Habit #8: Keep Your Muscles Guessing

charles_atlasThe first real experience I had weight lifting was also the first real experience I had, besides the flu, with the nearly overwhelming urge to vomit.

It was my freshman year in high school and I was a springboard diver. Unfortunately for me, the divers did strength training circuits with the five-years-undefeated-in-league-meets swimmers (read: real athletes). Also unfortunately for me, the swim coach was also my math teacher and we had a relationship that was, shall we say, not altogether mutually appreciative. He was a mountain of a man (he was also the JV football coach) with a surly disposition, a voice that sounded like a sheet metal building being ripped in two, a granite face and calves like redwood trunks. But from what I remember, he had a pretty hot girlfriend as well, but I digress.

Further complicating the matter was the fact that I didn’t do any other regular exercising, I smoked (mostly tobacco), ate like crap and I had an attitude that warranted my math teacher’s limited affections for me.

The perfect setting for a gruelling, take no prisoners weight-training circuit! I’ll never forget that first day when my lungs were on fire and my head was spinning. But in time, I adapted to the torture, and in fact, it became a primary source of a sense of accomplishment (as well as making me feel stronger and physically tougher than I’d ever felt in my life.) Even back then (somewhere between the Model “T” and CD ROMS), those coaches knew something that fitness professionals are still using today. Variety works. It helps you achieve balance and forces your body to continually adapt to new challenges. There are several ways you can integrate variety effectively into your strength training program. Here are just a few variables you can manipulate to keep things interesting and challenging:

– loads
– volume (number of reps and sets)
– direction of force (different angles to recruit muscles in different ratios)
– movement patterns (compound versus isolating and hybrid movements)
– timing variations
– range segmentation
– sequencing and integration with other activities
– work/rest intervals

I rotate about a dozen different techniques, at least two or three exercises for each body part and periodically develop some new technique that might be a variation on one I already use. My goal is to have no workout precisely mirror any I’ve done before.

But you don’t have to be that extensive with your variations. Even cycling through a couple of exercises for each body part and/or a couple of different techniques can accomplish the same objective on a slightly smaller scale. But it’s critically important that any program variations rest on a foundation of absolutely strict form for the highest quality (and safest) strength workout.

For help with that, consult a competent, experienced, nationally certified trainer (here’s an article to help you to become a “smart shopper” for the right trainer in your area) or contact me for e-coaching and a detailed description based on your particular background, fitness level and goals.

Learn more about how to get and stay in great shape? Contact Dan at Tri Valley Trainer

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