The Importance of Variation
Of all the manipulative variables involved in workout,
variation must rank near the top. Decisions such as how long, how many
reps/sets, how much weight to lift, what angle, bench, machine, are made to
form a workout.
Too often though, the majority of people still end up doing the same thing and
get stuck in a rut with limited results. The body they hope and work so hard
for does not appear, injuries happen, the worker-outer gets bored, gives up,
and has a hard time getting back in the groove. I've seen it hundreds of times
throughout my exercise career.
Some exercisers do employ some type of variation by changing the machine they
exercise on, the amount of weight they use, or the number of reps, but
variation is far more than how many or how much. In fact, variation's two most
important aspects to explore are intensity and modality.
Take your old friend the treadmill for example. If you were to observe 20
people working out on a treadmill, you would most likely see:
1. A brief warm-up of 3-5 min
2. An increase of speed, or possibly some jogging, for 15 or more min
3. A cool down
Factor in Intensity and you might see:
1. A brief warm-up of 2min
2. Add in a 4 degree hill and bump the speed up to just under jogging tempo,
possibly 3.8mph for 3min
3. Drop the hill to 2 deg and jog at 5.0 for 1m
4. Walk at 3.5 for 1m
5. Repeat #'s 3 and 4 increasing the speed .5mph on each and adding a 1 deg
hill for a total workout of 12-15m
A few things to note about workout number two:
- This is an example of Interval Training: 1m intervals with a 1m recovery. The
body loves intervals, thrives on intervals, and this push it-recover routine is
sure to crank up your metabolism.
- Pushing yourself is the only way to promote change. The same
thing/speed/intensity every time equals the same body.
- Resistance exercises like squats or lunges for example are
actually forms of intervals themselves. In fact, if you check your heartrate
following a set of squats, I’ll bet it’s higher than it was on the elliptical!
Now, which one was ‘Cardio’ again?
Think of Modality as the same exercise done many different ways or with
different equipment. Let's take Pressing as an example.
The gold standard for pressing is the bench press, yet when
looking at the exercise, and the people who do it on a regular basis, it's
always the same old thing: flop on the back and load the bar up. What about:
- A standing single arm press with a
- Push-ups (check these variations out HERE)
- Dumbbell Press: flat, multiple levels of incline, slight decline, lying on a
ball, together, alternating, wide, narrow…
- Bowflex (if you haven’t used a
Bowflex for pressing you’re missing out!)
- Various machine presses (some manufacturers better than others)
- Cables: standing, lying, together, alt, traditional cable crossover, or Free
In each of the examples, the goal of shoulder and elbow motion, or pectoral,
anterior deltoid, and triceps muscle training is being accomplished. The major
difference, as you can see, is how the body is positioned and stabilized and
what you’re using to train the joints/muscles/nervous system. Add to this other
manipulative variables such as a change in tempo, range, reps, resistance,
frequency, rest interval, you can create unlimited workouts and never
repeated the same one twice.
The Nervous System
All of these minute changes in Intensity and Modality are
very much promoting nervous system strength and integrity. How the brain,
nerves, and the rest of the complex nervous system negotiate exercise and
overcome resistance is really the overriding success parameter. Muscles and
joints pretty much just do what they’re told! Even with the slightest change,
the benefits can be huge. Challenging the body employing different modalities
and intensities strengthens nervous system capabilities making the body
stronger as a whole. Variation and its partners Intensity and Modality:
incorporate them into your exercise strategy today.
-Leavitt May 2013