There are a slew of trainers and methodologies that incorporate variation of exercise selection and volume and intensity prescriptions into their programming. We are no different. Probably the most important part of offering variety in one’s program is that it keeps athletes/clients interested and engaged. Regardless of how effective programming and coaching is, it will not work if people cannot stick to it and most folks will lose interest in anything once it becomes monotonous. Most people enjoy “something different everyday” and many coaches will support this notion with phrases such as “muscle confusion”, or they will simply repeat “constantly varied” without really understanding the true importance of variation and more significantly, the proper context of it beyond keeping athletes interested. Let’s cover some basics.
As part of the body’s response to resistance training, there is an interplay between neural and hypertrophic adaptation, with neural mechanisms contributing more to initial strength gains and muscle hypertrophy (growth) contributing more as training progresses (1). Basically, when you first start resistance training, you get stronger because your body learns to recruit the muscle fibers it already has. Once it is able to do this, the muscle fibers grow (hypertrophy) and that is what contributes to further strength gains. Eventually muscle hypertrophy plateaus, which is when it is important to incorporate variation and progressive overload so that neural adaptation can contribute to subsequent performance improvements and the cycle repeats (1).
1) Baechle, Thomas R., Earle, Roger W. Essentials of Strength and Conditioning, 3rd Edition. Champaign, Illinois: Human Kinetics, 2008. Print.
2) Bente Klarlund Pedersen, Laurie Hoffman-Goetz
Physiological Reviews Published 1 July 2000 Vol. 80 no. 3, 1055-1081 DOI: