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Why Variation is so Important to a Workout

Posted Nov 16 2009 10:02pm

by Brett Blumenthal

It is very easy to fall into a ‘routine’ or even a ‘rut’ when it comes to exercise, going on auto pilot and finding a comfortable workout routine that we do time and time again.  Although you could argue that getting repetitive exercise in is better than doing nothing, you might be doing yourself a disservice.  Why?  Your body is smart.  If you make it do something repetitively, over time it will get used to it and become so good at it that you don’t have to work that hard anymore. 

When it comes to exercise, the idea is to challenge your body…to make it stronger…to keep it on its toes.   You’ve probably seen people who make great strides at the beginning of an exercise program and then hit a point where they can’t progress anymore.  This happens because once your body gets used to an exercise, it starts to not respond as much and your results (i.e., fat loss, increased muscle tone, etc.) start to slow down and maybe even stop.  This is called ‘hitting a plateau’.  How do you overcome this?  Variation.  And from a mental perspective, variation will keep you from getting bored.   

Diverisfying your exercise doesn’t always mean changing everything about every workout every time.  Here are a few examples of how to change it up:

  1. Cardio:  
    1. Different Exercises: To change up your aerobic exercise routines, find different types of exercise…biking, swimming, running, power-walking, elliptical training.
    2. Different Activities: Break out of the mold and find activities you enjoy that are less conventional:
      1. Roller-Blading
      2. Jump Roping
      3. Hiking / Mountain Climbing
      4. Rowing
    3. Different Programs: If all you like to do is run, you can still incorporate variation.  How?  Here is a plan for a week:
      1. Day 1: Interval training course  – repetitively sprinting for 2 minutes and then jogging for 5 minutes – for a total of a 30 minute workout. 
      2. Day 2: Hills - 30 minutes.
      3. Day 3: Flat endurance jogging at a steady pace for 45 – 50 minutes.  

If you run on a treadmill, you can select the corresponding pre-programmed courses on the machine to help you.  You can apply this approach to any type of cardio exercise – walking, arc trainer/elliptical trainers, biking, etc.

  1. Strength Training: Here are a few ways you can vary your strength training workouts.  Remember, you don’t have to do ALL of these…try doing one or two of them at a time:
    1. Changing the number of Repetitions: Different numbers of repetitions of an exercise will have different effects on your muscle.  Try doing 8-10 repetitions for a week or two and then for the next couple of weeks do 15 repetitions.  Make sure you adjust the weight accordingly to ensure you challenge your muscles: More weight for lower repetitions and less weight for higher repetitions.  Remember, your last repetition should be extremely difficult…as if you can’t do anymore.
    2. Changing the kinds of sets
      1. Circuits:  Do one set of each muscle group.  Then repeat each circuit for a total of 3 times.
      2. Single Sets:  Do 3 sets in a row of a specific muscle group. 
      3. Compound Sets/Super Sets:  Put multiple muscle groups together, back to back with no rest in between
      4. Giant Sets: Do four exercises one after the other with no rest between sets.
    3. Changing your grips on the weights: For instance, on bicep curls, maybe you use an underhand grip one day and then an overhand grip the next time.
    4. Changing the types of exercises: For instance, one week, maybe you do front lunges.  And then the next week, you do back lunges.

Simply stated, be creative and look for lots of options.  If you go to the gym, try something new and get out of your comfort zone.  Your body will thank you for it (and so will your mind)!

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