Exercise Variety – How Often Should I Switch Up My Exercises?

It is very tempting to want to switch up your exercises often, especially because it can be boring doing the same thing over and over. When you do strength training, how often should you be rotating your exercises? How often should you switch your program? Is it better to rotate exercises frequently or stick with the same ones? Who benefits more from exercise variety?

In this blog, we will talk about exercise variety.

Movement Patterns

In many of our blogs, we talk about the core movement patterns (listed below). As you notice from the list, there are many exercises that fit each category. The exercises that fall in the same movement pattern bucket work similar muscles and have similar benefits. 

  • Push– Bench (horizontal), Overhead Press (vertical)

  • Pull– Pull Up, Bent over row

  • Squat– Goblet squat, front squat, back squat

  • Hinge– Romanian Deadlifts, kettlebell swing

  • Carry– Farmer’s carry, suitcase carry

  • Lunge– Walking lunges, lateral lunges

Exercise Variety and Rotation

How often should you be rotating your exercises? Similar to most answers to questions in the strength training world– it depends. Things to consider are:

  • Training age– how many years have you been doing strength training? How proficient are you with the movement patterns?

    • If you are new to strength training, you may want to stick with the same exercises until you progress in movement proficiency and strength. Then, after a few weeks and consistent progression, you can change the exercises to more advanced versions. For example, you may start with push ups on a barbell as your main horizontal push movement. After a few weeks of consistent training, you’re able to do reps of push ups from the floor and move from barbell push ups to floor push ups. The goal for someone who is new to strength training is to learn how to engage muscles, how to move efficiently, and how to move properly. 

    • If you are an advanced athlete, you can handle more exercise variety. You can benefit from a program with constant rotation of exercises (conjugate method or CrossFit) or you can change exercises every 3-6 weeks, depending on how long your training mesocycle lasts. For example, an athlete may do front squats for 4 weeks as their main squat movement pattern in their strength program; then, after four weeks they change to back squats. Both movements are similar (compound movements that are knee dominant and lower body focus) but provide slight differences such as the front squat not axially loading the athlete, meanwhile the back squat does. 

  • Are you training to track progression?

    • This is important if you are a strength athlete (powerlifter, olympic weightlifter) or if you are trying to gauge your strength and/or power progression, which is essential for athletes of any sport. 

    • If you are a powerlifter or olympic weightlifter, your goal is to perform the most weight you can in the designated lifts (squat, bench, deadlift for powerlifters; snatch and clean & jerk for olympic weightlifters). In these sports, you must track your numbers and know if you’re progressing.

    • If you are a sport athlete who uses strength training as a supplemental training tool to optimize performance, you should focus on being consistent with exercise selection for a period of time (weeks at a time or the length of your training mesocycle(s)) in order to see if you are gaining strength/power for your sport. 

    • The goal is to continuously progress and get stronger, but we eventually plateau. What should you do when that happens? There are several things you can do, but one of them is exercise variety and changing up exercises that provide similar benefits and/or are of the same movement patterns. 

    • To progress in strength levels for a specific body part, the variables are load volume, load intensity, and exercise selection. If you are training with similar intensity and change exercises frequently, you can still experience improvements in strength. This is seen with the conjugate training method. Every week exercise selection is changing but the intensity is consistent, allowing the body to progress. However, this is recommended mostly for advanced athletes. 

    • Doing the same exercises for extended periods of time, especially if you’re training 4+ days a week can cause overuse issues or mobility issues. For example, powerlifters may experience tight pecs from benching so often and also can experience overhead mobility because they rarely train overhead movements and mostly horizontal pushing movements such as benching variations. 

  • What will help you adhere to the program for the long run? Are you okay with staying on the same program with the same exercises for weeks at a time, or do you prefer variety?

    • Boredom is a real thing and some people will experience boredom after a few weeks of the same exercises. Sometimes, they’ll have to suck it up and deal with it if they are an athlete or they have a specific goal that requires them to stick to a program. But most of the time, it’s okay to switch it up! If you don’t want to back squat after a few weeks of back squatting, then switch up the squatting loading pattern…you can do unilateral knee bend exercises like split squat variations, or you can do goblet squats, or front squats, or belt squats…notice that there are a ton of options out there. 

    • You may be traveling and don’t have access to a normal gym that fulfills the needs of your current training program and you only have bands and/or a few dumbbells; in this case,  you can still maintain strength or continue training by choosing a different variety of the exercise. 

The answer we gave— “it depends”— has a lot of factors associated with it. Overall, you can get away with the different approaches (constant exercise selection, constant exercise variety, or cycles of exercise selection) if you are considering movement patterns, however there are optimal approaches based on your training goals, training age, and other factors.