That’s a good, but somewhat complex question. Here’s the nuanced, smart answer.
“How Often Should I Change My Workout?”
Changing your workout can mean different things to different people. Are we talking about using all new exercises or methods, or simply modifying a few elements like the number of reps per set or the tempo used?
I plan small changes weekly. My clients rarely repeat the exact same week of training. We can add or remove sets, change the rep schemes, or even alter the tempo a bit. But within a training phase, this is done without changing the exercises or the zone of training.
For example, we can change the set/rep scheme to something like this:
- Week One: 8/6/4/8/6/4
- Week Two: 7/5/3/7/5/3
- Week Three: 6/4/2/6/4/2
- Week Four: 5/3/1/5/3/1
Or we can change how the reps are performed:
- Week One: 3 sets of 6 with a 5 second hold at the position of greatest tension
- Week Two: 3 sets of 6 with a 6 second eccentric/negative phase
- Week Three: 3 sets of 6 with a 3 second hold at the position of greatest tension
- Week Four: 3 sets of 6 normal reps
Or we can even add intensification methods:
- Week One: 3 sets of 8-10 reps, 1-2 reps short of failure
- Week Two: 3 sets of 8-10 reps to failure
- Week Three: 3 sets of 8-10 reps to failure, rest 15 seconds, then as many extra reps as possible (rest/pause)
- Week Four: 2 sets of 8-10 reps to failure, rest 15 seconds, then as many extra reps as possible (rest/pause), then hold the position of highest tension for as long as tolerable
But if you’re talking about changing the whole training program, 3-4 weeks works best for most. That doesn’t mean you need to change everything though.
For example, let’s say that you want to use a 5/3/1 plan. Each training phase lasts 4 weeks (5-3-1-deload).
After your deload, you’d start a new phase on the big basic lifts, but with adjusted weights. And you go on like that until death do us part.
I personally would plan changes in assistance exercises with every new phase. In other words, keep up the four main lifts of the 5/3/1 plan, but change the assistance movements every 4 weeks.
I believe that the longer you stay with a certain workout, the less effective it becomes. That’s why I always have some elements of change from week to week.
But changing the exercises too often can also limit your gains because you never become efficient in a movement. To make it simple, change some of your exercises every 3-4 weeks and alter the way you do your sets or reps weekly.