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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Variety, the Soul of Your Training Plan

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Variety in your workouts should be about more than just going into the gym and doing different exercises each day for the sake of "mixing it up". Don't confuse variety with not having a plan. Flitting from fad workout plan to fad workout plan every week is a surefire way to spend loads of time in the gym and get no results. In order to effectively measure progress, you must maintain some consistency in your workouts, but by introducing some variety, you will stay motivated and increase the effectiveness of your workouts.

Hard/Easy Days

Whether you are talking about cardio or strength training, you should be incorporating a variety of hard and easy days. Most people fall into the trap of exercising at a moderate level all of the time. By staying in the gray area between a hard workout and an easy workout, you never get the full benefits of having done a hard workout, nor do you get the recovery that an easy, active recovery day can provide. Always doing moderate intensity workouts compromises your potential.

I'm often asked by runners if running three miles three times a week is a "good" amount to run. Nine miles per week is a great amount of running to begin to get fit and lose weight, but there is a better way to run those nine miles to maximize the benefit. Instead of running three miles three days a week, 3-3-3, try running a week of 4-2-3 miles or 5-2-2 miles. You'll burn the same number of calories, but the "long run" days will increase your fitness beyond your current level of ability, while the shorter run days will allow your body to recover and still burn a few calories at the same time. After doing this for a few weeks, you will notice your fitness begin to increase and, as a side benefit, the short run days will seem like a piece of cake.

To incorporate this concept of hard and easy days into a strength training routine, pick one day a week to be your "hard" day, or your "easy" day, depending on how you train. If you normally lift weights in the 10 rep range, pick a few compound exercises, like squats, deadlifts, bench press, military press, dips, or chin-ups, and do 5 sets of 5 reps with heavier weights. If you normally lift with heavy weights in the 6 rep range or lower, switch to lower weights and do one day a week in the 10-12 rep range.

This concept of switching a routine around for better results is especially helpful for long-term gains. Mixing up your workouts during the week provides variety and can enhance recovery. The same process can be applied to your training program over longer periods of time. Every 4-6 weeks you should have a "down" week to allow deep recovery to take place. Runners should have a cut-back week where your weekly mileage is reduced to 50-60% of your normal mileage. Strength trainees should have a "deload" week every 4-6 weeks in which volume is cut by 50%. This rest and recovery week will allow your body time to rebuild and repair itself.

When returning back to your regular schedule, ease back into it. Think, two steps forward, one step back. By using this technique, you can extend the amount of time that you can continue to make gains in strength, speed, endurance, etc.

Do you vary the intensity level of your workouts? Or is every workout the same?

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2 comments:

David said...

Great article. When gaining weight keeping yourself motivated is all about having variety in your workouts as the body is very adaptive. Keep in mind the focus should be on progression.

Fit Club Scott said...

Definitely. Variety is nice to keep up the motivation, but progress can only come by continuing to push a little harder. Thanks for stopping by.