T Nation

Switching the Stimulus and Variation


I was just wondering how often most people switch up their workouts? this could mean from workout to workout, week to week or however you do it. I think depending on your style and split it'll mean different things for different people. I was just wondering what people think is best in terms of variation for optimal hypertrophy. Obviously it's a good idea to switch things up, but I'm a big believer in not varying TOO often. I mean if I'm not going to make progress on what I've started it seems utterly pointless. I can't see how one would expect to adapt and make change in any way whether it be hypertrophy or strength if they don't imply some method of progressive overload. Anyways, curious to hear your thoughts. Thanks.


I keep the lifts that work and don't drop them. What i do change from workout to workout is how i lift the weight.

I'll use Rows as an example.

Some days i go heavier and heavier with "loose" form.

Some days i keep the weight lighter and add a hold at peak contraction.

Some days i stop it mid rep so it slightly drops and i have to "catch" it, then complete the rep.

Some days i do all three, just depends really.


Appreciate the response and that's what I do. I just figure 99% of people are way less advanced than they think, I'll see guys wasting time on isolation exercises like fly's meanwhile they can't bench their BW. I'm thinking that the core lifts are always going to be effective, just matters how you use them. I don't think there's ever going to be any shortage of weights.


Eh, well fly's are a good exercise that works for many people.

You should put a lot of focus on getting stronger on the main lifts, but don't take away from a accessory lifts (lateral raises, curls, fly's).


Agreed, I didn't mean it in that sense. I should have included that I'm recovering from a battle with cancer and that I'm at an extremely I don't want to say pathetic level of fitness, but you get the point. I'm pretty limited in every imaginable way and just want to use the most bang for your buck everything, including exercise, set, reps etc.


4-6 sets of 6-8 reps on your main exercises is a good starting point. 4-6 sets of 4-6 reps for deadlifts (triples, doubles, singles if your feeling up to it).

Add in accessory lifts here and there when you can though, sooner the better.

Congrats on beating the cancer.


like K-man said, i dont switch the lifts that are working and im progressing in. generally, i have two or three lifts im focusing on progressing on and then a few accessory lifts that I use to add volume to the workout.

for example:

my chest routine right now is

low incline dumbbell
incline press
cable crossovers

i put my time and energy into progressing in low incline and incline press. the two isolation movements i dont really focus on weight but i focus on really working the target muscle. i'd have no second thought about switching them out if they stalled. if the first two exercises stalled, i'd probably change the rep range or have a spotter help me progress (either through the confidence that comes with a spotter or with forced reps). the truth of the matter is, i have goals for the two presses that id like to reach. ive never had a huge ambition to have giant cable cross over numbers.


"ive never had a huge ambition to have giant cable cross over numbers."

Lol word...


I've always alternated between a low volume intensive phase where you ramp up to around 2 sets, with a high*er* volume accumulative phase where you don't go to failure (except maybe on the last set).


Weeks 1-3
Ramp up to 6-10 rep max, rest, drop load a little, grind out another 8-12 reps

Weeks 4-6
Using your 10 rep max, do 5 sets of 6 reps (reps can drop off towards the end, but failure is avoided till the last set)

I'm not just saying that ^^^ as if it's just some new toy I'm playing with; I've tried many things in the past but that basic plan above is an excellent way of keeping gains coming/avoiding stagnation and I've always fallen back on it in some form or another.


That sounds like an excellent plan, I've noted some coaches using similar approaches like Poliquin. What would you "coin this" ? would it be some type of periodization model or?


Yeah it is Poliquin inspired.

I don't necessarily do it in 3 week blocks all the time as intended (often longer in the intense phase), but the general idea for me is to get a little break from HIT - as soon as I start to feel beat up, and progress slows, I switch to the accumulation style training. You could say it's like a deload or preparation phase for HIT (especially since you're using your 10-12 RM load to do 4-6 reps...in other words unloading).

Yeah it's a form of periodization, although I wouldn't get too caught up in "plans". Bodybuilding is probably more dependant on diet more than anything else; if it's lacking in calories/protein, no amount of periodization will make you progress in the gym (thus grow more).

Don't make the mistake I made at the start - going around in circles with different "schemes" when it's your calories that need adjusting :slight_smile:


^^^ Just to emphasise my point a bit more, soooo many people think that they need to change something around, or "shock" their muscles into a new growth spurt. I believe, in the majority of cases (especially where the trainee is no where near their potential) that all that is nonsense.

Typically, you read an article that says something along the lines of "bust past that plateau with this amazing new routine blah blah blah". IMO, a load of rubbish!

