A Quick Lesson In Adaptation: The Importance Of Variety

by tffitness on December 28, 2016

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I’ve recently shared an important programming insight with a few of my online clients, and thought that it was sufficiently valuable to share with all of you here:

The longer you perform a given “program” (a specific weekly training split, including exercise menus, set/rep targets, rep tempo, etc), the less you benefit from, and the more you are actually harmed by that program.

Here’s what I mean:

Let’s say you haven’t done a particular exercise in a long time — say, flat barbell bench press. So you start benching every Monday. After your first bench session, you’re super sore — this is a reliable sign that you created the microscopic muscle damage that triggers the growth of new muscle. Perfect.

During your second bench session, you’re able to use more weight than you did on week one — this means your strength is improving. And, you’re sore after the workout — not as sore as after the first time, but still sore. So far, benching is making you bigger and stronger. Perfect.

Fast forward to 12 weeks in the future. By this point, despite working as hard as possible, you no longer get sore afterwards, and you haven’t been able to add weight to the bar in the past 2 weeks. At this stage, you’re experiencing at least two problems due to insufficient variation in your training:

1) Performing bench presses is no longer making you stronger or more muscular. Your body is no longer threatened by the exercise, no matter how hard you work. Bottom line: you are no longer benefiting from the movement.

2) You have been stressing your joints and connective tissues (particularly your shoulders and elbows) in exactly the same way for 3 solid months now. Connective tissues are poorly vascularized in general and you’re not letting them heal. Even a slight change in exercise selection (such as using a football bar or a closer grip) would be enough to slightly change the lines of stress which would greatly reduce the possibility of pattern overuse injury.

The solution: regular program changes every 4-8 weeks. The exact duration of an ideal training cycle is very individual, but every 4-5 weeks seems to work best for most. Constantly monitor the secondary signs of successful adaptation: soreness indicates a good hypertrophy response, and the ability to add weight to the bar indicates that you’re getting stronger.

Finally, don’t worry that you’ll lose all your gains if you discontinue an exercise for a month or two: as long as you’re doing close variants of those movements, you’ll be fine. And again, remember: if you’re not responding to a particular exercise after 4-5 weeks, what’s the point of continuing to do it? Better to take a “lateral” move by switching to a different movement, and (depending on your goals) possibly a different loading bracket as well. Then, when you return to the julietta online casino previously stalled exercise, your body will again respond to it just like you were a beginning lifter.

Questions on this topic? Please share them below!

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