Is it important to switch up your workout routine from time to time? The simplest answer is yes! If you’re looking to create change in how you feel, look, and perform, then forcing your body to adapt to varying stimuli is a must.
Quick example: If I were to do five basic curls with a 10-pound dumbbell every day for a number of weeks, then my biceps would adapt (improve in strength and appearance) up to the point in which movement with that amount of weight became easy for my muscles — making any additional improvement quite difficult.
IF, however, I add weight, or increase volume or intensity, or even adjust the angles and manner of performing the curls, then my biceps muscle is forced to continue its improvement to keep up with what is being demanded of it.
It gets more complicated, however, when we discuss HOW we should be switching things up. The specifics of any exercise program should be custom-made for each person, since each body is unique, and we all have our own motivations and goals. While you may be trying to build muscle and you’d love to build up to an impressive bench press, someone else may dream of getting leaner or hope to be able to run two miles without stopping. In any case, I’d like to share the three factors that I always stress as being the most critical for success of an exercise program, because I think they will help answer this question for each of us. They are Consistency, Variety, and Uncomfortability.
CONSISTENCY, as I’ve mentioned in previous articles, is the most important factor in successfully creating physical change. Let’s keep this simple, since I wrote about it in detail before, and just reiterate the fact that we need to be moving every day. The exact method of exercise matters far less than IF we are exercising at all. We each must find the type of exercise that we will actually do, every day, even if that means simply walking, jogging, swimming, or calisthenics.
VARIETY, as mentioned above, is what forces our bodies to continually adapt and improve, in order to complete the tasks we ask of them. Don’t let this muddy the waters with consistency — as I say again, consistency is the most crucial by far. However- — if you want to improve and see change in how you feel, look, and perform over time, then we must change what we’re asking our bodies to deal with.What does this mean in the real world? Let’s look at the two examples from our introduction above:
First, if you want to improve your ability to perform the bench press, then you must vary your workouts and adjust certain factors such as volume, load, tempo, rest periods, and complementary muscle group training. One cannot just bench press 135 pounds 10 times every day and expect to be able to bench press 225 pounds in six months.
Secondly, if your goal is to get leaner, then a great start would be to start a total-body exercise program which increases your heart rate, activates your big muscle systems, and helps you burn fat. However, if you do the exact same circuit workout every day for two months, and you aren’t changing any variables in your routine, then eventually your body will reach a homeostasis where it is comfortably capable of performing that workout without being forced to adapt further. So, you’d want to adjust factors in those workouts, or if you’re truly motivated to get as lean as possible, you might look to add in a second fat-burning (energy system or “cardio”) workout each day for a while to help you reach your goals.
UNCOMFORTABILITY isn’t a real word, but I use it all the time because I prefer it to “pain.” I believe the expression “no pain, no gain” is stupid. Pain is a bad thing; it’s our body’s way of signaling that something is wrong. Pain means an injury or a wound, and either is a negative state and certainly not something we want to experience when we are trying to improve ourselves physically.
However, I DO believe in pushing our bodies past where they are comfortable, because that’s where growth happens. Think back to the 10-pound curls we discussed earlier — if my body is already comfortable doing 10 reps, then if I continue that workout, my body will never change. So, maybe I force out 5 more reps, and that’s uncomfortable for me, but before long my muscle will develop and I’ll manage 15 reps comfortably. This factor is the most difficult for most people because humans inherently want to find comfort. But, if you desire change in how your body feels/looks/performs, then you will need to push yourself into uncomfortability — even just a bit — in order to cause that adaptation and improvement.
Andy McDermott is a proponent of basic truths about health and wellness, based on lessons he’s learned personally over a lifetime of fitness. He got his first personal training certification in 1999 while working at Bally’s gym in Chicago. He completed the 40-Hour EXOS Sports Performance Mentorship, TRX Instructor certification, and earned his third-degree Black Belt in tae kwon do. While serving as a police officer on the Tactical Response Unit of the Phoenix Police Department, Andy served as Subject Matter Expert/Lead Instructor in Physical Training of all Arizona Law Enforcement. He’s won the National Championship at the US Police and Fire Games in the event called Toughest Competitor Alive. He played professional soccer for seven seasons after graduating from Northwestern University. He also holds the US Soccer National Coaching A License. Andy has published more than 100 articles and videos for national media publications. Andy posts fitness challenges on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.