Variety in Training
Getting better involves repetition and overload – these are hot buttons in strength training.
Recently, however, we’re seeing an emerging scientific push towards exercise variety.
Powerlifters and Weightlifters live and die by squats, presses, and pulls – but what room is there for change and novelty?
Variety: An Underrated Training Technique?
We know that muscle confusion is full-clip bro-science, but there might be a kernel of truth here.
A 2014 study in the journal of strength and conditioning research is making waves after suggesting that changing exercises is more efficient for producing strength gains than changing intensity.
This confirms decades of coaching wisdom: exercise variety is often an easy way to produce new adaptation.
Using Exercise Variety for Better Strength Gains
What does this mean for you?
In practical terms, there are three major impacts:
- You should probably be looking at regular exercise variety if you find yourself on the business-end of a plateau
- Those dirty 10-rep volume blocks might not be necessary every single program.
- We need to re-evaluate the relationship between variety and specificity in strength training – especially in weightlifting and powerlifting programs.
Sure, variety is good, but how do you implement variety without derailing your technical progression and specificity?
1. General to Specific: Planning for Performance
First, you’re going to want to periodise effectively.
This means we’re going to be looking for more variety at the start of a program and less towards a competition/test.
This is strength training 101. You should maintain a good amount of variety, decreasing slightly until cutting it out almost-entirely during comp-prep training.
2. Maximising Efficiency: Picking the Right Variations
Second, you’re probably going to want to focus on using variety as a spur for strength at the start of a program – primarily in secondary exercises. We’ll use the squat as an example, since it’s a common choice among all strength enthusiasts.
You can keep your squat volume moderate during a squatting volume block (such as 3-4 sets of 5-6 twice a week) and rely on varied accessory exercises. A few key examples are Bulgarian split squats, walking lunges, and explosive step-ups.
These are good examples of how to use accessory movements:
- They involve single-leg/arm work – key for joint and core stability, as well as technique
- Including power work is great for 1RM progress
- They are great for building volume and getting a pump after squats
We’re killing a lot of birds with one stone here, all while leveraging variety for better strength gains. Simple and effective.
3. Adapt on the Fly: Protect Your Competition Lifts
We want variety to build volume and offer new benefits, but it shouldn’t interrupt competitive lifts.
Variety of stimulus – especially new movements – means a lot of fatigue. You’re probably going to be sore and tired, so be careful with how much you’re adding and adapt if you’re over-varying.
Reduce the amount of new exercises and accessory volume as you progress and be sure to monitor your fatigue. Variety is great until it starts eating into your recovery for competition lifts.
Specificity isn’t the only way to train. Carryover is important, and strengthening weak points is a significant way to improve your performance with relatively little volume-cost.
Effective, intelligently-selected exercise variety is an easy way to pinpoint weak links and spur new strength gains. Take an honest look at your training and ask if you’re mixing it up enough to make sustainable progress!