Adaptive resistance is when the impact of an exercise is reduced due to constant repetition. Your muscles are so accustomed to this amount of strain – whether it be the number of reps, weight, range of motion, or rest time – that it loses impact, and you begin to stagnate.
Meanwhile, progressive overload is when we continue to change or “overload” our exercises to combat this. Adding variations changes the stimulus and allows us to activate different muscles or focus strength over endurance training (and vice versa), while overloading will reuse the same exercise, but with greater weight, changes in motion or so on. In this way, we can continue growing, personalise our workouts to our goals, and keep things interesting.
One way to look at it, is that every time you change the angle of something – incline bench press to a decline bench press – that is a new exercise. If your bench has 10 adjustment angles, then that’s 10 exercise variations. These angles will engage your pecs to different degrees – inline bench press targets the upper pec and decline bench press targets the lower pec.
On another note, too much variation can also reduce the impact of your workout. You’ll need to balance repetition with variations, as scattering your training over too many areas reduce the strain and slows growth. A good way to retain this impact is to focus on one area at a time: legs, arms, chest, core, etc. You can’t skip leg day!
So, in this article, we’re going to describe some variations you can try to keep your workouts fresh and interesting.
To start off with, you can change the exercise entirely.
There are quite literally countless exercises out there, and that’s beyond slight differences between a Goblet squat and a dumbbell squat (holding one dumbbell or two). Indeed, lunges and squats are both quad exercises, but lunges are better for outer quads while squats have greater muscle activation for less weight. You can also consider a skipping rope instead of running or chin-ups instead of rows.
Don’t be afraid to change things up. One week, do lunges. Next week, do squats. If your goal is to target your glutes and quads, then you may have to consider these exercises more carefully. But if you just want to lose weight evenly, then as long as the exercise is performed repetitively, and with a suitable amount of contraction and rest time, you can go wild.
Each exercise will have pros and cons, but you’ll find that a lot can do similar things. Explore what suits you better. Running doesn’t suit me, so instead I go cycling, mostly because I like going down new trails, and I can go further on a bike. Your reasoning doesn’t always have to be fitness focused.
You can also add or reduce weight.
Lighter weights are great when it comes to warming up. They’re also great when practicing form and balance, training endurance, or otherwise learning new exercises. When trying new things, it’s always great to start small. From there, increasing weight allows you overload faster. This relates back to our earlier point on progressive overload. The most common way to keep pushing yourself is to add more weight. If your dumbbells are too much, then you can also shift to a barbell.
However, while you can grow exponentially, it’s important to know how much to add at a time. Everyone grows at a different pace, and if you’re adding too much weight at once, you can strain a muscle from overworking it. While this a potential issue for any exercise, adding too much weight are one of the most common causes of strains. Consider consulting a PT or physio for advice.
Speed and tempo.
From blitzing your exercises and tiring yourself out quickly – and repeating this – to performing your exercises extremely slowly, feeling every muscle as they tense, engage and burn. You’ll likely hear that both are ‘better’, and there are good arguments for and against:
Having a slower tempo allows you more control, more time under tension, and greater muscle growth through endurance. This could be a 2-2-2 or 1-1-3 tempo.
Meanwhile, fast reps promote explosive power, allows you to get your workout done faster, and maximises your strength training. This would usually be 1-1-1.
If you’re heading in for group training or visiting your PT, you likely will be varying your tempo each workout. You might not even realise it. However, when going back to your fitness goals, if you’re aiming for muscle growth, you might want to slow down. If you’re aiming to get stronger, you might want to speed up. If you just want to nebulously lose weight, then it might not matter, and your tempo can be what you’re comfortable with.
One thing you do need to keep in mind is that, beyond tempo and gains, you need to always be in control of the weight. On the concentric, the faster, the more explosive your power. Then, slow down on the eccentric, to ensure that you remain in control. If you’re going too fast, and don’t know what you’re doing, you can quickly injure yourself or others. Be careful!
Finally, changing equipment.
The most important thing to consider is if you need the equipment. Equipment is meant to make exercises more accessible and allows you to grow faster. While many exercises don’t need much equipment at all, and others need only a free weight or bands, equipment is simply more effective in helping you reach your fitness goals.
For instance, while you can do squats, lunges, push-ups, and so on without equipment, adding dumbbells will allow you to overload and reduce the amount of reps. While you can do hundreds of reps a day, you will ultimately begin to stagnate and run out of time to focus on other things.
On the same vein, dumbbells are also restricted in what they can do. Let’s consider the deadlift. You can do a dumbbell deadlift, carrying up to potentially 150kg if you really tried or consider the traditional barbell deadlift. Dumbbells are better for balance and endurance training, wherein you can improve your posture and stability. Meanwhile, barbells let you load a lot more weight onto them, making it better for strength training, and pushing your limits. So, while you can do the deadlift with dumbbells or barbells (or other machines at the gym), equipment lets you continue growing beyond just what’s in front of you.
There are many variations of many exercises out there. It’s important that you know what’s right for your goals and your workouts. Consider what is important to you and try new things.
Comment down below how you vary your exercises!