The topic of exercise variety is a hot one. In the quick fix, low attention span society we live in, performing the same exercise or workout twice is often seen as a chore. “It’s boring,” they say. Between weight loss TV shows, social media, celebrity workouts, and everything in between, the desire to show off or try the next “cool” thing is as important to everyday exercisers as the actual benefits an exercise may have for that person, if not more important. If we were poll 100 people of the top 5 things they look for in an exercise program, variety would be at the tippy top of many of those lists. I would bet that more than 50 would list variety somewhere in that top 5.
I am a huge proponent of variety when deemed appropriate. Exercise should not be a chore. We should try to have fun and try new things when possible. Learning a variety of movements can even have a large positive effect in expanding our movement menu, improving neural pathways from the brain to the muscles and vice versa.
But just like almost anything, there can be too much of a good thing. Too much variety will not only prevent us from reaching our fitness goals, but when taken too far, can put us at risk.
Are You Giving Exercises A Chance To Work?
Adaptations, or changes in the body due to exercise, do not happen in a vacuum. We do not lift a few weights, go to sleep, and wake up stronger the next day. It takes some time for adaptations to occur in the body. The problem with too much variety is that when we skip from exercise to exercise too often, we do not allow enough time for adaptation to occur. If we bounce from exercise to exercise to exercise and never do the same thing twice, we will be working very hard, yet not go anywhere.
The Solution: Pick two or three exercises that you feel can help bring you closer to your goals. Perform these exercises 1-3 times per week for the next month. Every workout, attempt to make the exercise more difficult by doing more repetitions, using more weight, going faster, or going for more time. By progressively making the exercise more difficult, you will force the body to adapt to the new stress. These adaptations may show themselves in weight loss, muscle gain, improvement in aerobic capacity, etc. Outside of these three exercises, do whatever you want. This is where you may get creative and add some variety to your workout. Take an exercise class, go for a jog, try something new… just have fun with it. After a month, either keep going or change the three exercises. Rinse. Repeat.
Can You Do Something More Safely?
The other problem we need to be conscious of in the search for variety is losing sight of the goal. During most consultations with adult team members at BOLT, the goals many people have is to lose weight, feel better, and be without pain. The conversation that ensues usually goes something like this:
Member: I just want to feel good. I’m 20 lbs overweight and my knees and back are always in pain. I just can’t take it anymore.
Me: What have you been doing for exercise?
Member: I have been doing workouts at home.
Me: What do they look like?
Member: Well, they are 30 minutes and it is mostly a lot of jumping , burpees, planks and lunges.
Me: So you are carrying an extra 20lbs and jump around hundreds of times every day?
Something like jumping may be appropriate for some people. As a matter of fact, it can be a lot of fun. We jump here at BOLT at times… just not everyone, and not all the time.
When performing an exercise, always ask yourself why you are doing it. For example, if you are looking to lose weight, you should be looking to perform an exercise that is going to elevate your heart rate and burn calories. With this being the goal, why choose box jumps that risk falling on your face over something like a medicine ball throw or intervals on the bike? Why choose burpees (an exercise that few can actually perform well) over any of the other hundreds of exercises that can elevate our heart rate and burn calories? Is the answer only because it is different? Or because it’s hard? Or because it looks fun? For me, that is not a good enough answer to risk your health and well-being. Keep the goal the goal. If the goal is overall health and weight loss, always choose the exercise we can perform safely over the one that looks cool.
Have fun with your workouts. Try new things and give yourself some variety when you can. As long as you are keeping the goal in mind and that goal is ultimately driving your decisions, you will have a lot of success.