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There is no doubt about it, sometimes training your body day in and day out, week after week, gets mighty boring! Everyone from the
fitness enthusiast to the pro bodybuilder gets a bit tired of doing the same things over and over, no matter how effective certain
exercises can be. Doing squats once or twice a week all year long with little or no break becomes tedious. Besides, anything done
to excess is overkill. Well, almost everything, but that's a different article.
In looking at effective training techniques and exercises, we can't avoid the fact that certain movements can cause the doldrums to set in. Once they do, you may as well take a week off because sooner or later you'll end up either taking a month or two off or quitting bodybuilding altogether. This problem could be easily avoided by spicing up your workouts. Implement a little variety and you have the difference between consistency and inconsistency in your training.
You wouldn't eat the exact same dinner every day would you? Not unless you were preparing for competition, and even then the sameness would only be for 12 weeks at the very most. We crave variety in almost everything we do. The only problem is, most features of our lives are based on routine and necessity and we can't often make choices with regard to variety. We cant, for instance, just up and leave our job on a day that we feel distracted or bored. We must wait until five o'clock and then leave. If we just got up from our desk or gathered our belongings from wherever we work and walked out, we'd likely be fired.
So few areas of life offer us the luxury of choice that we must take advantage of the areas that do. One of those is weight training. You can ensure variety by constantly changing your workout splits. You should do this often anyway because your body becomes accustomed to any established pattern. Introducing variety to retain some sense of sanity with an activity that can become repetitive by its very nature benefits the mental side of training.
I often suggest to my clients who train on their own at least half of the time that they alter their training schedules and splits for this very purpose. If they are using a three-days-on/one-day-off schedule, I urge them to consider doing a two-days-on/one- day-off routine for two months. I suggest a change not only for variety but also so that the person can rest his body at more frequent intervals and come back to his original schedule with a much more rested, fresh set of muscles.
Many ways of reworking a split come to mind. I prefer the one-bodypart-per-day! five-days-per-week schedule for growth. In that split you train the legs on Monday, back on Tuesday, chest on Wednesday, shoulders on Thursday, and arms on Friday. Abs and calves are trained on alternate days according to personal choice.
For the person with little time to train, I suggest working out Monday/Tuesday with Wednesday off and Thursday/Friday with Saturday and Sunday off. This schedule is ample for anyone who isn't aspiring to be a competitive bodybuilder, and even sufficient for those who are in the off-season of competing. Whatever the split chosen, it represents variety.
The other, more obvious ways to institute variety in a workout concern the exercises chosen. This selection is particularly important for well-rounded development, but it is also a part of planning workouts that will not leave you mentally tired every day. Because bodybuilding is an optional activity, you want it to be challenging and fun. Choose exercises that may be spin-offs of basic movements but give you a break from the rigors of your usual routine. Here are some examples.
If you normally do the bench press as an opening exercise for chest, try using dumbells on a flat bench more often. Try barbell or dumbell inclines as an opener. If you always warm up your legs with extensions and then move to traditional squats, try warming up with lunges, then extensions and Smith squats. If you typically use a 90-degree preacher-curl bench for biceps, try a 45-degree angle instead. When doing abdominal work, keep away from that crunch machine you usually gravitate toward, and do your ab work with a rope suspended from a high cable pulley.
Another way to vary your workouts is by substituting lower reps for higher ones. Instead of doing 8 repetitions on your leg work, try doing 10 to 12 reps per set. Increase your sets on a large bodypart, and decrease them on a smaller bodypart. Higher sets and volume tend to hit the muscles differently and require more of them. Thus they often grow better. You can also decrease the time you rest between sets and move more quickly through your workout.
Variety isn't important just for sanity's sake. It can also be useful in helping your body to continually grow and change. The freedom of variety is a real gift, but you have to use it to help yourself mentally and physically. Varying workouts is a way to meet your training goals.
With my clients I try to change routines all the time. We never go to the same piece of equipment in two consecutive workouts. Of course, training in Gold's Gym/Venice, that's easier than if we were in some small gym out in the middle of nowhere. Even if we were, however, there are all sorts of variations from which to choose. Different foot positions can be incorporated into almost any leg exercise. Two different wrist positions are available for biceps-training. At least eight different handles can be attached for back, plus three or four for triceps. We can select two different grips on a bar for chest workouts, and many spacing options as well. It's all about using your imagination to come up with exercise programs that don't imitate themselves every time.
I'd like to touch on two other aspects of variety - cardiovascular variety and dietary variety. So many activities fall under the heading of cardiovascular/aerobic workouts that they are too many to mention. The point is, variety can be achieved in aerobic work.
Let's say, for instance, that you always walk the treadmill at a slight elevation. Just within that activity, you can incorporate variety at four different levels, either separately or in combination. You can increase your walking speed, decrease the elevation of the treadmill and walk faster, increase the speed of the treadmill and run, increase the time that you work on it, or combine any of these variations.
A more obvious method of varying your workouts is by changing apparatus and activity occasionally. Instead of walking the treadmill every other day, you can do the stationary cycle sometimes. Or you can alternate the treadmill, cycle and stair stepper. I've even seen some people move from one apparatus to another during the same cardio workout. This flexibility provides the body with the variety it needs to make constant changes. With cardio that's extremely important.
Cardio variety involves six main factors - frequency, speed, difficulty, consistency of pace, choice of apparatus, and time. These aspects all invite variety and provide the needed basis for change and fat loss. I always recommend to my clients that they include some form of cardiovascular/aerobic exercise in their workout schedules to facilitate more rapid overall change in their bodies. Resistance training goes a long way to alter the shape of the body, but aerobic work is the finishing touch on a physique that has been trained with consistency and variety.
You can integrate variety into your life by the diet choices you make. Eating the exact same meal every day would be counterproductive because the body becomes accustomed to the food you ingest and modifies response to it. By introducing variety into your daily diet, you will be much more likely to stick with a particular nutritional plan. lf for instance, you just began to clean up your eating habits, and cut out all of the items that were unhealthful, fatty or sugary, you'd definitely want variety in your new plan. No one can go from regularly eating anything he wants to a restricted food program that doesn't allow you to enjoy what you eat. Not only should this type of program be started gradually, but it should also aim for variety.
Because I always suggest eating plenty of proteins to my clients, I give them a list of proteins that are acceptable. And really, depending on how you balance out the other macronutrients (carbs and fats) in your diet, any protein - in moderation - is acceptable. You know the saying, "Man cannot live by bread alone"? Well, that's probably truer than you ever realized in referring to the type of diet that is effective for resistance trainers and aerobic exercisers.
Your diet should encompass all areas of nutrition and nutrient-rich food. Eat a variety of lean protein (though salmon is acceptable it's a different kind of fat and very good for you), with the occasional addition of beef or lean pork, coupled with a leaf green vegetable and healthful fat sources such as avocado, nuts and nutritious oils. The choices are endless. You must employ your own creativity to maximize those choices.
But isn't maximizing choices what life is all about? We crave choice, variety and freedom. Working out provides those benefits for us with relatively little effort. Stepping into a gym is like stepping into a promised land of choice and variety. Looking at exercise in this manner enables us to completely transform our physical selves and transport our minds to a creative place because variety, in all its forms, is truly the spice of life!