Exercise Rotation- When Should You Do It?

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Exercise rotation is perhaps one of the most misunderstood concepts in practical programming. It’s often we find trainers and/or trainees rotate exercises after a designated time to “change things up.” Though this may serve as a great way to ensure one does not run into boredom, it is terrible in application to progressing the trainee towards their actual goal.

However, in a class or large group setting that may involve trainees who are not elite/competitive athletes, rotating exercises every 1-3 weeks or undulating (alternating exercises every other week) work great for retaining participants. After all, most people who voluntarily train in a group setting are in it to improve their general level of fitness (strength, conditioning, body composition, etc) and aren’t highly concerned with improving specific movements/exercises under a constrained amount of time. In other words, they can (and should) accept that training this way will either:

  • Be a longer process for them to get where they want to be.

Or

  • At some point hit their ceiling and move to more advanced (less entertaining) programming if they wish to reach the next level.

But when working with elite/competitive athletes, we must define what indicates progression before thinking about exercise rotation. At this point, “resisting boredom” should be the last concern of a serious athlete. If a goal is at hand, warm up, do what you need to do and go recover. There is no time for pussyfooting and filler work that serve no purpose.

Let’s say getting stronger at the squat is a performance based goal for an athlete or trainee. With being able to squat heavier weight being the primary indicator for their success, we must now look at what areas will not only carryover to the squat movement, but at what range of motion is the individual slowest and what muscles appear to be the weakest. In other words, whatever muscles/range of motion is determined to be the limiting factor in the trainees squat will be the muscles and/or range of motion they will be training to improve.

If said athlete is slow coming out of the bottom of their squat using a low bar position, they will definitely need to work on their trunk strength and posterior chain. The exercises that follow their primary work should be similar to the main pattern. Good mornings work great for training the posterior chain. Front squats are great for improving trunk strength. But let’s say after 6-weeks of hammering good mornings they start noticing a difference not only in hamstring size, but more speed out of the bottom of their squat. If this has occurred, the good mornings have served their purpose and it would be appropriate to rotate. But if said athlete see’s no change in trunk strength, they may want to continue including the front squat and perhaps introduce another exercise that isn’t so high in intensity. Power wheel rollouts might be a good variation to throw in. Here is what 12-weeks of training may look like for this athlete:

exercise rotation

Again, this is just a small glimpse into how one ought to approach exercise rotation. Just note that if staying out of boredom is your training indicator, you might want to rethink why you are training in the first place. If you are serious about your training goals and want progressive results, choose and rotate exercise with purpose.

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