Adam Answers #1: ‘Exercise Rotation’, Periodisation and Programming Ponderings

By Aadam | February 21, 2016


This is the first part of what will be an ongoing series. I receive tons of emails about training, nutrition and everything else fat loss and muscle gain, so I thought I would take those questions and turn them into blog posts.

For a few reasons:

  • I had intended for this series to be in video format, but my disdain for video doesn’t seem to want to subside.
  • A blog format is a lot more readily accessible, so if people want to refer back to the information it makes it a lot easier than having to sift through dozens of videos trying to find the answer. 
  • Answering the questions in writing allows me to articulate my points more coherently.

So, without much further ado, let’s get into this bad boy.

Q: Hi Adam, I had a question about exercise rotation. I heard *Insert name of another FitBro here* claim that when you stall on a lift you should switch to another exercise to keep progressing.

What’s your thoughts on this? I’ve been stuck on bench press for a month now and I’m considering rotating to the incline bench press….will this work? I was hoping to get your thoughts. Thanks! 


While ‘exercise rotation’ sounds great in theory: you know, the whole ‘when you plateau switch the exercise to continue making progress’ thing, it doesn’t work out so well in application. 

Firstly, there are a few key principles that underlie progression in the pursuit of strength and muscle gain. While they all play a role, for the purposes of this post I’m only going to be discussing two of them.

These are:

  1. Specificity
  2. Adaptation

Let’s take a look at these two in more detail.


Specificity is the act of doing something specific to a goal you’re wanting to achieve.

  • If you want to learn to play the guitar; play the guitar.
  • If you want to be a Football player;  play Football.
  • If you want Mia Khalifa to notice you, mention her in as many blog posts as possible so that the Universe gets the damn hint.

Make sense, right?

Just like if you were planning on learning a new language, the more time you spent speaking the language, the faster you would pick it up.

The same logic holds true when training; ergo if you want to get stronger in a given exercise, you perform said exercise.

It’s All In The Engrams

The way we learn a movement pattern is through consistent practice (repetition). This consistent practice creates what are known as motor engrams.

Think of motor engrams like a series of instructions that are stored in the brain. The more you perform a movement the more engrams are created. The creation of these engrams allows you to perform the movement more efficiently without having to think about it so much.

wax on, wax off
It’s basically the strength training version of ‘Wax On, Wax Off’. #Science.


The second factor in this equation is the Principle Of Adaptation. Adaptation is what happens as a result of doing something over time. In our case adaptation means a stronger, more muscular physique.
Which would be cool if that’s all there was to it. But, you see, adaptation has a sinister dark side.
When you first start a new exercise, this new stimulus triggers your body to get stronger and muscular  so that it can handle this ‘stress’ in the future. As you continue to perform the exercise over time your body becomes more efficient at it. This efficiency results in you not being able to progress further unless changes are made.
If changes aren’t made, progression comes to a halt and you hit a plateau.
Plateau - Graph
However, ‘rotating the exercise’ is not one of them. In fact, it’s the worst thing you could do.
Here’s why:


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