If you do the same movements while you exercise with little or no change, why would your body change? Variation is the key to long-term success when exercising. Without variation, your body will eventually adapt and see no reason to change. Once your body has adapted, it finds the easiest way to recruit the smallest amount of muscle fibers and the easiest way to perform an exercise. There are many different ways to perform variation in your training schedule including variation in exercise selection, intensity, volume, adding or subtracting range of motion and using different repetition ranges, or a mixture.
A variation in exercise selection is important so that plateaus do not occur. It doesn’t have to be a completely different exercise; it can be a slight variation. This will allow you to still work the same muscle groups, but one muscle group will be emphasized over the other to allow progression.
Different grips can be used to achieve variation. There are four main types of grips. Pronation is the most common grip, and is when your palms are facing towards your body, like you are doing a bench press. Supination, commonly used for curling movements, is when the palms are facing away from the body. A neutral grip, used mainly for pulling exercises, is when the palms are facing one another. An alternated grip is used for deadlifts, when one palm is facing the body and the other is facing away from the body. Also, normal, wide and narrow grips can be used.
Foot placement in lower body lifts also will add a degree of variation to movements. Just like hand placements, there are medium, wide and narrow stances. Try not to always use the same foot placement for lower body exercises to emphasize a weak or lacking muscle group over the muscle group that is always used if the same movement is used over and over again.
Adding or subtracting range of motion will allow you to use more range of motion or weight in the lift. With more range of motion or more weight being used, it allows you to perform more work, which will lead to strength gains. For example, if you normally do a “step up” with 60 degrees of knee flexion, you could use a step that allowed for 45 degrees of knee flexion, and use more weight or use a step that allows for 90 degrees of knee flexion with less weight.
Use different repetition ranges and add or subtract more sets. Your goal for most exercises is to get around 25 to 40 repetitions. This can be done in multiple ways. Most people have been stuck in the three sets of 10 repetitions for ages. Try five sets of five, four sets of six or eight sets of three for a couple of weeks to recruit higher threshold motor units instead of the same muscle fiber types every time. Remember that the more weight you use, the more you put yourself at risk. If you are not completely sure of your form, do not use a lot of weight until you ask a professional, as it can lead to injury.
Try one or a few of these variations to overcome a plateau. It will take a little more work, but if these steps are followed, plateaus will be busted.
Adam Henderson is a senior fitness specialist at the Blount Memorial Wellness Center at Springbrook.