Mixing It Up- The Importance of Variation in Your Work Out
What a lot of people fail to realize when it comes to regular trips to the gym is that if you do the same thing over and over that your progression will cease to exist. If you bench press the same amount of weight for the same number of sets and reps and with the same intensity day in and day out, your progress will stop because your body will get used to that particular movement and it will no longer be a struggle to complete â€“ your muscles need to come under strain and ultimately get damaged before they recover, which is when they do their growing.
The same goes for any type of workout â€“ if you run one mile everyday at the exact same speed, you will probably make good progress for a few weeks but then your progress will begin to slow down â€“ eventually all youâ€™ll be doing is maintaining that level of fitness and actually garnering very little advancement in your overall health from the workout. This is precisely the reason that so many people that you see plugging away on the treadmill at the same pace three times a week for twenty minutes donâ€™t ever seem to look any better.
You could technically perform the same type of workout from here to eternity and continue to get positive results â€“ as long as some variable in the workout changes. If you add resistance in some form (like increasing the weight on the bar by five pounds every few workouts, or increasing the number of reps you perform with the same weight); or you opt to increase the intensity of the workout by reducing rest periods or performing your whole workout in the form of a circuit – you will continue to see positive results (this second can only take you so far though, because, at some point, your body will adapt and become used to the shorter rest periods and the circuit style workout, so eventually further changes will need to be made in order to continue to get positive results.)
So itâ€™s been established that you can continue to get positive results by performing the same movements, as long as some other variable changes â€“ you like bench press so why would you bother changing to a different movement? The simple answer to this question is to stave off boredom, you want your training to stay fresh and interesting because once your workout gets boring, youâ€™ll be more likely to skip a day here or skip a day there and eventually you may end up stopping all together. Itâ€™s very easy, and pretty fun, changing things up a bit every so often to stimulate new muscles, to keep your body guessing and to keep your workout interesting.
It doesnâ€™t necessarily take a complete overhaul or any drastic measures-you can, if youâ€™d like, make some very simple and seemingly minors changes, and yield some very positive results. Sometimes itâ€™s just a matter of switching the barbells for dumbbells â€“ if you do barbell bench-press, barbell squats, barbell military press and barbell bent over rows; try switching up the movements by performing them with dumbbells. What the dumbbells will do to stimulate new growth and further your progress is to call your support muscles into play â€“ doing heavy dumbbell bench-press will force you to use each side equally (you wonâ€™t be able to cheat to your strong side because youâ€™ll be using to separate implements) and keeping each dumbbell in itâ€™s proper path throughout the movement will call several stabilizing muscles throughout your arms, shoulders, back and sides into play â€“ these may be muscles you havenâ€™t worked in years, maybe even muscles that you didnâ€™t know that you had.
Strengthening all of your support muscles and working both sides of your body equally will give you a more balanced build and, despite the fact that youâ€™ll be taking a few weeks off of actual bench-pressing, your bench max will most likely go up by the next time you get under the barbell because your weak side will no longer be so much of a hindrance in the movement.
In switching your workout up you donâ€™t have to be bound by any limits, you can really go as wild as youâ€™d like â€“ there are some strength and conditioning coaches who advocate switching your workout every day (cross-fit workouts are chosen so randomly that the athletes on that system may not repeat the same movement in a workout for weeks or even months at a time). I normally donâ€™t suggest such variance because I think at least some structure and preparation are important, but many athletes on these regimens have yielded very positive results.
What I like to do every six weeks or so, is to substitute similar movements with different implements â€“ Iâ€™ll use dumbbells, kettlebells, sand bags and other odd objects generate a shock to my system while still training for the same goals.
Using the so-called â€œodd objectsâ€ for performing conventional movements like squats, presses, etc. will force you to work areas of your body that often get ignored in a â€œtraditionalâ€ weight training program â€“ like your core, your grip and your conditioning. Think about it â€“ you canâ€™t put a set of heavy kettlebells or a heavy sandbag in a squat rack to get underneath them, youâ€™ve got to clean the bells and hold them up to perform your squats and youâ€™ve got to clean and shoulder that sandbag to get it where it needs to be to perform specific movements. Cleaning the implements from the floor makes the movement much more intense and adds almost another whole movement at the beginning of each set.
Youâ€™ll also be able to perform a wide variety of supplemental exercises with kettlebells and sandbags that would have been impossible (or exceedingly difficult) with a traditional barbell workout â€“ things like swings, hand to hand tosses and get-ups are great additions for variety and these movements will test you physically and mentally in the strength and conditioning departments.
These types of movements could have your body feeling very off balance at first, causing the muscles in your stomach and lower back to compensate so you donâ€™t end up on the floor – and because of this youâ€™ll also be getting an ab workout that will have you hunched over like youâ€™ve done a thousand crunches.
You can perform an odd object workout anywhere, you donâ€™t need to be in a commercial gym setting, in fact if you were throwing around a sandbag inside of Ballyâ€™s you might get more than a few strange looks.
Itâ€™s advisable to make some changes to your workout, regardless of the changes youâ€™d like to make, about every six weeks or so. Do your normal workout with specific goals set for the six week mark, once you reach that short term goal you can switch or spice things up by making a change over from barbells to dumbbells or barbells to sandbags for a few (2 â€“ 3) weeks. This will let you stay fresh, hit your muscles from different angles and keep you interested in your workouts â€“ after three weeks of the switch up, get back in the gym and set new goals for six more weeks out, youâ€™ll probably be pleasantly surprised by how fast you achieve your new goals, how strong you feel and how good your body looks as a result of just a short period of changing things a bit.
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About Jeff Wilson Jeff Wilson has been involved in some form of sports and athletic training for more than two decades: as an athlete, a trainer and a writer.