Trainer Q&A: When to Change Workout Programs


The science behind fitness and health can be confusing—and it’s certainly ever-changing. One minute, a study supports a particular food/exercise/claim, then the next, a newer study reports that eating, doing or trying that thing is the worst thing you could possibly do to yourself.

We read a lot of studies here at—so we know how frustrating all of that apparent flip-flopping can be. In order to help make sense of all the breaking and headline news, we’ve aligned ourselves with some of the industry’s top experts—clued-in doctors, trainers, dietitians and researchers who can help us separate fact from headline-grabbing fiction and give us the real-deal advice on how to live a healthier, fitter lifestyle…every day. 

This week, our expert breaks down when to stick with a workout plan and when to switch it up.

Q: When do I know it’s time to change my current workout routine or program?

A:  If you’re new to exercise, you should initially take a longer period of time before switching programs. The body undergoes an anatomical adaptation phase where the muscles, nerves, and hormones have to get accustomed to the new phenomena of learning movement patterns, getting the brain to recruit the right muscle fibers, and neuromuscular coordination. This phase typically takes upwards of 6 weeks, and true benefits from a program can extend beyond this initial stage. It would be too soon to change programs in a case like this.

For those who are more intermediate lifters, you should consider changing your program as soon as your muscles begin to adapt themselves to a certain style of training. The typical ceiling I like to use with my clients is 6 to 8 weeks. When you notice a major strength plateau, or a lack of physical results, it’s a good time to consider changing the program.

Make Subtle Changes:

> You can change between size programs (i.e. a high volume approach versus a protocol that uses extended sets) or conditioning programs. (i.e. a high lactate protocol versus a unilateral training emphasis). It only takes some modifications in exercise selection, rep range, or rest interval to make your body have to go through new adaptations.

Focus on Weaknesses:

Make your program change emphasize the weaknesses in the program you’re exiting.

> Use your own programs to provide you with feedback on the areas you need work. For example, if you have a deficiency in exercises like overhead squats or z presses, consider a mobility and dynamic emphasis towards your next program to help promote the flexibility of muscles like the chest and hip flexors.

Think About Recovery:

If you’ve gone from one program to the next routinely, make sure you take a deload week between each program to give your muscles and nerves a chance to get a guaranteed full recovery before entering something new. That could be as simple as taking a full week off of any exercise. In the long run, your body will thank you for it.

Eat Smart:

Whatever the program, remember to eat in accordance with it.

> HIT workouts and other total body methods may require slightly more carbohydrates and sugars for fuel due to the demands of the exercises. Be aware of this.

About the Trainer: Lee Boyce

Lee Boyce, CPT is a strength coach based in Toronto, ON. A former Kinesiology Major, Lee competed as a sprinter and long jumper at the National level. His work has been featured in many major magazines including Men’s Health, Musclemag, TNATION, and also on national television. For more on Lee, check him out at, @coachleeboyce and Facebook.

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