One of the worst habits of dedicated trainees – the people who are serious about improving their athletic performance or physique – is changing up what they’re doing too often. This is often because they aren’t progressing as fast as they’d like, but chances are it isn’t the program. Most of the time, people either hope to achieve unrealistically fast progress (maybe based on how quickly they progressed as beginners) or aren’t being intense and consistent enough to reach more realistic goals. Unfortunately changing your program makes things worse because it often gives a false impression of progress.
For example if you’ve consistently been doing a program where your main chest exercise is the flat bench press then you change your program and, along with many other changes, start doing incline bench press instead of flat you’ll probably see improvements in numbers in the first few weeks. Great, progress! Except it’s probably not the progress you were hoping for, what most likely happened was you improved your technique and neural efficiency but your muscles didn’t really get stronger – this can be seen by the fact that if you now go back to flat bench, you’re probably weaker than before you made the change. Not exactly ideal I’m sure you’ll agree, especially if you’re training for hypertrophy.
This doesn’t mean that if you’ve stalled on an exercise you shouldn’t ever switch – this is a useful technique for breaking plateaus, but what it does mean is that if you’re changing your program every 4 weeks, there’s very little certainty that you’re truly progressing. Be wary of this ‘false progression’ if you’re the type of person who feels a need to change their program often.
The best way I’ve found to avoid this trap is to decide how you’re going to train your main lifts for a long period of time (several months ideally) and allow yourself to make small changes to the other stuff that you do, the assistance. This way as long as you’re progressing on the main lifts, which you can be certain of because you haven’t changed the way you train them, you can be certain you’re progressing and not just fooling yourself.