When I was younger and new to bodybuilding, I bought into the “changing your workouts will speed progress” mantra. I was hungry for muscle gains and eager to try anything the experts told me would make it happen. I first changed my routine about every twelve weeks. Then I began changing it every month. I topped it off with changing it every week.
What did all this ‘changing your workouts’ activity do for me? Well, it helped me to think I was gaining muscle. The constant change in my workout routine had my muscles sore. I was convinced I really had the tissue “guessing.” My muscles seemed to be pumped, that is… until I was two hours out of the gym and they’d deflated back to their non-worked-out size. The real problem came a few months down the line. That’s when the “changing your workout routine” was revealed as the farce that it is; my physique didn’t look any better than it did before I’d put this brilliant wisdom into practice.
I’ve long dumped the ‘changing your workouts’ for “better results” theory. Don’t get me wrong – I’ll replace an exercise here and there when I find a move that targets the area better than what I’d been doing. But changing your workouts… as a cornerstone principle… that’s supposed to build more muscle… simply because of the… change? I don’t buy it. And my rational thinking capability gets annoyed when someone asks me to.
‘Changing Your Workouts’: Using this as a principle with the expectation that it will speed bodybuilding progress can deflect your focus from the real determinants of progress.
That side of me really gets wound up when someone with less development than I currently have arrogantly recommends this practice. I distinctly remember such an occasion many years ago in the gym. At the time, I actually knew why I’d hit a slight setback in my training. Yet I made the mistake of mentioning that I’d hit a setback to a guy I only knew by face for many years of training at this particular facility.
“Sounds like you need to change up your routine… your muscles have gotten used to this one”, he said with the condescension you’d expect from someone who… well… would actually have a better physique than he had. I thought about asking him what all the “changing your routine” practices had done for him, yet decided to refocus on the business at hand.
Will Changing Your Workouts “Keep Your Muscles Guessing?”
Moreover, will “guessing muscles” grow bigger than… non-guessing muscles?
If someone could tell me how a muscle “guesses” anything – that’d be great. Last I checked, only a mind was capable of such a feat.
Our muscles are pretty simple mechanisms. They’re miraculous, yet simple. The tissue is constructed of elastic-type fibers that actually slide into each other when the muscle contracts. This unique fiber design is what gives skeletal muscle its strength, speed, and agility in moving us around and allowing us to pick up objects and move them around.
When the actin and myosin protein comprising this tissue gets overloaded with an adequate volume of weight during a specific window of time, recuperation and compensation are triggered so that the tissue will be better capable of handling this weight volume the next time. If stimulation (the workout) is inadequate for overload, not much will happen. Likewise, if stimulation is excessive and/or recuperation is insufficient, a plateau will occur. It’s only when these things are precisely balanced that muscles and the body will get stronger and shapelier.
With the aforementioned in mind, it’s easy to see how ‘changing your workouts’ (for its own sake) doesn’t fit as a cornerstone principle of bodybuilding or fitness. Once the optimal exercise routine has been established, the only thing needing change is that which will further optimize the tissue breakdown/recuperation ratio.
Does Changing Your Workouts Alleviate Boredom?
Funny… when I was changing my workout routines all the time, I missed a lot of workouts, my motivation ebbed and flowed, my progress was lackluster. Now that I hardly ever change my workouts, I always make it to the gym, my motivation is through the roof, and my progress is excitingly unimpeded.
Before you write me off as being full-of-it, I want you to ask yourself a question: What do you think is the most powerful lever of body improvement motivation – the product or the process? Your better body is the product you’re striving for. The workouts are much of the process for getting you there. To focus on the boredom-alleviating process at the expense of ever getting the product is – I’m sure you’ll admit – a foolish prospect. Yet many people are led to believe that their tendency to quit their workouts is caused by boredom with the process rather than not gaining the product at a rate commensurate with their time and efforts. Believe me, when that rate is accelerated, a familiar routine becomes exciting as it reveals the weight volume gains that become the stepping stones toward more muscularity in coming weeks and months. I’ve discovered that there’s nothing boring about that.
Ambiguity for Esotericism
Personal trainers love the “changing your workouts for better progress” hogwash. That’s because it creates instant esotericism for their profession. This is why the “how” in changing your workouts is always ambiguous; leave the how to them – they know what to do.
Uh-huh… and if you think they know how your body will respond to their arbitrary exercise change selection – they might be able to sell you beach-front property in Montana. Don’t buy it. In fact, I encourage you to ask the trainer point blank:
“Why are you changing me from that exercise to this one?”
One of two things will happen: a lot of hemming and hawing or an unflinching reply containing phrases like:
- “Keeps your body guessing.”
- “Confuses your muscles.”
- “Keeps muscles guessing.”
- “Keeps your body off balance.”
- “Prevents the workout from going stale.”
This doesn’t mean a trainer might not change an exercise because he/she discovered something better for your goals. That’s entirely possible. But if the person is changing your whole routine at a weekly or even monthly interval, I would almost bet that something like the above bulleted gobbledygook will come out of their mouths.
With some workout guidance and instruction on reading feedback, nobody can know your body and what works for it better than you do.