In this video and article I share my thoughts on exercise rotation: When to change exercises and why.
Should you be changing your routine all the time?
First of all I want to address Muscle Confusion.
In short: It’s bullshit.
The idea that you should change exercises often so your muscles don’t adapt to them is completely backwards.
The whole point of training, is adaptation. You want your muscles to become more efficient at doing a certain exercise so you can lift more weight. After all the main driver of muscle growth is progressive overload.
In addition to this, weight training is a skill. If you constantly change exercises you don’t practice the movements enough to learn them properly. This will negatively affect your maximum strength potential and the amount of volume you can do which means you’ll get less muscle growth.
Changing the order of the exercises is also bad because it makes tracking progress very difficult. You will always be strongest on the exercise you perform first. If you were to move the exercise you usually do first at the end of your workout you’d naturally be weaker but that doesn’t mean you’ve lost muscle or strength. It’s because of fatigue.
The muscle confusion idea is wrong on many levels. What you actually want to do is stick to the same effective exercises for long periods of time in order to make strength gains on them.
I believe the best training philosophy you can follow is focusing on gaining strength on a few key exercises. Strength will always lead to muscle growth so getting strong on a few specific movements will naturally develop your physique.
For example if you get to the point where you can shoulder press your bodyweight your shoulders can’t be small. If you can do chin-ups with 80 pounds hanging from the belt, your back can’t be small. It’s the same with any other muscle group.
With that said, there comes a time when a change is needed.
When changing exercises is helpful
If you watched the video you hear me talking about how today I started doing dumbbell shoulder presses instead of standing press. The reason for that is because for the last 5 workouts I couldn’t increase the weights I was lifting. actually I started to lose strength.
And the last year of training has thought me an important lesson: trying to progress a movement that has stalled and you no longer enjoy, almost never works.
I believe most of it is psychological because you fear that exercise and you are no longer confident in your abilities. But there may be a physiological component to this as well.
In the book The Max Muscle Plan, dr. Brad Schoenfeld talks about a maladaptation of the neuromuscular system that appears when you’re doing the same exercises in the same fashion for long periods of time. It’s called monotonous overtraining.
In this situation it’s useful to change the exercise with a very similar variation. No need for a drastic change, just to provide your nervous system and mind with something new.
Here is my recommendation for when you should be changing exercises:
1. When you are plateaued (obviously, no need to change the exercise if it’s going well)
2. When you no longer enjoy the exercise
I think you shouldn’t change the exercise if your situation only fits one of these points. The reason for that is because if you are plateaued but you still enjoy doing a certain exercise and you are excited for it, then you should be able to solve the issue only by changing volume.
Eric Helms shared an awesome flow chart that explains this. Here is what you need to do:
My Guide to Exercise Rotation
If you concluded that you need to change exercises, here is my guide to exercise rotation:
- Weighted Chin-ups – Weighted Pull-ups / Neutral Grip Weighted Chin-ups / One Arm Chin-ups / Towel Assisted One Arm Chin-ups
- Barbell Incline Bench Press / Flat Bench Press – DB Presses
* I don’t feel that the dumbbell bench presses can fully substitute the barbell bench press. When your bench stalls I recommend you do this:
If you’re doing only one of the bench presses exercise, change the flat with the incline or vice-versa.
If you’re doing both the incline and flat in the same workout, change the order. Put the exercise that is stalling second and use dumbbells instead of the barbell.
- Standing Press – Seated DB Shoulder Press / Military Press
- Back Squats – Front Squats / other variations of barbell back squats
- Deadlifts – Sumo Deadlifts / RDLs / other deadlift variations
I consider the exercises written in bold to be your main exercises and the other ones to be temporary variations.
The exercises in and of themselves don’t matter much of course. Progress does. You’ll find that if you make progress on the variations you’ll also gain strength on your main exercises.
You can find another great guide to exercise rotation on Kinobody: How to Bust Through a Strength Plateau
The Program I learned all this stuff from
Exercise rotation is a key feature of the Greek God Program. Because the routines include only a few exercises and high intensity, changing the variation of the exercise every 2-3 months is essential.
And it works!
You can see my one year transformation following the GGP here.
If you want to read more success stories, click here.