Continuous Adaptation: Why you don’t need to change your program every 4 – 6 weeks

As you know, I’m a classic ‘bright shiny object’ person – I start many projects, being all enthusiasm and energy for a while, until the shine starts to wear off i.e its not challenging anymore and I find something else bright and shiny to jump into.

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Every now and then though something sticks, and when it does, it sticks good and tight and I end up completing whatever project it is exceptionally well, often exceeding my own very high standards or expectations in the process.

Why am I reminding you of this?

Well, I got involved in a discussion with a well known industry person who was touting the theory that competitors only 4-6 weeks out from their competition should all be feeling miserable, cranky, deprived, hating their training, doing hours of cardio and by this point should be changing their training program from heavy weight low reps to light weight high reps.

After immediately thinking ‘why?’, I suggested that this might be an overly generalized, narrow perspective, as I was loving my training, was not miserable, cranky or deprived, was definitely not doing hours of cardio and had not made any changes to my program in ages.

And there in lies the can of worms.

The repsonse (rather smug in tone) came back suggesting that I might want to look at the fact that my program had not changed as I should be changing it every 4 weeks.

huh.

reeeeaaaally.

Well, lets just look at my training in detail and you decide. This is the bit that was unfortunately not included in my training vid by the muscle project guys – I explained it all before the cameras were rolling 😦

Firstly I did some googling to see if I could find out some research based scientific reason for changing training programs every 4 weeks. 6 and 8 weeks are also common mantras. But I came up with nothing. No studies proving that changing training program every 4 weeks is optimal. So where did this much mentioned ‘fact’ that you must change your program every 4-6 weeks to make progress come from? If anybody knows of any such study, please point me in that direction.

Now I know that the reason for changing programs regularly is to prevent your body adapting and becoming more efficient meaning less energy expended/growth/plateaus etc. But think about it, your body is a super adapting machine – how long does it take to switch into fat storage mode when you drastically cut calories?

2-3 days.

If you water load, think how quickly you get used to it and start feeling thirsty even when drinking 7+ litres?

2-3 days.

When you cut water the day before a show, how quickly does it take your body to realise that its not drowning and you stop peeing every 5 minutes?

less than 36 hours.

Given this do you think that it would take your body 4 whole weeks to adapt to a training program? May I suggest it could adapt within 2-3 days…?

bean

Which brings me back to the whole bright shiny object discussion.

If my training program was exactly the same for 4 whole weeks, I would be bored out of my brains by now and would probably have quit.

But I haven’t. Bodybuilding has stuck and it has stuck good and tight.

Why?

Because although my program rarely changes, Aiden changes the elements within my program every single session which not only keeps me guessing (very important!), but it keeps my body guessing and challenged – it can never adapt to the infinite variety and stimulus provided and hence is constantly growing and growing symmetrically.

This is the principle of Continuous Adaptation.

It’s very smart.

Before I go any further, I think I should just clarify my definition of ‘program’ as I suspect it’s not the same as yours.

By Program I mean the overall goal/purpose of the training. The ‘Why’ and ‘What’.

Elements are the bits that make up the program and get me to my goal.  The ‘How’.

My overall purpose and outcome of my program is to grow as much muscle as possible in as symmetrical way as possible. Pure hypertophy. And its working exceptionally well as last years comps clearly illustrated.

With respect to this aim, my program has not changed for 2 years, and nor is it likely to, until I achieve my ultimate goal of competing at Natural Olympia.

The elements within my program include split, sessions/week, exercises within a session, tempo, emphasis, intensity, volume.

So the bits that I call elements, equates to what most people would call their program.

Now, let me show you why I do not need to worry about changing my ‘program’ every 4 weeks.

Some of the elements within my program change less than others, for example my split (Legs, Back/Tri, Shoulder/Ab, Chest/Bi) has been the same for well over a year.

Sessions/week have also remained much the same (4 or 5) for well over a year. There were 5 weeks during comp prep when I went up to 6 sessions, but that was just to give my prep a quick turbo boost, before going back to normal.

