When it comes to intentional exercise, having a plan is hard to argue with. Setting goals, taking measurements, and building routines are important to the program. Creating a great plan is often step one. To promote lasting change, it needs to have purpose and be resilient. That’s why a common second step is changing that great plan.

Your routines are only as good as their ability to change, both as a reaction to external stressors and to promote further adaptation.

Like to listen instead of read? Check out the 5-minute mini podcast that inspired this article from blog author and Hyatt Training intern, Max Steele.

External Stressors

Have you ever given up on a session because things weren’t going right? An emergency comes up, you’re experiencing pain, or struggling with motivation. You aren’t sure how to compensate, so you throw in the towel. You can always try again next week, but today is a loss. Ruined by the uncontrollable chaos of life.
The truth? Life is chaos, and we must build routines with that in mind. They need to be both intentional and flexible.
You are going to experience obstacles. Surprises, emergencies, and other competing demands will chip away at you. You have to decide what to drop when the day doesn’t go to plan. Trade offs are part of life, but these can be triggers for adaptation instead of panic.
Know what is essential to the plan. Don’t get bogged down in exact rep ranges or where you “should be” at this point in the program. Progress is not linear and we can’t set a personal best every week. Knowing when, and how, to pivot can save you from feeling like you’re wasting time. Be willing to change the routine to fit the container, even if the container itself changes last-minute.

Intentional Changes

We can also change the routine intentionally to promote adaptation. You’ve already been doing this with your trainer. You don’t perform the same movements in the same rep ranges forever and expect your muscles to adapt or your sprint to keep getting faster.
With these intentional changes, we always have a reason. That could be to switch from muscle growth to endurance. It could be to work on form, or correct an imbalance. It might be as simple as breaking up tedium.
We plan these intentional changes first, and then alter them in response to the unexpected. Think about it like this: we’re creating artificial disruption and then adapting that to the organic disruption you’re already experiencing.
An adaptable exercise program doesn’t suffer from chaos, it thrives.
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So, how do you know it’s time to change a routine? How can you be sure you aren’t trying to avoid hard work? You have to answer that second question yourself, but hard work or not, giving up instead of adapting helps no one.

3 Signs to Watch For

  1. You’re bored – you’re glad to be moving, but you wish it was a different movement type or at a different pace. Focus is falling and form is suffering as well. Small changes can make a big difference here.
  2. You’re not recovering – you’re still sore from last session, and maybe the session before that. Let your trainer know. If you’re training on your own, listen to your body. Illness or injury are far more disruptive than slowing down.
  3. You’ve lost all love for exercise. It’s a chore now; completely joyless. This situation is critical. You’re at risk of giving up and something has to change. Talk to your trainer as soon as possible.

Changing Your Schedule

You may have to reschedule a workout for any number of reasons. If you’re not used to it, the difference can be jarring. After the initial shock you might find the new time slot works as well as the old one. Gaining some schedule flexibility can be crucial if you’re struggling to fit training in.

Changing the Movement

Variations of familiar exercises (ex: decline pushups) can shift the focus to underutilized muscles. Overuse injuries might be avoided by using the same muscles in slightly different ways. Switching up movements can also help overcome boredom, which is an intensity killer.
See Common Exercise Substitutions for more ideas.

Changing the Intensity

“Put in the work” doesn’t translate to “go hard or go home.” Even top athletes use deload periods to recover, work on technique, and bust through plateaus. Know when to take the intensity down a notch, or your body will do it for you.
Remember that day-to-day stressors affect your strength, energy level, recovery rate, and willingness to work. You probably can’t adapt your whole life to improve your workouts, but the inverse is possible.

Work With Your Trainer

As trainers, we want to keep you moving, minimize your risk of injury, and see you achieve goals. We understand the benefits of variety and program changes into your sessions for this reason.
You might misjudge when to push yourself or when to ease up. That’s where a personal trainer comes in, but you also need to listen to your body and communicate. When your trainer asks “How are you feeling today?” it isn’t a polite conversation opener. We’re asking for an honest response.
We all want to build resilient, effective systems that deliver results. Figuring out when things aren’t working or how often we need to adapt the plan is a team effort. You can trust your trainer to do the number crunching and worry about the latest research. You just need to keep a flexible, adventurous mind.
Life is chaos, but we can work with that.

Author Max Steele is an ACE certified personal trainer and Precision Nutrition level 1 coach in the Hyatt Training internship program. He believes in the transformative power of sustainable nutrition, strength training, & game night. He aims to reignite self-discovery in those who doubt their capabilities and to prove the crucial role of “play” in the pursuit of deep health. Learn more about Max, or get in touch with him by emailing us at Go@HyattTraining.com


Hyatt Training is a collective of certified, enthusiastic and innovative personal trainers in Portland, Oregon. To read more fitness related posts like this one, follow this link.