Variable Training - Form & Function to Make Workouts Fun

Variable Training

Exercise is Lifestyle Change for Lifelong Changes

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Everyone knows by now that to leave resistance training and cardio out of the mix is to fail at a fitness routine. But resistance training doesn't have to mean chunky dumbbells clanking together and loud groaning during squat sessions. And believe me when I tell you, the treadmill isn't the only answer to a cardio workout either. There's definitely more than one way to skin a cat... or get a body into shape.

Workouts are changing. They include many more varied activities than just stationary cycling and loading a bar with 45-pound plates. Workouts now target specific areas of the body, dealing with both function and form. Our objectives should exceed training merely to look good or lose bodyfat. Because vanity is the biggest motivator, and health and function have always been low on the list of priorities, people have been reluctant to believe they should spend even a moment on making their bodies function better rather than simply look better.

With the advent of certain types of work-outs folks are actually having fun, and workouts are no longer an obligation one keeps just to maintain one's muscle mass or body-fat ratio. Now people are going to the gym looking forward to more than just 4 sets of free weights for each bodypart.

Some of these new workouts address both strength training and cardio, but many are even more specialized and target areas such as the core of the body or the balancing pro-prioceptors buried deep within the spine. These stimuli receptors enable us to perform movements with more precision and skill once conditioned. Specialty workouts are currently the most innovative ways to get fit.

From Pilates to yoga to aquatic classes geared toward conditioning, to group fitness classes, sport-specific cross-training and personalized workouts, this is a new generation of fitness that can only enhance what you currently do in the gym and take you to a new level of condition. While these techniques are not intended to replace good old-fashioned weight training and traditional cardiovascular workouts, most can improve your body function and help you acquire much better form.

Categories of Workouts

Core Training - (Core Sculpting, Strengthening, Reinforcing, Spot Sculpting)


Pilates is both a mind and body practice. That's why it would suit a bodybuilding routine. It is about isolation, concentration and development of strength through both movement and the mind-muscle connection. Pilates comes in three forms: Pilates using the heavy equipment that looks like torture beds (called reformers and trapeze tables), Pilates using the smaller spring-loaded sliders called allegro reformers, and Pilates done on a mat. They descend in order of their ability to transform your body, but all are quite effective for core training and all can increase strength, flexibility and balance.

Exercises are superisolative and focus on the core of the body. They work the psoas muscles of the hip joints and lower abdominals, upper abs, serratus, intercostal and obliques in ways you couldn't possibly find on your own in the gym doing regular exercises. But don't be fooled. There are plenty of other exercises for all bodyparts - not just the abs and hip flexors or core of the body. Reformers are designed for total body conditioning and can get a body into incredible shape. Of course, as always, fat-burning and diet are crucial to seeing results.

Medicine Ball and Box Training (Sculpting, Strengthening, Speed and Agility)

This kind of workout is also a core-strengthening strategy, but it has other benefits as well. Typically you would do it rapidly and in circuit fashion. You can construct it in different ways, but usually it includes work on a Swiss ball, doing isolation exercises for the abdominals and entire trunk, then moves to medicine-ball work, where a partner or trainer will throw a variety of weight balls toward you. When you catch the ball, with knees bent, you keep your core tight so as not to compromise the low back, shoulders or arms.

Many people then move on to box jumps either alone or while catching and throwing a medicine ball. This kind of combination workout works the entire body, but focuses specifically on core strength and reinforcing the body enough that it is resistant to opportunistic injuries. It strengthens the back, shoulders, core, hips and knees so that being thrown off balance doesn't cause small tears in muscles or tendons. Essentially this is proprioceptive training - training that focuses on balancing and strengthening the micromuscles of the spine.

Yoga (Total Body Sculpting, Strengthening, Flexibility, Injury Prevention)

Yoga is the proverbial lamb of workouts, but if you've ever stuck with it, or tried the various forms, you'll know it's much more a lion than a lamb. Yoga appears such a serene practice that people are surprised it can transform the body into unprecedented condition. One reason for its effectiveness is that yoga focuses energy into one specific area of the body and forces you to keep the focus there until the instructor is ready to move on. This mental quietness is great practice for mind-muscle connection in the gym. I highly recommend it for those seeking better definition, flexibility and focus.

