Short answer is, it depends. Long(ish) answer is below.
Regardless of what you're doing in the gym, consistency is going to be the biggest determinant of success. Don’t be that person who is constantly program hopping and changing exercises because of new fancy stuff you saw on Instagram. Unless of course it’s my Instagram... just kidding. Try sticking with something for a while. Do the same thing for a few weeks, a few months, a few years and you will see the results you've been after.
On to today’s topic; how often should you be changing exercises? Before I answer that question let's make sure the initial exercise choices were appropriate.
Satisfy these requirements for each exercise selected.
The movement translates to the desired outcome. Jumping takes place in the sagittal plane and requires a large amount of force applied into the ground so choose an exercise that can overload and train that specific task. Trap bar deadlifts with the same takeoff stance as the jump would be a nice choice. If I have a sticking point in my bench press getting off the chest, program in a hover pause bench press to work on that exact sticking point.
The movement can be performed with a high degree of technical skill. If my client can barely scratch parallel with a barbell squat and every rep looks shaky and different then we aren’t doing barbell squats... yet. Try starting with a goblet box squat, perfect the squatting movement pattern, get strong, then progress while addressing some of the other reasons they may not be able to squat to parallel. Mobility? Coordination? Strength?
The movement actually targets the target muscle. While getting a pump is lower on the list of importance for building muscle (topic for a future post), being able to feel the working muscle work is a good indicator that this exercise is a good fit for you. For example, if you don’t feel a pump in the chest when doing barbell bench press but you get a great pump doing DB incline presses, then DB incline presses may be a better exercise choice for hypertrophy. If your goal is to get strong in the barbell bench press or compete in powerlifting, then you better be barbell bench pressing. See? It depends.
When choosing new exercises, make sure they still satisfy the above criteria and only do so when you run in to the following three scenarios.
When you have stalled in progress. Unfortunately we can’t just keep adding 5# to our deadlift every week for life. If we could, WAY more people would be pulling 1000+ deads.. At a certain point, rep PRs and weight PRs plateau. This may be a good sign it’s time to swap out that lift for a variation that is similar but allows you to keep setting new rep and weight PRs. Swap conventional deadlifts for trap bar for a while. Swap dumbbell bench press for incline dumbbell bench press. These small changes refresh the exercise for new gains while still working towards the same goal the initial exercise was programmed for.
If the movement causes you pain or inhibits your ability to perform the remainder of your program. This one seems so simple, yet it is overlooked by many. If deadlifts from the floor with a straight bar leave your low back destroyed for the week and you can’t hit legs again for 10 days or help your grandma carry in her groceries then why are you doing deadlifts from the floor? Take a few months to do rack pulls, high handle trap bar deads, romanians, single leg variations, etc. You will still get a great training effect to strengthen the posterior chain and grow the hamstrings and glutes but you will also be able to crush the rest of your program and help granny bring in her 24 pack of Ensure shakes. Take that time to address why you or your client can't pull from the floor. Mobility? Strength? Are you 7'2" and that just isn't a reasonable task given your body levers? It depends.
If you are burned out on that specific exercise or are just bored. This is one of the best reasons to swap exercises in a client's program. Muscles don't get confused so don't fall for the "do something totally random and different every day" trick. Every couple of weeks change something small to hit the refresh button on motivation and excitement to lift. Here's a personal example, year round I do some type of chin-up in my own program. They are one of my favorite all time exercises. Sometimes I will do neutral grip, sometimes chin up grip, sometimes pronated grip. Sometimes for heavy sets, sometimes for high reps, sometimes with a long eccentric. Sometimes as the main lift as an accessory. I am always training that vertical pull, but every 4-6 weeks I change the variation for my own enjoyment.
Hope this helps you make some changes in your own or your clients programs! If you enjoyed this article, please like it and share it with a friend!