In order to avoid hitting a plateau in fitness and not continuing to see progress, you’ve got to switch things up and change your workouts from time to time. And although how often—and how—you should do that will depend on many factors (your level of fitness, your goals, your DNA), there are some general rules of thumb you can follow.
“Generally, you should change your routine every six to eight weeks to allow for appropriate physiological adaptations (like changes in body composition, for example),” says trainer Rolando Garcia, E at Equinox Manager. But, depending on your level of experience as an athlete, you may adapt faster or slower, he adds. That means it’s important to have a structured program—and a way to assess your progress.
If your routine is still getting you measurable results, then stick with it. “The general rule is that if performance drops on some level or you have a general lack of motivation—it’s time to change it up,” says Garcia. For example, if you’re running a mile every day, you’ll probably get better and better for about two weeks. Then, simply because you’re doing the same thing over and over, you’ll plateau or see a decrease in performance. “There isn’t a lot of science to explain why or how we plateau despite consistenty,” says Garcia, but the sure sign that it is time to change things up is when—for whatever reason—your performance plateaus or decreases.
Assessing your progress
“With all the technology available to gym users nowadays, it is important to get assessed,” says Garcia. Equinox and other gyms and wellness centers offer full fitness assesments where you can come in and have your body fat measured, V02 Max estimated, and more. It’s a pretty pricey endeavour, but worth it if you’re serious about tracking your progress over time. For a less expensive DIY option, try the Skult Aim. For $199, you’ll get a tool that can measure your total body fat, plus fat in particular areas. At a bare minimum, record your weight, body fat percentage, and muscle circumference every four weeks.
How to change up your workouts
There’s no one set way to do this. “It really depends on the program, but the idea is that with progressive overload—more sets, more reps, less rest, etc—you should be able to elicit physiological adaptations and see your body change the way you want,” says Garcia. So, before you change the actual exercises you’re doing, consider adding more sets and/or reps or scale down the amount of rest you’re taking.
Another option: You don’t have to make huge, drastic changes to switch things up and see results. Try making small tweaks—like changing your grip when doing moves like deadlifts, pull-ups, and push-ups.
The bottom line: If you’re not feeling challenged, or if your results plateau, make some changes. “The more you challenge the body, the more you are forcing it to adapt,” says Garcia. And adapting equals getting stronger, leaner, and fitter.