How many times have you heard that you need to constantly change your workout routine to continue making progress? 

That you have to “confuse” and “shock” your muscles into growth by regularly subjecting them to new exercises and workouts?

This sounds sensible. 

If we want to improve something, whether it be a skill or some aspect of our fitness, we have to continually push boundaries and tackle new challenges. 

Wouldn’t that imply, then, that we’d have to regularly subject our muscles to new types of physical demands? 

That doing the same workouts every week would result in stagnation? 

This is the rationale for changing your weightlifting exercises frequently. 

For example, for your leg workout, you might do squats one week, leg press the next, lunges the next, and so on. For your chest workout, you might do barbell bench press one week, dumbbell bench press the next, machine chest press the next, etc. 

Although many people train this way, research shows it’s actually one of the worst ways to program your workouts. Keep reading to learn why.

Why You Shouldn’t Change Your Workouts Too Often

While it’s true that doing the exact same workouts again and again will lead to a slump, the “muscle confusion” theory misses the forest for the trees. 

Your muscles have no cognitive abilities. They’re not trying to guess what workout you’ll do today and can’t be “confused” by fancy workout programming. 

Muscle tissue is purely mechanical. It can contract and relax. Nothing more.

That said, there’s validity to the basic premise that muscles won’t keep getting bigger and stronger unless they’re forced to. 

Where muscle confusion goes astray, however, is with the type of stimulus it emphasizes. You can change up your workout routine every week—heck, every day—and still hit a plateau because “change” doesn’t cause muscle growth. Progressive tension overload does, and more so than any other single training factor.

This term refers to increasing the amount of tension your muscles produce over time, and while there are several ways to accomplish this, the most effective one (and the one that forms the nucleus of my Bigger Leaner Stronger and Thinner Leaner Stronger training programs for men and women) is to progressively increase the amount of resistance your muscles have to work against. 

In other words, the key to gaining muscle and strength isn’t merely changing movement patterns, rep ranges, or rest intervals—it’s making your muscles work harder

And that’s exactly what you’re doing by gradually increasing resistance levels (loads) in your training. That’s the high road to muscle hypertrophy.

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How Often You Should Change Your Weightlifting Exercises

Unless you have to change exercises sooner because of injury, equipment availability (hotel gym, for instance), or other obstacles, you should stick with the same compound exercises for at least 6-to-8 weeks at a time (and I recommend you never stop doing the barbell squat, bench press, and deadlift). 

You don’t necessarily need to do the same variation of each of these exercises year-round, but you should be doing some version of them every week.

For optimal results, I also recommend you try to stick with the same compound exercises for even longer than this—ideally close to 12-to-16 weeks. For example, you might stick with the barbell squat for 16 weeks, then do the safety bar squat (a very similar version of the barbell squat) for your next 16 weeks of training. 

Since most isolation exercises are much easier to master than compound exercises, you can swap them out more frequently. 

For instance, you could do barbell curls for 4 weeks, then alternating dumbbell curls for 4 weeks, then EZ-bar curls for 4 weeks, and then start over with barbell curls or another curl variation.

Some people think that a rigorous procedure like this sounds less enjoyable than a more diverse one, but that’s only until they learn how effective it is. 

By not making frequent changes to exercises, you have enough time to get attuned to your routine + hone your exercise technique + accurately track your progress = an equation for remarkable results (fun!).