How Long Should Your Program Stay The Same?

How long should a program stay the same?

For many athletes and coaches their programs and exercises within it are like a revolving door. As soon as a movement gives the slightest hint of stall or the pre-thought out 4 weeks has concluded, it seems there is a complete teardown and rebuild of the entire program's exercise selection. 

It is a habit which can become an easy pitfall to slowly leak possible progression over time. This is the problem which i wish to attack in today's instalment of coach zac writes things on the internet, how often should a program change? How often should you change movements and when do you know it is the correct time to do so on a per athlete basis. WELL, keep scrolling to find out. 

To set the precedence, for me how I would visualise a program at its base form, (which includes things like rep schemes, your main lift variations and your adherence to basic training principles) is like the foundation and scaffolding of a building. Before anything you do anything you set the foundation and set up exactly what you need for the program to be successful. As you add in secondary movements, accessories, prehab, rehab and warm up work that is analogous to the type of material the building is made of, what glass you use, what bricks and what furnishings you put inside. 

What dictates those less foundational pieces is exactly what the purpose of the program is, in a simple sense the foundation of a strength block is very similar from program to program. There are only so many models of progression and principles that can go into making a well rounded base of a program, it either works well or it doesn't, the foundation is either solid or the building falls. With the less fundamental pieces there is more room to move, you pick and choose based on exactly what response you need and they will slowly change over time.

What I would like you to think about with that in mind,  is when you move from week to week in a block, or block to block in a macrocycle, do you think you need to be demolishing a building down to its foundations and rebuilding it to change the paint colour in one room? If the answer is yes then that is a very costly and time consuming way to achieve a simple task. Sometimes when moving between phases of programming, yes the whole building needs to be built again from the floor up when you are changing fundamental details about what the block is trying to achieve.

We have to get out of the mindset that blocks need to be changed for the reason of novelty, if you are afraid that an athlete will leave you because they did the same exercise for 6-8 weeks then they probably aren't serious about committing to a program anyway. Now this isn't an excuse to continually copy and paste the same week every week for 3 months, however try looking at it from the place of needing a reason before you sub or change an exercise in a program. 

On that same coin however, if you aim to keep a movement in a program for the long term, it not only must attack the quality of fitness or movement that you want it to, but it also MUST have more pros than cons. If a movement is progressing well but it is sparking up a bunch of old injuries and maybe even lighting a fire under some new ones, then that's a circumstance it would be unwise to continue to try to drive adaptations through that route!

We must be attacking these programming choices based around the movements which agree with the athlete, if an exercise feels good, looks good and continues to progress like wildfire you would have to be mad to swap out a movement after 3-4 weeks.

For me it takes 2-3 weeks to start feeling like i am getting good at a movement, acquiring the skill of new exercises must come before trying to progress loads or ramp up volume, so allowing some time with lighter loads and lower volume at the start of a block to get good at something, will go along way in extending the time it can continue to progress. If you go too hard too fast on a movement the athlete's ability to acquire the skill gets buried by insane loads and volumes and they will plateau that movement at a faster rate, run into those injuries and cut the life of that exercise short. 

A program shouldn't be a balancing act of how many things you can fit change and swap, the goal of training is to progressively overload which means over time we are making it harder, be it by volume frequency or intensity increase, you will have a much easier time doing this with movements which are familiar and are driven to higher ranges of intensity frequency and volume  as opposed to trying to drive gains through varied new stimulus.

Similar principles apply when you do end up changing exercises after a block or two has been completed, obeying the principle of phase potentiation (a fancy way of saying block slow well together), means you will flow onto complementary concepts into the following block to achieve your goal. This is why you don't have a strength focus for 4 weeks then hypertrophy for the next 4 then back to strength, you need time to generate an appropriate amount of one skill to ensure it does not depreciate too bad over the course of the next focus. 

This can be taken to the level of exercises in the program, if at the end of an exercises life for that block you have gotten EXTREMELY good at RDLs, why not shift to a slightly harder unilateral version to keep that progression in the same line and really reap the rewards of the skill you have acquired as opposed to side shifting to something like a goodmorning. 

Good programming most of the time is about doing the simple things well, if you spend the time implementing tha basics properly that is when things will become complex. Trying to add bells, whistles and making your program do backflips is not where it is very easy to lose your way!


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