When to change exercises?

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As trainers, we are faced with several demands when it comes to program design.  We need to balance getting results vs keeping the clients interested and engaged.  As life would have it, these are also the two most important things that will either ensure you retain your clients or that you lose them after their initial session package is over.  So heres my thoughts on the topic.

As I have mentioned in my article Personal Training - Consistency, Repetition and Results, clients really should perform the same exercises multiple times over, their body needs to learn to perform the movement and get better at it.  Changing the exercise weekly does not give the body a consistent stimulus in which to adapt to unless you are a highly trained athlete.  In fact, Jim Wendlers 5-3-1 Program (see our 5-3-1 Excel template here) has shown time and time again that the same exercises, with variations in intensity and volume, can be performed for months or years on end without reaching a true plateau.  But we cant ask our clients to do the same set of exercises for months on end.  In fact, if you had them do the same program for months on end, what need for you would they have after they had learned the program?  We are also here to make them enjoy the process, learn and perform new things, and grow both physically and mentally because of it.

So this brings me to the point.  We know clients need to do the same exercises over and over for their own personal gain, but we also need to change things up enough for them to stay interested and to maximize results.  The answer? Have them do the same main exercises long enough for them to adapt, get better and physically respond to it.  Make sure the client knows and understands why you are doing the same thing for weeks on end.  Change the exercise when it becomes evident that progress is stalling (ie plateau, weight not going up or cannot do the same weight for more repetitions), or when it appears the client has lost interest in doing it.  They will give you this cue in several ways: technique will begin to get worse as the weeks go on, the client appears to give less effort or speeds through it, or even verbally complaining!

Now, accessory work I would recommend changing on a consistent basis (every 2-4 weeks) simply because it is accessory to the main movements you are training.  Changing it on a routine basis will increase interest, enthusiasm and effort.  But dont change it before the client gets a chance to adapt!

As I mentioned earlier, the 5-3-1 Program has shown that variations in intensity and volume over time can cause you to adapt to the same few exercises for an extremely long period of time.  Using this sort of program, where it is goal oriented (setting max rep personal records with a certain weight) and varying sets and reps, can keep client interest high, results will go through the roof, and suddenly you look like the best trainer of all time!  If you can show a client that they squatted 95lbs 12 times this week, and only 5 times just two months ago, I promise they will look forward to the exercise in the future, even if they hated it in the past.

Thats it for tonight, have a good day!