What made muscles grow well in the first place, will make them grow again (progression in loads on the bar...the rep/set scheme is less important than muscle overload). 9 times out of 10 the person simply isn't making body weight gains anymore (i.e. eating enough) which allows them to make strength gains (muscle growth)

Or, the trainee has "peaked" their current recovery abilities, which basically means that they need to pull back in some way for a short period (take a day off here or there/reduce volume/avoid failure training or whatever many ways of pulling back).


@ its_just_me thanks for the advice, appreciate it. Great insight and I definitely agree.


You're welcome. Just thought I'd put that out there to save distractions (wish I had learned that earlier)


Yeah I agree. 'Shocking' muscles into growth is B.S.

99.9999% of people aren't even close to that stage and will likely never make it that far.

To contribute a bit more, I only change things around when I get bored or when I start to feel an injury approaching from over use (bicep tendons are susceptible to this for me). I keep the main lifts constant and change the assistance work around monthly atm to work on weaknesses.


"99.9999% of people aren't even close to that stage and will likely never make it that far."




I used to wonder why so many authors prescribed tons of different exercises (when I realised that consistency with exercises is important for progression). Later on I discovered that this is more of a performance type thing (varying the angles, working on weaknesses), and to prevent overuse injuries for certain joint movements.

In other words, for the bodybuilding "purist" - as long as an exercise works the target muscle and you are progressing with it without imbalance, keep it in. No need to change it just for the sake of it - there's got to be a good reason to change your routine/drop exercises.


Not as true as you think.

Switching up can have its benefits. Obviously its BS if you do it often (ie every 3-4 weeks or so) but switching up and tweaking a program slightly after a period of say 3-4 months (or a couple of cycles) can be VERY beneficial. just off the top of my head:

1) Hitting different muscle heads - especially on isolations.
Can you keep doing those bicep preacher curls? Sure you can! Doesn't mean that switching it up with a cycle or two of Hammer Curls (to emphasize the long head of the muscle) won't give you a growth spurt. Especially if your training routine hasn't already been prioritizing working both bicep heads.

2) Hitting different muscle groups that may be lagging - both isos and compounds.
Going back to the hammer curl example, IF the trainee hasn't been doing hammer curls, he could very realistically be lagging on forearm development (a less glamour muscle that don't get much love sometimes).
Forearms are really important and the added grip stability can really allow you to bust barriers especially with regards to weighted pullups or even deadlifting.

For larger muscle groups especially (lower body and back) switching up is not only good but essential provided its done right. Squatting is wonderful but don't come here and seriously tell me you get great hamstrings or calves from squatting alone. Iso work like hamstring curls or calf raises is required. Given that there are a lot of individual muscles involved in the back or lower body, one can't always be sure he/she is giving them all an equal amount of development given a busy schedule. Even assuming devoting 1 iso exercise to a body part is no guarantee that certain muscles are not lagging due to undertraining or genetics. Blindly forging ahead month after month with the exact same set of exercises instead of a well-planned tweak to focus on the weaker group will only lead to imbalances which will sooner or later lead to injury.

And what about right/left imbalances or anterior/posterior imbalances. There are a heck of a lot of possibilities to simply write off "switching it up" = bad, which is as retarded as those who think switching up every 3 weeks is great.

3) Body kinesiology, everyone is different.

Are squats great? Hell yes!
Are squats equally great for everyone? No.
There are certain individuals that find better stimulus and growth with hack squats due to femur length.
Similar for deadlifts. There are way more variations that the standard deadlift, one of those may or may not be optimum for you but how would you know if you never bothered to find out?

We could go on for hours here.

I would say that IMHO only your body can tell you what works and what doesn't. Having a training log and religiously tracking body size is far FAR more important than having a variation = bad/good attitude.

And why the hate for flys? Marvellous exercise, even for beginners.


It sounds easy, but it can be really tricky to tell an imbalance (at least until it leads to an injury). Especially if you're doing the same thing all the time.

Thats why I personally switch up at certain intervals - just to make that imbalances don't occur, or that I spot them if they do


I agree with that first paragraph. My sentiments are that you need to have a reason to switch out an exercise (mostly if it stalls...which lets be honest here, usually happens sooner than just once a year).

An intermediate/advanced person will almost instinctively do all of what you've said, whether it be just trying out a new exercise, or it's just the exercise has "stalled".

What I'm saying is that it's not something that most need to be too concerned with (as long as your routine isn't stupidly imbalanced like mostly pushing and little pulling as an example)...as if it's going to stop progression dead in it's tracks like some magical spell that went wrong.

For every big "imbalanced" person out there who follows that "terrible" information ^ I'll show you 1000 more who're skinny and not making that much progress because they're easily distracted by switching it up (more a boredom thing rather than a means to an end)