4 Signs You Need To Switch Up An Exercise For Muscle Growth

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When it comes to building muscle there are no must-do exercises. 

What works well for one person may not be great for you. 

There are two common problems I see with exercise selection for muscle growth: 

  • You change exercises way too often. 
  • You fall in love with exercises or think you need to do certain ones in order to build muscle. 

And so you just keep pushing that particular exercise. 

But at some point, you probably will want to switch it out. 

In today’s blog, I dive into reasons why we will switch out exercises in a client’s program so that way you have the knowledge and tools to be able to access whether you should switch an exercise out or not. 

Before we dive into those, it’s important to note that with online clients we work in about 4-6 week phases. 

We normally dont take an exercise out during the phase and instead wait until the phase is over. 

The only expectation to that is if I client doesnt have access to the equipment needed OR a particular exercise is causing pain. 

You can read more about the training phases online clients go through HERE

You dread it.

Im sure you have an exercise that you just hate doing. 

For me, there will be certain exercises that feel great at first, then after a while they just suck.

OR there are just some exercises that suck right off the bat. 

If every time you have a particular exercise for your workout and you dread it’s time to switch it out. 


You might be less motivated to train that day and maybe not get to the gym at all and you probably aren’t going to put all of your efforts into it. 

Also, every rep is going to be that more fatiguing which is going to add to your overall stress load. 

You do have to walk that fine line though as there are going to be some exercises that just aren’t fun. 

But if you have been doing an exercise for a while and you dread doing it. Switch it out. You arent going to be able to give your best performance on it and it can hurt muscle growth over time. 

Your joints/tendons feel it more than the muscle.

Maybe when you first started squats felt great. But now every time you do them your knees and hips take a beating, but you dont feel it much in the quads. 

Or maybe you just feel super beat up each time you do it, but again maybe your quads dont feel too bad. 

This is a sign that you need to change exercises. 


You are adding a lot of fatigue but not stimulating the muscles as you need in order to build muscle. This would be considered “junk” volume. 

Read HERE about junk volume. 

This is where a lot of my new clients are when they come to me. 

They are working hard, but things like this are happening and they are just accumulating a lot of fatigue without properly stimulating their muscles to maximize muscle growth. 

Progress is stalled.

When you do something new your body gets stronger at it. But at some point that does slow down. 

Maybe you have tried things like moving the exercise first in a session, doing fewer sets, dropping the weight for a bit, and doing more volume etc. 

But no matter what this exercise just doesnt seem to progress anymore. 

This is a sign that you need to switch it out for the time being.

One thing to look out for here, dont think that just after a few weeks of not moving up in weight you need to switch out. 

You might need to, especially if you are showing these other signs. If it’s been an entire phase (4-6 weeks) without much progression then it’s probably time. 

Say you were crushing bench press and then it slowed down and you couldn’t progress at all anymore. 

You could switch this out for incline for a few phases and then come back if you want to. 

You have to do way more volume than you once did to feel anything.

Im sure you had some exercises where when you first did them it was like 1 or 2 sets and thats all you needed. 

But now that same exercise needs 4-5 sets to feel anything. 

This is a sign that you need to change that exercise. 

That particular exercise has just run its course. Your body most likely got very efficient with that particular movement. 

Dr. Mike Israetel labels this the Stimulus to Fatigue Ratio (SFR for short). 

Basically what it means is that each exercise will provide a certain stimulus but it also comes at a fatigue cost. 

What you want for muscle growth is a good SFR. 

The thing with SFR is that just because an exercise has a good SFR at first, doesnt mean it will always be that. 

The longer you do an exercise the lower this SFR gets over time. That exercise now has more fatigue associated with it and less stimulus. 

At this point, you would just need to switch that exercise out for a bit. 

Here are some additional tips: 

-Try to keep an exercise in for atleast a few weeks before changing. 

Just because it doesnt feel great right away doesnt mean it will always feel that way. A lot of new exercises I do I dont like at first, but once I get better at them I end up loving them. Give some exercises some time. 

-Changing rep ranges can help. 

Rather than completely switching out an exercise, you can always just change the rep range. This is enough to change how you go about the lift and it could make it more enticing for you. 

This is especially helpful for people who dont have a lot of variety in regards to exercise equipment. 

-Dont underestimate small variations like grip placement as a way to change it up. 

Again this is another change you can make that changes the exercise enough without having to completely change the exercise. 

For example, in a bent-over barbell row, you could move your hands closer or further away. 

In a lat pulldown, you could do different variations of a pulldown. 

-Dont change too often, but at some point, you will probably have to switch. 

You dont want to change too often but at some point, you will have to switch out an exercise. 

Even if you love it. 


These are the main four things we are looking out for with online clients and their muscle-building programs. 

You dont need to show all 4 signs to change. You could wait that long but at that point it’s probably overdue. 

If you show 1-2 of these signs, thats when I would look at switching it out. 

For example with the bench press. 

You dont dread it and you dont have to do more volume to feel anything BUT you haven’t progressed lately and you’re starting to feel it a bit more in the shoulders and elbows. 

This is a sign you need to switch it out for another exercise. 

If you need more help and accountability with your training then check out our 1:1 online coaching service HERE.

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