One still needs to watch one's diet and do some form of cardio, but you'd be surprised how well yoga affects shape, strength, definition and a certain amount of fat loss. Classes in a high-temperature room (Bikram) can be totally transforming. Power Ashtanga can be cardiovascular as well as strengthening and conditioning.

Some of the newer hybrid programs at gyms are now combining yoga and Pilates, creating mixed-impact classes to target specific muscle groups that are either problem areas or are areas that most people want to see in good condition. Even though these hybrid-type classes focus on appearance goals, people still see benefits in functionality because yoga and Pilates both strengthen the body as well as sculpt it.

Aquatic Fitness (Upper-Body Work, Aerobic Work, Flexibility, Injury Prevention)

For a long time exercises done in water seemed to be designed for seniors, expectant mothers, or mothers and their children. However, aquatic fitness classes have come full circle and now regularly feature more than just bobbing around and doing a few leg lifts. Many classes use weighted balls and concentrate on the upper body (much like a weighted water-polo class), and some feature aquatic boxing moves that target the shoulders, arms, upper back, chest and core. Many also use kickboards and bands to work other parts of the body. These sessions are never a substitute for weight workouts, but they can transform the body in the least injurious environment. They're fun because you do them in a group. Moreover, they are much less expensive - often free with your club membership - than working with a personal trainer.

Group Fitness (Everything from Strength, Flexibility and Aerobic Work to Total Body Conditioning)

Fitness programs run the gamut today from Pilates-type mat or reformer classes to group cycling and group weight-training workouts like Bodypump. They combine circuit resistance with fat-burning, step classes and everything in between. The idea of group fitness classes is that "we're all in this together, so we might as well get it over with together!" If you've ever attended more than one or two of these classes, you know they can be addictive. They're motivating, fun, high energy and can transform the body rapidly, depending upon what activity you choose. Group fitness is a great way to cram weight training, cardio and flexibility training into a short time. Some clubs in New York and LA (such as Crunch in both cities) even hire live DJs to get people up and moving. It's all club with none of the smoke and alcohol.

Sport-Specific Training (Strength, Flexibility, Increased Ability to Perform Your Sport)

Although you could accomplish this kind of training with any of the above methods, this is a unique category. It's about working the proprioceptors at the same time as you are targeting strength, flexibility, endurance and agility. It focuses on increasing speed and agility in your particular sport. Many athletes combine box jumps and medicine balls with movements from a specific discipline, using both pliometrics and Pilates.

A lot of equipment has become available in the past six years to support this approach. Special shoes with orbs like half tennis balls attached to the soles assist athletes who have to maintain balance while doing exercises like squats and jumps. They can advance slowly from a standing movement (to gain balance) to dynamic movements. Most athletes see an increase in power, energy (a lineman in football exploding faster off the line) and weight exchange (such as a skier seeing faster and more effective weight transfer from edge to edge) after having done sport-specific training.

Odds and Ends

Much as people have now become "abbreviated readers" in this age of media bombardment and read snippets of the newspaper (as evidenced in USA Today s style of blurbing the news), people are also catching workouts when they can. Moving for even 15 minutes, such as walking up the stairs of your building several times, and later doing 15 minutes of isolative core exercises (e.g. ab-training), then finishing the day by doing 10 minutes of pushups or dumbbell work, can also help to transform the body. It's certainly not ideal, but much better than being sedentary. These fragmented workouts are becoming more and more popular in the workplace. They leave people without the excuse of "I don't have time to exercise!" We all can find 10 minutes in a busy day. Accumulated fitness isn't half bad when you view it that way.

In Conclusion

Experts agree any exercise that uses more muscle groups in combination and core stabilization, as most of these do, will create much more rapid results than most single exercises. Combining some of these practices or classes with what you currently do can only take your fitness to a higher level. At the same time you may find you are reawakening your passion for working out after years of viewing it as a chore. From this attitude change alone you ought to see results emerge.

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