbbells and then next time the same exercise with a machine.

    I do mostly bodyweight exercises, on one workout i do chinups on rings, the next time inverted body rows in the lever position (= front lever pullups). Then i’m back to chinups the next time, alternating between them. Same for pushing; alternating between weighted dips on rings and pushups on rings, and squats; alternating between goblet chair squats and pistol squats. There are more exercises but you get the idea.

    How could this possibly hinder progress? If it has slowed *me* down, i have to say i haven’t noticed it. I still keep reaping more and more reps, always moving on to the harder variation of each exercise.

    • Nope, I am not suggesting zero carryover between similar exercises. I’m just suggesting that due to a handful of factors (especially neural adaptations), you’re not going to progress as well on a specific exercise if you are constantly changing the exercise you’re doing.

  13. I am 61 years old. 5’8″ and was 168 at the start. I am doing the muscle building routine, upper/lower Mon-tues and Weds-Thurs split. I was always lean but had athletic build with good definition and 6 pack abs in younger days. I started the workout around mid April. I was doing close to 40% protein 40% carbs and 20% fat. I dropped 18 lbs and now have gained back a couple good pounds. I’ve consistently followed the progressive overload principle. I look way better than I thought possible. Could stand to lose a small amount of belly fat yet but am very pleased. I use a stopwatch and follow your plan religiously. Thank you for your work. I purchased the best workout. Is there enough new material to justify another $47 for the new book? One more thing I am supplementing with ON gold standard protein and ON creatine as you suggest.

  14. Hey man, I’m switching from the 4 day upper lower to the 3 day split. I’m just confused about something. Once you complete both weeks and start week 3, do you start back to the beginning of week 1? or do I start that following Monday with upper body B? not sure what your intention is. Thanks for the help, Ryan

  15. Hey AWorkoutRoutine,

    Another question for you here. What are your thoughts on periodization techniques? You seem to advocate progressive overload. How about using your muscle building routine with periodization such as 12 reps on weeks 1-2, 10 reps on weeks 3-4, 8 reps on weeks 5-6, 6 reps on weeks 7-8, and Repeat indefinitely?

  16. What would be a good squat alternative for me? I hurt my left knee some years ago, and my body just won’t let me put all my weight evenly on both sides. I end up twisting my body mid squat so the right side takes more weight. My gym doesn’t have mirrors – I only found out I was doing this when a friend was watching me, so I can’t really monitor what I do properly. Right now I’m just persisting, but perhaps I should change to a split squat or lunges?

  17. I’ve replaced the bench press with the dumbbell press for the last several months, mainly do to the bar falling on my chest and was unable to get it off of me for a few minutes. Working night shift I usually go to the gym at 3 am when no one else is around, so getting someone to spot me is frankly hard. Should I be concerned on my muscle growth using the dumbbell press rather then the bench press?

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