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How Often Should You Change Your Workout to Build Muscle?

August 23rd 2019

The fitness industry is saturated with new trends and ideas, all promising to make you a lean mean fighting machine with the least amount of effort possible.  It may be tempting to jump to the latest idea, especially if you feel your current program isn’t delivering results. Unfortunately, new and trendy doesn’t always mean better and the folks who stay the course and put in the work consistently are the ones who see the best return over time. 

As a beginner lifter, you probably wonder how often you should change your workout program. If your goal is to build muscle, you might be surprised to find out it is a lot less often than you think. You are better off staying focused on one program for a considerable time, and here’s why.

How Often Should You Change Your Workout To Build Muscle?

You should never want to change your workout at all. If you are getting results, do not try something new. You need to stay patient and commit to your workout program for at least one year.

If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It

In other words, don’t change your workout if you are still making progress. The overload principle states that muscles experience adaptation when exposed to a stimulus greater than normally accustomed to, aka, when they are overloaded. (Ross, Mandy) The overload does not need to be huge. According to the National Strength and Conditioning Association, new weightlifters experience muscle growth with minimal lifting frequency, intensity or duration, such as only two lifting sessions per week and only 5-pound increases in weights. (Ross, Mandy).

Most weightlifting programs will include this type of progressive overload so that your muscles will continue to adapt to the same program for a while. They do not fret over changing exercises often so that you can build muscle. Experienced coaches and lifters know that your body will take some time to respond to changes. Your body will also respond better to certain exercises, which is great.

So, bottom line, if something is working for you, do not change it because someone told you that they changed their workout programs often. Stray away from the crowd and you will produce your own results.

Be Patient

How often should you change your workout you may ask? Here are some facts, it can take up to six weeks to see any noticeable changes in muscle size. Of course, this is all dependent on your training program. Some people can see results more often than others but believe it not, if you train hard, results will come.

Therefore, you need to wait a full month before even thinking about the validity of your new resistance training program. After that point of first noticing a difference, you would be wise to give yourself a minimum of another full month on the same program to continue those results before assessing whether or not you think the program is working for you. 

And even after that month, you should still give your program a full year before you switch to something else. Want to know some good programs to follow? Try 5/3/1 Forever or Dinosaur Training.

Size Doesn’t Always Matter

Even though muscle size results may take up to six weeks to be noticed, increases in strength occur quicker. Strength is a neuromuscular function - meaning it is controlled by how your brain “talks” to your muscles. A motor unit is a group of muscle fibers that are controlled by a single motor nerve cell. When you lift a weight that is slightly heavier than your current ability, your brain reaches out to additional motor units to help lift the weight. This is good news - it means you are building muscle.

As you perform resistance training, you are training your brain to bring more friends to the party.  This neuromuscular adaptation can begin in as little as one week of strength training. 

and will continue as long as you keep the weights just above your current threshold. 

Consistency is key here. In order to improve strength and build muscle, you need to continue to work the same neural pathways. So even if you aren’t seeing increases in muscle size yet, you are getting stronger. Changing your program too soon could impair this. 

More Is Not Always Better

There are many factors that contribute to seeing results in the gym aside from the workout program you are following. Other factors include your diet, sleep habits, stress levels, rest and recovery. It is very difficult to control all these other variables that affect building muscle, and if you are hopping on and off workout programs, you will just be adding to the confusion of what is working and what isn’t. For example, did you build muscle from that new protein powder or from your new workout program?  

Since your workout program is one of the few things you can concretely control, you should keep that as consistent as possible to determine what drives your results. 

Keep Your Goal In Mind

There are many components to fitness, such as muscle strength, cardiovascular health, and endurance, flexibility, muscle size, power, etc. Each of these goals demands specific exercises and programs to accomplish. When your goal is to build muscle, you need to stay on a program designed to build muscle, which should include specific instructions regarding repetitions, sets, rest time and weights. 

In a recent article on Muscle and Strength, strength coach and published fitness writer Lee Boyce explains that strength training is a process to develop thicker muscle fibers and a more efficient nervous system and that the art of repetition is one of your best friends as a lifter. (Boyce, Lee.)

Changing your program to something that focuses on any of the other fitness components could likely derail your muscle-building progress. Rather, focus on one program at a time, and for long enough to determine if you are seeing results from it. 

When To Change Up Your Workout To Build Muscle?

There are a few valid reasons to change your workout program. 

  1. Lack of results - change your program if you are not gaining any results for some time. If after careful and honest assessment you determine that you have hit a plateau, it may be time to change. 
  2. Injuries - if something in your workout program is causing pain or injury, it is a good idea to stop. This could be a repetitive strain on a certain muscle or joint. Get it checked out by a professional and talk to them about your current program. If they advise you change it, you definitely should even if it is producing results. 
  3. Dislike - this can be tricky, but if you really don’t like the exercises in your current program and find yourself skipping your workout because of that, it would be wise to change programs. Be honest with yourself though - are you just making this an excuse?  Or is there a valid reason you don’t like a specific set of exercises? To see the best results, you should look forward to completing your workout program and feel comfortable performing each exercise in your gym setting. 

In Summary

When your goal is to build muscle, stay consistent with the same workout program as long as it continues to give you results. Hopping on and off various programs could derail your success. Change it if you are not gaining any results for some time after careful and honest assessment to rule out any other variables. 

So the next time you think about how often you should change your workout to build muscle, just remember that if it was easy, you would have not taken it seriously. Have faith and commitment that you want to get build bigger muscles and let your everyday actions produce results.

References

Ross, Mandy. “The Overload Principle of Strength Training.” www.livestrong.com, www.livestrong.com/article/325244-the-overload-principle-of-strength-training/. Accessed August 6, 2019.

Boyce, Lee. “How Often Should You Change Your Workouts.” www.muscleandstrength.com, https://www.muscleandstrength.com/articles/how-often-should-you-change-your-workouts. Accessed August 7, 2019.

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