Without a doubt, the most important factor when executing any exercise is good, safe, effective form. But another vital consideration that rates right up there however, and one that many people unfortunately overlook, is variety.
The human body is an amazing mechanism that is actually designed to adapt to any environment or situation that it finds itself in. It’s this characteristic that keeps us safe and functioning properly throughout our lives, even in many extreme conditions and situations. It’s important to realize that this adaptation has implications when we are trying to get into shape.
But firstly, what exactly does adaptation mean?
Well, in simple terms, if you make a habit of lifting heavy things regularly, your body changes to become stronger. If you make a habit of running or swimming or cycling long distances regularly, your body changes to become more efficient at using energy for those types of activities. If you make a habit of regularly jumping into the air as high as you can, your body changes so that your legs become more powerful and explosive.
I’m sure you get the idea.
What this means in the gym then, is that whatever you do on a regular basis, your body finds it easier and easier to do. So by consistently doing the same thing over and over, you get less and less benefit from that exercise, until you plateau.
It’s important, therefore, to constantly push your limits to challenge your body each and every time. So it’s about stepping outside your comfort zone to force your body to progress as often as possible when you work out.
How do you do that?
Simple . . . you just work with more resistance, for longer time, faster, or whatever, each time – depending on the type of exercise you’re doing.
But simply pushing harder isn’t all there is to progressing, you need to add variety as well to progress effectively. By changing up your exercises, you challenge your body to leave its comfort zone without simply adding more weight, speed, etc.
For example, consider the simple Lat Pulldown exercise, which targets that Latissimus Dorsi muscle in your back. Traditionally it’s done with a wide grip, leaning back slightly, and pulling the bar down to around about your chin level. But you can also do it sitting straight up, pulling the bar down to the top of your head. You can also pull it down behind your head (be careful with that one!).
What about other variations? You can use a reverse grip on the bar (palms facing backwards). Or a narrow grip (hands close together), or even an in-between medium grip. What about a parallel grip (palms facing each other)? How about single arm pulldowns?
When you consider all the possible variations, you’ll see that the Lat Pulldown can actually be performed in dozens of ways, not just one. This is pretty much the case for most exercises.
And the great thing about varying your exercises each time in this way is not only that your body will be kept challenged by new movements that it’s not used to, therefore speeding up your progress, but by hitting the target muscle group each time from a slightly different angle, you develop the muscle group more fully and completely.
This same principle holds for cardio exercise as well. By limiting yourself to one form of cardio each and every time, for example cycling, your body becomes very adept and performing that exercise and as a result it becomes increasingly difficult to burn lots of calories by cycling. Try mixing it up with jogging, spints, rowing machine, punching a heavy bag, High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), and so on.
From now on when you work a particular muscle group each week therefore, try changing around the exercises you use. Even if it’s something as simple as making a change to your grip. What about trying a cable machine instead of dumbells? How about kettlebells? Change around your cardio routines as well.
Anything you change will add variety, and all variety is good. It will keep your body confused and out of its comfort zone and working hard. That is precisely the objective of working out in the first place!
Later this week I’ll be publishing the second part of this discussion about variety in your workouts, so be sure to look out for that!