Before starting any muscle-building program, your first step should be to understand how your body goes about building muscle. No, you don't need to be biophysicist - but a basic understanding of how your own body works is critical if you want to achieve maximum gains from your program.
Muscle Growth 101
Simply stated, muscle growth occurs as a result of the repairs that are made to muscle tissue that's been broken down by exercise. It's known as hypertrophy, which is the increase in size of the tissue by increasing the size of the cells in the muscle.
Part of the process of selecting the right exercises is to identify your goal. Are you after greater strength? More bulk? Both, perhaps? The sort of hypertrophy you're after will be key in developing the best workout program to achieve your goal.
Hypertrophy doesn't occur overnight, of course. You have to design a plan that will meet your needs and goals, addressing each necessary element. Part of that plan needs to be regularly changing your routine.
Why Do I Need to Change my Routine Regularly?
Our muscles have a memory of sorts, and they become accustomed to the same routine movements and exertion levels. They'll become accustomed to repetitive use, and will work only the portions of your muscles that are required for your workout. In other words, they get lazy, and will do only as much as you require of them.
When you don't vary your workout routine, the muscles adapt to it and your progress slows, then finally stops. You hit a plateau, and your efforts after that, without changing your routine, will be a waste of time and energy.
If you find yourself hitting a plateau, there are a number of things to look at:
• What exercises are you doing?
• How many reps?
• What's your intensity level?
• Are you taking enough time off?
• Are you eating properly?
These all play important parts in your program, and you can manage them to keep your program productive.
You can't expect any plan to work unless you actually have a plan and follow it! Realize that your muscles will adapt, and work modifications into your plan to overcome that. That's the way to avoid the frustration of hitting plateaus and to help you to reach your goal faster.
Just because the results you're getting today are fantastic doesn't mean they'll continue to work for you. Remember, the body you're training today is not the same body you were training last week. And different bodies require different routines.
How Often Should I Change my Routine?
There's no one-size-fits-all answer to that question, as there are several variables that affect both when you should change your program and what changes you should make. There are three major factors that you should consider, though:
• your fitness and performance goals
• the age of your workout
• the progress you're making
Let's examine these three to see how you should schedule your changes.
Fitness and performance goals
Depending upon how distant your goals are and how fast you want to achieve them, you may be able to adopt a routine that's less intense than that of someone that wants to be a superstar immediately. If so, you'll have more flexibility in how often you change your routine, as you may be able to get results from your routine for weeks or even for a few months.
If, on the other hand, you're really pushing, trying to get immediate results, your muscles will adapt more rapidly, so you'll need to change routines a lot more frequently - maybe every few weeks, possibly even every few days, depending upon your progress.
Regardless of your goals - bulk, strength or endurance - you'll want to periodize your workouts. For instance, you may be doing 3 weeks of really intense 20 minute workouts, then change to 3 weeks of less intense workouts for 30 minute periods, then a few weeks of low intensity 60 minute workouts. Keep your muscles guessing by modifying both intensity and duration every few weeks.
If you've been working out regularly for several months or a year, you're probably going to need to modify your routine more often than if you had just started your fitness program. As you continue working out, the muscles "learn" the routine, and will put only as much into it as necessary. Changing up the duration and intensity keeps them from getting too accustomed to the routine, which can put you at a plateau. This is why you'll increase the intensity of your program as you go along.
By now, you should realize that your buddy of the same weight, height, condition and age will see different results from yours, with the same workout. We're all different, and even with everything else being equal, you can't expect to see the same progress that he will. Yours may exceed his or fall short. Get over it! The only results that matter are yours!
This is why tracking your progress is very important. Your muscles may develop and adapt more quickly or slowly than you expect, so the adjustments you make, and their timing, will be unique to you. Being instantly aware of a plateau will allow you to make rapid changes, which will get you to your goals with less lost plateau time.
Plan your work and work your plan! You need to plan your training phases in advance, making certain to address all aspects of your plan, if you want to reach your ultimate fitness goals. You may decide to modify various aspects of your program - duration, intensity or type of exercise. You may even decide to start an entirely new program. But you must change it, or you risk stalling and not reaching your final goal!
Stay out of your "comfort zone".