by Marc David Iron Magazine
Question:Iíve been wondering how often I should switch up my sets and reps? Iíve been following a program now and while my weights are increasing, Iím still doing the same number of sets prescribed along with the same repetitions. During the first six months, the changes (visual) came quickly. Now Iím not seeing that as much. What can I do?
Anybody who looks for this answer on the Internet is bound to get 1000 different views and opinions. Unless the person in question knows you personally and your situation, tossing out:
ďYou should change up your routine every week.Ē
ďYou should change up your routine every 6 weeks.Ē
Is useless advice. You probably came here looking for a quick calculator or a pretty table where you can cross reference your level of ability and find out what you need to do next. Thatís not how champions are made. And all those awesome body transformations you see, are mostly beginners who can pretty much do anything and get fantastic results. See what they do AFTER the transformation.
I can be itís not some cookie cutter calculator on what to do next. They take it to the next level of personal development and learning.
Anybody who follows a cookie-cutter routine is bound to fall into this trap. And if your ďexpertĒ offers you no resources on where to turn to next or have EVER mentioned the term Periodization, you should be confused.
Iíve often tried over the last few years to TEACH people the basics and the fundamentals all the while sending links to resources and books in hopes they would continue the education. You see the problem you face is something we all face.
Itís called Progression and Plateaus.
As a beginner, you can do almost anything (sets, reps, rest periods) and your body responds quickly. These so called beginner gains can last anywhere from 6 to 9 months! After that, the amount of work required to induce change becomes a focal point. Your ability to recovery quickly becomes an issue. You see as a beginnerÖ (and I donít mean to burst your bubble) Ö
You arenít really lifting that heavy. You think you are but itís not really the weight per se, itís the amount of work done and the stress to your muscles. As a beginner it doesnít really take much for your body to quickly start adapting and growing new tissues to support your efforts. When you get to the Intermediate levels and beyond, the amount of work done is significant and your ability to recover from such a bout is called into question. If you do the same workouts over and over for months, you plateau and your progress is held steady as thereís no reason to adapt to further stress.
Adding more weight, reps and sets will ultimately lead to over-training (which is all to often used) and it just means your ability to recover is now compromised and you cannot work out hard enough to bring about changes. As you begin to approach training loads closer to your genetic potential, your ability to recovery is now called into question. Recovery takes longer and thus, different training protocols are used with intermediate beyond than beginners.
While the 3 sets of 10 is valid for beginning lifters, that routine gets old quickly and fails to add enough stress to disrupt the homeostasis required for change. Itís why you see somebody without any training experience suddenly make fantastic changes (depending on how out of shape they were to begin with) but might stay the same for decades.
They were able to train to a point where the body needs to change no more without added stress. And without a qualified coach they simply donít know what to do except more of the same with a few variations here and there.
All this means is that depending on your current level of fitness, you may need to modify the number of sets, repetitions, possibly rest periods in order to make progress again. This probably means some form of back-training (deloading) so that you undertrain for some period of time before coming back and going at your routine hard again. When you do come back, thereís many variables you can modify.
According to powerlifter Dave Tate, an advanced lifter may adapt to a routine within 1-2 weeks.
Strength coach Ian King says that unless youíre a beginner, youíll adapt to any training routine within 3-4 weeks. Coach Charles Poliquin says that youíll adapt within 5-6 workouts.
When do you change up your program?
Depends on your level of fitness and your training goals. If somebody tells you to switch your entire routine every 6 weeks and go to the next one, they are giving Internet advice. Meaning, at my level, I can switch my routine almost every workout and survive but if I did that to my beginner friends, theyíd be continually sore and never develop proper neuromuscular control.
As a beginner, you might stay in foundation routine for months. Or maybe 6 to 9 weeks before moving into a growth phase. After the growth phase, you can move to an absolute strength phase. Then back to a foundationÖ and repeat. What you are really doing is not staying in any particular phase for too long as you want to stress your body but change it up shortly thereafter to either take advantage of the new muscle (growth to absolute) or to take an active break.. absolute back to foundational.
Thatís why taking a bunch of programs that all do different things, tossing a dart at them and picking one is variation but itís not periodization and itís not building off the blocks of previous training.
Itís a complicated theory and most people donít have a plan beyond that training day or that month. (Iíve been there myself). You finish a routine and itís ďNow what?Ē
This is where a periodized training plan is a must! You can use all of the various intensity techniques in the stages but you cycle thru:
-Functional Training (sports specific)
This blog is related to bodybuilding but each sport will have different seasons and different drills and exercises associated with each. Hopefully your coach has a specific plan to address your sport.
If you are just into general fitness, then go to the gym, do your sets of 3 with 10 reps, eat better and youíll be fine. But if you plan on competing in a contest or you want to increase your bench press, pull-ups or deadlift, thatís where a training plan comes into play. Adding weight forever wonít work forever and you need techniques to get you past sticking point.
By now, you should realize that simply changing up sets and reps will work for some but itís not a random process. A beginner can stick with a certain number of reps and sets and be fine while the advanced athlete may need to cycle thru the stages on a weekly or semi-weekly basis. Itís not as simple as looking at somebody and telling them, ďYouíve been working out for how long? Okay, itís time to change your sets and reps.Ē
Stick with me folks, Iíll take this concept further and explain the concept in more detail and give you some example routines so you can get a better understanding.