Muscles are much like anything else in life: They respond to change. Your body creates muscle and burns fat by responding to new stimuli, and when you change that stimuli, your body is forced to adapt (read: change). It will always try to find a way to use less energy—which is why when you get fitter, things feel easier. Your body gets more efficient the fitter you get. So if you want to see new muscle, more muscle, or burn more fat, you’ll need to shake up your routine. Of course, if you change too frequently, your body won’t be able to adapt, so also just like life: Timing can be everything.
If you’re new to exercise, you’ll need to build a base. Generally speaking, you should follow the same program for at least six weeks, to build a fitness foundation. And if you’re a workout regular, it’s also a good idea to continue to change in terms of intensity and volume every six to eight weeks—or when you reach a plateau.
There is also something to be said for adding variety to your workouts. For example, you can follow a strength workout for six weeks, but do yoga, hike, bike, or find other activities that challenge your muscles in different ways on off days.
Adding variety delivers a mental refresher and prevents burnout. Let’s face it: Doing the same thing day in and day out can get boring—and boredom is often the first stop on the way to giving up on an exercise regimen. This isn’t just anecdotal; a University of Florida study found that you’re more likely to stick to your exercise routine if you incorporate some variety than if you do the same things over and over. So be sure to spice it up.
An additional benefit of varied exercise is that you can avoid overuse injuries and issues like tendonitis (swelling of the tendons) by constantly changing up the type and mode of exercise.
The bottom line is to listen to your body, and know your goals. If you’re looking for changes in your physique or performance, you don’t necessarily have to become a complete exercise tourist. Try varying your workouts within the same exercise mode. For example, if you’re strength training, try using dumbbells instead of barbells, cables instead of your bodyweight, or an incline instead of a flat surface to challenge similar muscles in slightly different ways. You can also vary your reps: Use high reps and lighter weights instead of lower reps and heavier weights. The choice is yours.
This article is not intended to substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.