With my split I can keep it to straight 4 days on 3 off, I can break it up 2 on, 1 off, 2 on, 2 off or 3 on 1 off, 1 on 2 off or if I want to ramp up the intensity roll straight into 4 more days with no rest.

If I go up to 5 days/week I tend to roll the split and do 5 days straight with one body part getting hit twice in 5 days, then 2 days off, then the next set of 5 days starts with a different body part which gets hit twice – so I roll the split within the roll.

for example:

week 1: Chest/Bi, Legs, Shoulders/Abs, Back/Tri, Chest/Bi

Week 2: Legs, Shoulders/Abs, Back/Tri, Chest/Bi, Legs

Week 3: Shoulders/Abs, Back/Tri, Chest/Bi, Legs, Shoulders/Abs

etc

And then I could split the 5 sessions:  3 on, 1 off, 2 on, 1 off or 4 on, 1 off, 1 on, 1 off or…

Even if I didn’t change any other elements (exercises, tempo, emphasis, intensity, volume) within a session, already you can see I have months of sessions before I get back to the same split/week combination.

Now lets really get down into the nitty gritty…the actual exercises, tempo, emphasis, intensity and volume within a session. To keep it simple I’m just going to illustrate how Aiden might stack 2 exercises from my shoulder workout:

The theory behind my shoulder workout (indeed all of my workouts) is to hit each of the delt heads at least twice in a session from different angles, I usually start with a shoulder press supersetted with a front raise.

so I often do DB Shoulder Press w BB front Raise

or DB Shoulder Press w Plate Front Raise

or DB Shoulder Press w DB Front Raise

or DB Shoulder Press w Single Arm Cable Front Raise

or DB Shoulder Press w Cable Bar Front Raise

We might dropset the last set of the DB Shoulder Press or dropset the last set of the Front raises or dropset both last sets or we might wave load/dropset the DB Shoulder press and not do a last set of front raises.

We might just do the DB Shoulder Press and go really heavy, low reps – to add strength as well as mass.

We might do 3 sets of 12 reps or 4 sets of 8 -10. We might do a 2 up 2 down tempo, or 1 up 4 down tempo, we might go explosive on the last set to make sure both fast twitch and slow twitch fibres are hit.

We might switch the DB Shoulder press to machine, cable, behind the neck BB shoulder press or smith machine shoulder press with all combinations of front raises…

And then if we giantset the press and front raise with rear delts or another medial delt exercise…

So just with these 2 exercises alone and the combinations that I’ve mentioned there is at least unique 85-90 training sessions even if every single other factor remained the same.

Multiply all of that by another 3 or 4 superset combos for rear/anterior and more medial delts over the course of the session…

The levels of combinations grow exponentially…

So just with my shoulder session alone, I have YEARS worth of completely unique training sessions before I get back to the exact same session that I started with.

And I haven’t even mentioned abs…

And then there’s the other 3 body part splits….

Another issue I see with the ‘4 weeks’ is, as  I mentioned before, boredom, which reminds me of another conversation I had relatively recently about being stuck in a training rut…I don’t think that’s something I’ll have to worry about as that would only happen if the same thing is done over and over again.  

As you can see, Continuous Adaptation provides endless variety, constant stimulation/challenge/growth for my body because we hit every muscle from every angle with a variety of tempo’s, intensities and volume. No equipment is overlooked, there are no favourite types of equipment and because of this my body also does not get used to moving and activating in the same way each time. The benefit of this is that muscle fibre recruitment is maximised, whilst dominance and imbalances are minimised, leading to improved symmetry.

Admittedly when I write it down it may does sound complex (and Aiden has it all logged away in his head!), but once you understand the purpose behind the the structure it becomes very easy. I don’t have to think about it anymore and can create any workout on the fly knowing that it will still achieve the aims of my program.

Which of course its perfect for someone with the attention span of a goldfish with A.D.D!

If 4 week programs work for you then do what works for you, but if you’re stuck in a rut, or don’t know how to change your program, or you just want to try something a little bit different – maybe you could borrow Aiden’s bright shiny object for a while

🙂

BAKER Personal Training & Fitness

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