There’s not a lot of debate in bodybuilding circles as to how many different training rotations or protocols should be employed during the course of a single year. Most experts would agree you should give a protocol at least 4 weeks to work, then move on to something else after 8 or 12 weeks. When you see the same guys in the gym using the same routines month after month, year after year, you will likely notice they look the same during this period as well. This is not to say you don’t need training consistency. You certainly do.
This just means you need to apply various rep, set, and exercise selection variations as you train consistently throughout the year.
It is very important, when selecting a training protocol, to keep your goals in mind. Differentiate between off-season and pre-contest training phases. You certainly wouldn’t switch from a 10 to 12 repetition, high-volume scheme in the off-season, to a low-volume, heavy weight routine for the pre-contest phase. Typically, bodybuilders will train with the heaviest weights in the off-season, when their joints are well padded with water and fat to prevent injury.
Additionally, low-volume training is best for adding muscle, while the higher volume variety leads to more shape and definition. If you are doing two shows in a year, approximately six months apart, then you will use at least four training protocols during that year. This will include two 3-month phases for gaining mass, and two 2-month phases for dieting. This also allows for 8 weeks of rest, any place where you feel you need it.
Even off-season training periods can be divided into several different training style phases. Suppose you take four months for your off-season phase next year. That gives you 16 weeks to train. Most training protocols are going to become highly useful after a month, and begin to lose their ‘kick’ after two months.
Your muscle groups are going to simply adapt to the workload of this repetition scheme, and you may stop growing. This is why most trainers would mix it up several times each year. Your individual number, or the number of training protocols you should use each year, will depend upon your goals and the number of shows in which you plan to compete.
Finally, a word should be said about body part splits. Many bodybuilders adhere to fairly rigid body part splits, and most people seem to use the same ones. Monday will be chest day, and back will be trained on Tuesday.
Wednesday is dedicated to shoulders, with arms on Thursday and legs on Friday. With some variation, most guys stick to this. If you need proof of this, visit any bench press area on a Monday and look for an empty bench. It seems half the city likes to train chest at 6 pm on this day. Perhaps you could find better results with a routine that places legs first, combines back and shoulders, or uses some other unique twist. It’s food for thought, in the buffet of training that you must visit. It’s time to try something new!