When is it “ok” to change training programs?

About a week ago I was having a conversation with one of my personal training clients. She had wanted to know when I plan on switching up the exercises involved in her program even though in her words her abs are the strongest they’ve ever been. She enjoys training just for the sake of training and adding fitness into her life, and there are no hard deadlines or anything specific (like a wedding, class reunion or big game) to peak for.

Like many answers when it comes to fitness, strength, health and all that fun stuff the answer is “it depends”

Depends on what? Well, a number of things really. If you wanted to be truly great at something it might take a lifetime of dedication to a single thing. If you just wanted to be generally healthy and fit, you have a bit more flexibility with that one.

Yes this will work

If I accept someone into the Amazing 12 Body Transformation programs, the program (as in the exercises involved) doesn’t change until after the 12-week time frame is over. No, it’s not the same thing day after day, and actually, in Amazing 12 classic there are segments left to the coach’s discretion, but that was also a program that wasn’t designed by me.

The program does progress, just like the ones I write. You see when it comes to writing programs there are a number of different things that can be configured and progressed. Exercise selection is actually the last thing the body adapts to, and some of my personal training clients thrive on the same exercises day after day.

What I usually like to change first are the sets, the reps, the load, and in some cases the cadence or time under tension. Unless I’m using a spreadsheet or something the prescribed load and total rep happens based on what I’m predicting my client can handle on a given day and where they are in their progression.

What I used to say a while back is when people would say they were getting bored, was that the training programs are intended to bring them to their goals, not to entertain them.

Nowadays and maybe I’m getting soft, or maybe I’ve wisened up a little bit but I’ll change it up for them. I mean are they going to be more or less likely to achieve their goal if they lose their love of training? The fact of the matter is that there are more ways up the mountain than just one. And yes, some routes are faster and more direct than others, but that doesn’t mean the others won’t get you there eventually as well.

Sticking to the basics is important, but so is enthusiasm for training. One shouldn’t come at the complete expense of the other.

Now one of the things, is progress can be a terrific motivator. According to Tony Robbins, people are actually more happy when making progress towards a goal than they are actually achieving it. So an appropriate time to change programs is when you stop reaping the benefits of the program.

Another would be when the program would no longer be appropriate. As an example, I have a high school athlete as a personal training client. When he came to me, it was in the middle of the season so the program had to provide quick non-exhaustive gains in strength. I put a laser focus on hex bar deadlifting and loaded carries since I knew they could progress quickly and have a high carry over.

personal training studio in Boonton
a hex bar deadlift to a loaded carry being demonstrated by my client Ken in my personal training studio in Boonton

When in-between seasons I had seen that there was a gap in his pushing strength. So I switched his program (we stopped getting gains in his overhead pressing strength) and put him on a progression that could make him more tired, but would produce rapid and dramatic progress before the season started again.

How rapid and how dramatic? Well at the end of approximately 13 weeks of training he put up an easy 8 reps with 125% of his one repetition max in the military press. As in he did 8 reps with a weight 25% heavier than what he could do for one at the beginning.

His single-hand kettlebell overhead press went to doing 19 consecutive reps with his previous 1 rep max and he still had some left in the tank. That is dramatic progress, especially if you compare it to a standard periodization program which might see a 25% increase if it’s a good program that is.

Now that the season is getting close, we’ll dial it back and put him on a program more appropriate to his situation. Yes, he was still gaining with the first one just not as fast or dramatic, but the situation itself is changing and I wanted to give his body a chance to adapt to the new program.

Also sometimes your goals change. Sometimes a goal that once excited you no longer does. It’s ok. You can either achieve your goal, or you can lose interest. There was at one point when I would have done anything to win my ex back. Nowadays knowing her true character and being married to someone better, I’d rather make out with a toilet seat.

Now I appreciate you sticking with me this long, especially given the attention span these days. So I’ll just provide a quick list of instances when it’s ok to change programs. There may be more but this is what I have for now.

  1. when you achieve your goals
  2. if you lose interest in your goals
  3. if the program you are on stops giving you reasonable levels of progress
  4. if the situation no longer fits the program
  5. if it kills your love of training
  6. if your body screams that you need to (ie something hurts)
  7. if I tell you to (it helps to have a coach that can objectively look at the situation)

I hope that helps you out. If you have any questions or are in the Boonton area and are looking to take charge of your health, transform your body and achieve your goals, I offer a free trial membership of my personal training program. Just text me at 973 476 5328 and introduce yourself.

Eric Moss is a personal trainer in Boonton and doubles as a world-record-holding modern-day professional performing strongman, author, and motivational speaker. In the tradition of the strongmen more common during the turn of the century, he performs feats of strength such as bending steel and breaking chains as part of a show and speaks on goal achievement for corporations, nonprofits, government as well as for schools and universities. His exclusive personal training studio is located on Main Street in Boonton New Jersey, is close to Mountain Lakes, Denville, Montville and Parsippany New Jersey.

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