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How Often Should You Change Your Workout to Build Muscle

Do you know the last time I changed my workout routine?

I don’t either, because it was such a long time ago.

And the reason I don’t change my workout routine often is because I don’t need to, nor do you.

Put your hand up if you’ve ever heard one or both of the following statements:

“You have to keep your muscles guessing to keep growing” or “You must shock your muscles into growing”

Ok, you probably didn’t put your hand in the air, but I’m sure you’ve been told or read one of the above.

Most of the time when someone tells me they have changed their workout, it’s because they want to “keep their muscles guessing” or “shock them into growing”.

The problem is though, it’s BS.

Yes, that means bullsh*t, with a capital B and S.

Muscle Confusion Myth

Our muscles don’t get confused, shocked or emotional.

Muscles don’t ‘think’, they contract by shortening and lengthening when called upon and adapt by growing in response to the level of tension they are subjected to. They don’t know or care about what exercises or workout routine you’re using. All they know is TENSION.

It’s true that muscles will eventually adapt to a training stimulus and stop growing. That is a proven fact. But that doesn’t mean you need to change your workout routine.

To keep growing you need to increase the training stimulus, not change it. This is known as ‘progressive overload’ and is really the only thing you need to change, providing you are following a decent workout routine in the first place.

Building muscle is about manipulating the adaptive response of the body. Muscles adapt in response to how much tension they are placed under.

For example, if you can bench press 100kg for 10 reps, over time your muscles will adapt to this stress by getting bigger and stronger to cope with the load. That’s how muscles work.

Now, once you’re muscles have adapted to this 100kg for 10 reps they stop growing. You’re muscles have done their job and are now able to handle to load easily.

To continue growing you must add more weight to the bar. Increase the weight to 105kg on your next workout and you have created a new stimulus by increasing the tension in the muscle.

Providing you are following a good training split and performing your exercises with great form and target muscle activation then there is really no need for you to change anything.

Most people:

  1. Train each muscle once per week with high volume (more sets)
  2. Train each muscle twice per week with low volume (fewer set)

Either one of these training methods will effectively grow muscle for years, as long as you’re increasing the tension in the muscle by adding more weight over time.

The key to getting bigger and stronger is consistency. That means following an effective workout program consistently, week in week out, month after month.

Changing workout routines and training days are not consistent. You can’t progress and improve on the previous weeks if you keep changing routines.

If you keep bouncing around from one workout to the next and changing things around all the time you’ll never see good consistent results.

It’s fine to alternate between a few different exercises each week (as shown below), but you don’t need to change up your entire routine.

Week 1:
Monday (chest): flat barbell press

Week 2:
Monday (chest): flat dumbbell press

As I’ve said many times, building muscle is not about moving weights, it’s about using weights as a tool to apply tension to the movement that a muscle creates.

Muscles need consistent progressive tension, not confusion. Keep stimulating growth by increasing tension.

Like a lot of myths in bodybuilding, they’ve been created by supplement companies or magazines with a financially related motive.

The Truth doesn’t sell bodybuilding magazines.

They have to keep putting out shiny new ‘better than last month’ workout routines every month to keep making sales.

No bodybuilding magazine is going to give you an effective training program to follow for the next three years. Sure, they’ll give you 6, 8 or 12-week mass routines, to keep you coming back for more!

If You’re Not Getting Results From Your Workout

If you’re using a popular and effective training split but you’re not getting any results, you’ve stopped making progress or growth has slowed down, you first need to assess the following before thinking about a complete change in your workout routine

Expectations: If you have unrealistic expectations about how quickly you’re going to build muscle then no workout in the world is going to produce the results you want.

You have to make sure you’re being realistic about your goals. I mean, to think any workout routine will put 10 pounds of muscle on your frame in a couple of weeks is not realistic.

The rate at which you build lean muscle mass will differ slightly from one person to the next. But providing you’ve got your training, nutrition and rest nailed you can expect to gain around 1 – 2 pounds of lean muscle each month.

Beginners: Beginners always experience fast gains in muscle size and strength.

When you begin weight training or you’re back in the gym after a long time off, you will find that gains in strength and muscle mass come on noticeably fast.

However, this rapid gain in weight and strength experienced by beginners tapers off and slows down. This does not mean that your workout is bad, has stopped working and needs changed.

Nutrition: As you know, proper nutrition goes hand in hand with training to make a successful bodybuilding program. If you find that you’re not growing or that things have come to a standstill, check your diet.

Are you getting enough calories? – To build muscle you need to maintain a calorie surplus by consuming more calories than you burn in a day.

If you’re not getting in enough calories (with the right macronutrient ratios) then you’re not building any more muscle, period. You should always be on top of your nutrition. As your muscle mass increases so too does your need for more calories.

Just like you need to keep adding weight to your exercises over time, you also need to keep increasing your calorie intake as you build more lean muscle mass.

Rest: Rest is one of the most crucial elements of muscle growth. Remember, your rest period is for recovery, and this is when your muscles repair and grow.

The faster and more efficiently you recover from a workout the faster and better your results. If you neglect to get sufficient rest between workouts you can seriously hinder your gains.

Getting enough good quality sleep every night and rest between intense workouts will keep you progressing.

Exercise Execution: You could use the best workout routine ever created, but if you’re not lifting properly your gains will be minimal.

Take some time to read up on the anatomical function of the muscle you are working on and learn to contract it properly on every repetition.

A lot of people think they know how to exercise. Honestly, I would say 90% of the people I see in the gym don’t know how to train properly.

Sure, they know things like bench pressing works the chest, but most people don’t actually know what’s going on with the involved muscles to move the weight.

Learn how to perform every exercise with perfect form to achieve the greatest activation of muscle fibres and to ensure the tension from the exercise is going right where it’s supposed to be – the target muscle!

When You Should Change Your Workout

Really, there are only three reasons you should ever need to make any changes to your current workout routine.

Change of Goal: Obviously if you’re training to build muscle but now decide that your primary goal is to gain strength or increase fitness or burn fat, then changes should be made to your workout in order to attain your new goal.

Change in Schedule: In an ideal world we would all be able to go to the gym any time we wanted. But family, work and other important day-to-day commitments take up a lot of our time.

Most people need to work their gym time around their busy schedule, but sometimes things change that can get in the way of you getting to the gym on your regular days. In this case, you may need to change the day or time of day you train.

Bored to Death: If you find the workout you are doing is so boring that it’s having a negative impact on your motivation and training intensity then it may be time to make some changes.

Now, if you’re getting bored every month or two then bodybuilding is probably not your thing and you will struggle to get motivated to do any workout.

If you’re getting bored you can try changing from training each muscle once per week to twice (or vice-versa).

You don’t need to make huge changes to your routine if you’re starting to feel bored. You can stick to the same training split and simply change some of the main exercises. This is usually enough to freshen-up a routine that’s becoming monotonous.

If you’re anything like me you’ll never feel bored lifting, ever!