As a personal trainer at a public facility, I have a lot of occasional or sporadic clients (somehow the word ‘irregular’ doesn’t seem quite right…). Clients who see me not for regular training sessions, but for a new program to do on their own.
Inevitably, the question ‘how long should I stay on this program‘ arises. Now of course, the answer depends on the client’s individual training goals and how frequently (and with what intensity) they execute their program. But in general, I suggest that they should be ready to have their program ‘tweaked’ in about 3 weeks and overhauled in 5 to 6.
The human body adapts very quickly to any new demand placed upon it. While our muscles are initially challenged by a new exercise or an increase in load or volume (more reps or sets), within as little as two weeks, our muscles may stop responding unless further challenged. That’s why weight training is also called ‘progressive resistance’ training. In order to continue make gains, you need to continually increase the challenge to your body.
In addition to hitting physical plateaus, it’s also easy to become bored with your exercise routine. In my experience, psychological plateaus usually kick in at the 3-4 week mark. When my clients become bored with their programs, they find reasons to stop coming to the gym. Or worse yet, I find them pounding out miles and miles on the treadmill or the elliptical, often while reading a magazine or talking on the phone. Not my idea of a high intensity workout and completely contradictory to my views on the relative value of strength training and cardio (but that’s a post for another day…).
In my own training, I aim to stick with a planned program for 4 to 6 weeks. While this is a longer programming interval that I recommend to my clients, I make small changes to my program on a weekly basis. I increase load or advance at least one exercise every 2nd or 3rd workout. I change the angle of my bench to target different muscle fibers. I add longer bouts of plyometrics every week or two. In effect, my program is continually changing. (Not to mention that I teach 4-8 group fitness classes per week, never repeating a workout; my body never knows what’s going to hit it next!)
I’ve spent the last few months working through phases 1 and 2 of the New Rules of Lifting for Abs.
It’s been a great program. My core strength has definitely increased and I’ve regularly upped my weights on all of the exercises except one (after I hurt my knee doing heavy step ups, I backed off on the load and just concentrated on proper form). There is a phase 3, but I’m ready for a break from whole body, core-based training. I’m a bit bored with it!
For the next little while, I’ll be returning to a more classic way of training, working 2 or 3 body parts at a time for a total of three days per week in the weight room. That means I’ll only be training shoulders, say, once per week. My reps will be in the 8-10 range and I’ll be using a super- or tri-set approach, as is appropriate for my current goal of putting on a bit more size. As long as my weights are heavy enough, I’ll continue to burn fat. I’ll get my cardio done on the step and in the spinning studio.
Out of necessity (three school age children on summer holidays!), I’ll need to switch it up again in about 5 weeks. Too difficult to get to the gym regularly, I’ll most likely revert to my summer approach of TRX-ing in the backyard and working extra hard in the classes I teach (participants be warned!).
Shall I put together some sample at-home workouts to get you through the summer?
Remember, change is as good as a rest!
P.S. Day 12 of the No Sugar Challenge and counting…