(But Beware of Mediocrity)
A clear difference exists between a strategy of throwing shit against the wall to see what sticks, and methodically tweaking training variables to avoid stagnation. Variety might be the spice of life but changing for change’s sake likely leads to mediocrity – aka over seasoned shit. Maintaining physical and psychological momentum in your training requires subtle change.
Variety is typically introduced to battle boredom (entertrainment value) or because a previous strategy has run its course (performance value). Steak is delicious. Salted steak – even better. Add garlic? Even better. Add more salt? Maybe, depends on taste. Even more? Suddenly it’s inedible. Back off on the salt and exchange the charcoal grill for butter and a skillet. Now we’re cooking! Reverse sear?! Utopian. We’re literally out of enhancement options so it might be time to switch the beef for a thick ass porkchop.
Rather than toss the steak as the first strategy, we tweaked the seasonings. Once the seasonings became too much of a good thing, we played with the cooking style. Lastly, we swapped out the meat – but not for a salad. Subtle changes facilitated culinary progress and diner enjoyment. When progress or enjoyment hit a wall, we knew why because we only adjusted one variable at a time. Imagine we switched to porkchop/garlic/salt/smoker the moment the steak didn’t satisfy our needs? We’d have never given ourselves a chance to enjoy a decent steak. We’d also have been likely to fail with the porkchop and next thing you know we’re ordering a pizza.
Let’s rephrase the scenario above in a context specific to training:
Rather than exchange strength training for running, we adjusted intensity, volume, and rest. Once the volume and intensity increases were no longer sustainable, we exchanged lifts like front squat with back squat. Lastly, we swapped strength dominant training with more power focused training – instead of abandoning lifting in pursuit of that yogi life (namaste here and life heavy things). And we sure as hell didn’t abandon our physical training! The bathwater might be drained but the baby remains in our arms.
I don’t eat just to fuel and I don’t train just to stay fit. I ENJOY these endeavors as they occur. In fact, I am likely more present during eating and training than during any other parts of my life aside from time with my son. Training should be fun – Discipline without truly internalized motivation is no way to live. There are countless ways to apply variety to your training, whether the reason is progress, entertainment, or both.
For progress purposes, focus on prioritizing subtle changes in:
Volume – how much or how long (whether per set or in total workload)
Intensity – how heavy or how fast
Volume Load – literally your volume multiplied by your intensity
Rest – increase rest to achieve higher volume and/or intensity per set, decrease rest to achieve more density per exercise (same or more work done in less time or more work done in same time)
Exercise – keep the movement the same but adjust the exercise slightly to target the same movement in a different way
Superset – combine either complimentary (back squat paired with vertical jump) or unrelated (back squat paired with bench press) exercises to reduce time spent sitting around waiting on the next set.
An approach that achieves both progress and entertainment is Addressing the Supporting Cast. This might mean some supplemental movement competency enhancement, bodybuilding work, aerobic capacity development, etc. If it’s the supporting cast and not the main act, just be careful not to give it so much time and attention that it cannibalizes your primary efforts.
For entertainment purposes, you have more room to roam but less time to allocate to your adventures. Look to include a lot of enjoyable variety into places like your warmup, conditioning, and recovery days. Still keep your goal the goal but substituting how you prepare your hips for squatting is fairly inconsequential compared to substituting your squat. As for conditioning, just be sure to select exercises that still achieve the desired intensity. Some exercises are tough to keep easy enough to maintain steady state intensities while others are equally as tough to ramp up to more anaerobic intensities.
The examples within this blog focus on resistance training but hold true for other training modalities. If your main component of training is running, you can still use these same approaches with similar benefit. Cycling? Same thing. In those scenarios, you can play less aggressively with your specific modality and more aggressively with training outside of it. For example, a lifter might have an aerobic training day that can be extremely nonspecific because his goal is not specifically aerobic in nature. A runner, however, can play more aggressively with his lifting day but should be more subtle with how he applies variety to his conditioning. The goal is not change – The goal is maintaining momentum both physically and psychologically.
To maximize the principle of variety and maintain your momentum, season your training with intent, keeping both progress and enjoyment in mind.