How often should you change training programs?

This question comes up quite often in the fitness space, so I thought I would dedicate an article to addressing some of the main questions and concerns that pop up.

Some people will tell you that you need a new program every 4 weeks. Others, 8-12 weeks. And then there are some who say EVERY week and some will even suggest that you do an entirely new workout every single session. Now, these are all opinions and have some pro's and con's that go with each.

I'd like to provide you with what I feel is a practical and science-backed approach to best create and maximisie your gym sessions.

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How often and when you change training programs will be dependent on a number of factors. Some of those being;

  • What your specific goals are

  • When you want to achieve those goals by
  • How far away from your goals you currently are
  • Why you want, or need to change the program

The last one is very important.

It tells us a little bit about your mindset in relation to the end goal/s. 

"Variation for the sake of variation doesn't yield results".

If you understand that 'changing things up' won't always be beneficial, or actually improve the results, then you are in a great head space!

However, if you think just by changing a single exercise, or the number of reps you perform, will magically create better results then I'd like to educate you on the matter.

The ONLY reason that a program really needs to be modified or changed is if it isn't getting results. 

I lie. There's a second reason.

If it puts you, or the person performing the program at risk of injury, then that would be more than enough of a valid reason to change the program (obviously).

Apart from that, if the program is working, there is no real *need* for change. There may be a want, but it isn't essential, as the program is doing EXACTLY what it was designed to do -- help you get closer to your goals. Whatever they may be.

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Some factors to take into consideration

If you aren't enjoying your workouts, no matter how effective they may be, then your output will diminish. Because you don't want to be there, or do what's required.

What I will say is, that there will definitely be times where you have to 'just get it done'.

You might have to do what you suck at.

You might have to do what you don't like. 

But, it shouldn't be every single session.

Because, that would just make the workout and your weekly dose of exercise miserable!! And that isn't the aim of exercise, at all. (Watch this video for further information on the topic)

When to change things up???

  • When your program is no longer effective

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  • If your results are starting to slow down, or stop, then that is a clear sign that your body has adapted to that given stress of training. The way to move forward and make further progress is to stimulate the body in a different way --> NEW program.
  • Perhaps one of your main lifts (Deadlift, bench press, squat, overhead press) is at a point where you can't hit your desired number of reps, or even the weight you once could. Then it is time to change something! This could be in the form of changing;
    • Exercise order
    • Number of sets and reps
    • Implement or training tool used (Barbell, Dumbbell, Kettlebell, Body-weight, Sandbag, Cables, Machines, Bands etc.)
    • Rest periods (If wanting fitness -- less rest. If wanting strength -- more rest)
    • An entirely new block, or phase of training (Muscle building, maximal strength, aerobic fitness, interval training, powerlifting)

  • when you no longer get enjoyment out of it

    • If your program is pissing you off, or just making you unhappy, then results will suffer. Simple as that!
    • Exercising intensely is meant to be hard. In saying that, if you can't cope with the intensity, as in, it is literally too hard for your ability level, you won't be able to complete the necessary work. This doesn't make ANYONE feel good about themselves. Be realistic with your expectations!
    • Dreading going to do exercise (before actually starting) is a sign that that specific mode, or style of exercise probably isn't a good fit for you. If you can't find ANY enjoyment, or fulfillment from what you're doing, find something else. I'm sure there is something that tickles your fancy :)
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  • Risk of injury

    • Do you feel sore constantly in your joints or tendons after your do a certain exercise or workout session? If so, it's likely that either;

      • Your form needs to be improved

      • The exercises you are doing aren't joint-friendly for YOUR body

    • Having to 'push through' exercises just to crank out what the piece of paper/program says is a sure-fire way to get injured. If you want to stay injury-free (and get better results) then I suggest that you make technique the number 1 thing that you focus on!

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Your body shape and anatomy may not agree with certain exercises. I have clients who can easily do an exercise in a good, effective position, whereas some clients just can't get into the right position to do it safely. So we use a different exercise, or training tool to get the job done. Be smart when it comes to choosing your exercises.

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  • If you are getting results, are having fun and are not in risk of INJURING yourself, keep doing what you're doing.

  • Sport athletes will have different phases and cycles of training through the year and have more complex training needs that need to be met. Are you a competitive sporting athlete? If not, stick to what works, puts a smile on your face and won't injure you.

  • Pick a program which you will look forward to. If 4-week programs work well for you, then use them. If you like the slow-burn effect of programs that run for 12-16 weeks and you can see yourself progressing each week, then that will be sufficient for your needs, too.

The aim of this article wasn't to tell you that there is only 1 way to do things. Many different programs have, and do work for different people. What you need to remember is that the decision to change programs shouldn't be made on whim, or simply emotionally based.

Look at the facts. Am I getting better? Yes or no? Am I having fun? Yes or no? Will this program injure me? Yes or no?

If this article gave you a better understanding of when to change your program, then I am very glad!

If it opened up a can of worms and you want to further understand the nuances of what to change and when, please feel free to Private Message me on my Facebook page. I'm more than happy to answer and clarify and questions on this topic. I love talking shop! :)

Until next time

Keep things simple, FUN and effective,



I send out my weekly newsletter, 'Fitness Advice That Works In the Real World',  every Tuesday to help people like you, lose fat, build strength and create results that last.

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