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Stupid Mistakes We All Make That Stymie Our Transformation Results – Part 4

  Jan 3rd, 2013

Part 4 - Changing Training Plans Too OftenA friend of mine approached me today and asked me a question that every one of us that takes our training even somewhat seriously asks at one point or another.


This friend is a few years younger than me and has recently gotten back into lifting after packing on some excess fat and starting to feel less than his old energetic self.


He’s been getting decent results over the past few weeks, but is worried that it might be time to switch things up and restructure his training plan in order to make sure he doesn’t hit a plateau. After calling me over, he  got straight to the point asking, “How often do I need to switch up my training plan?”


Constantly modifying our training plans is a temptation we all face, but it’s usually a mistake that does more harm to our progress than anything else.


I’m going to first explain when it may be necessary to switch things up, before moving on to the problems that are inherent to frequently changing your training plan.


When to Consider Changing Your Training Plan

When it comes to building muscle, there are several lifts that I consider to be absolutely essential: squats, dead lifts, bench presses and overhead presses, to name a few.


Because these lifts are so essential, and should be used most of the time, there are times when it’s beneficial to implement a de-loading period and take a break from these lifts for a short period of time.


Under normal circumstances, however, these should always be a part of your training plan in one variation or another if your goal is to build muscle and strength as fast as possible.


De-loading is a strategy that will help you get past plateaus in strength. If you find yourself stuck at the same weight on a lift for three or four weeks, you can do this in one of two ways:


  1. Drop your weight by 20% and work your way back up by 5lbs per week
  2. Use a different variation of the lift for a few weeks


The first option is fairly straightforward. An example of the second de-loading option would be substituting dumbbell presses for the regular barbell bench press.


That being said, most people can go many months without ever needing to do any kind of de-loading, as long as they’re using an effective periodization strategy that prevents overtrainig and keeps their joints fresh.


I wrote about periodization schemes in part 3 of this series.


Importance of Tracking Your Progress

As I explained to my friend, people worry too much about switching up their training plans. It’s far more important that they’re continually growing stronger and utilizing progressive overload.


Your muscles don’t know what lifts you’re using to train them. They simply adapt to the level of strain they’re exposed to.


This is why you must keep a training log of some kind to track your progress. You have to know how much weight you used the previous time you trained with each lift and how many reps you performed, so you will know when it’s time to slide another 5 pounds on the bar.


I’ve already written about this in detail in this article here, but this is the most effective strategy for implementing progressive overload and it will force your muscles to continue to grow.


In fact, because this strategy is so essential to long-term gains in muscle and strength, I am extremely cautious about modifying any client’s training plan unless I believe it is necessary for de-loading or to work around an injury.


The second you change your lifts you’re taking a step back. You’ll have to decrease weights while you master proper form on any new lifts and it will take several weeks before you work your way up to a similar level of intensity as was being used when performing the previous lifts.


Changing Training Plans Prevents BoredomThat being said, I get that it can become redundant and boring following the same routine for months on end, so I usually give in and change things up every three or four months.


But, the truth is that this usually has nothing to do with attempting to enhance results and is simply a way to keep myself and my clients from training boredom syndrome (TBS).


If TBS isn’t a recognized disease – with a prescription drug used to suppress it’s symptoms – if  a pharmaceutical company reads this, you can bet it’s coming. 🙂


Small Training Changes Work Best

The next time you’re worried about whether following the same training plan for more than a month or two is harming your results, take a quick look at your training log. If you’re getting stronger every week, or two, you’re moving in the right direction and there’s no need to change anything.


On the other hand, if it’s been a few weeks since you’ve been able to add five pounds, it may be time to consider switching to a different variation of that lift for a few weeks. But, this doesn’t need to be a complete training plan overhaul.


Just modify the lifts that have begun to stall and leave those that are progressing alone.


For more on ways you can avoid training boredom and maximize your muscle gains, check out my article on training for both types of muscle hypertrophy.



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