The Importance of VarietyBy Ross Enamait - Published in 2004
Variety is defined as the quality or state of having different forms or types. Variety can be important within a strength and conditioning program. Athletes involved in multifaceted events have a need for variety, as they must develop multiple physical qualities. Think of the combat athlete as the perfect example. It is not enough to be strong if one lacks endurance. It is not enough to be fast if one lacks power. The fighter who is well rounded is often the fighter who excels.
Unfortunately, many trainers and athletes follow a narrow-minded approach to fitness. These individuals select a sole training modality. They reap the benefits of one style, while ignoring, and often discrediting, the effectiveness of all others.
Consider the common argument about bodyweight exercise and weight training. One individual may boast superiority based on his ability to perform 20 pull-ups and 100 pushups. Another individual may claim superiority based on his barbell squat and bench press abilities.
Who is the superior athlete?
To those expecting an answer, unfortunately I cannot provide one. There is no correct answer. An athlete is not defined by his ability to perform a certain number of repetitions or by how much weight he can lift. Athletes must be evaluated and judged based on performance.
There is no training device or system that serves as a panacea for strength and conditioning. Too many individuals spend excessive amounts of time trying to justify their training system (while discrediting others). These individuals would be better served by incorporating variety into their program.
Who is to say that bodyweight exercise is superior to weight training, or vice versa? Who is to say that kettlebells are superior to dumbbells, or vice versa? What about sandbags, medicine balls, or clubbells? What about sport-specific skill training?
We are all individuals, each with unique strengths, weaknesses, goals, and objectives. No one should preach the absolute superiority of one particular training system, device, or methodology.
I prefer (and recommend) a system that incorporates variety. Regardless of your goals and desires, you will be well served with variety. I personally train with barbells, dumbbells, bodyweight exercise, medicine balls, sandbags, sledgehammers, sprints, intervals, and more. Each tool and system can provide benefits if used correctly.
The athlete must incorporate variety into his program to become complete. There is no single exercise or piece of equipment that will create a complete athlete. It is unfortunate that so many individuals fail to include variety into their exercise routine. These individuals continue to train the same way, day after day, week after week. Their results are limited due to the natural process of habituation. As related to strength and conditioning, habituation is defined as tolerance to the effects of a particular activity acquired through continued use. When you train the same way continuously, your body adapts and adjusts to the load that is placed against it.
In order for a muscle to increase in strength, the workload must be greater than normal. By overloading the muscle, your body responds and adapts by growing stronger. Once the body adapts, a new stimulus is required to continue the reaction. If the workload does not progressively increase, there will be no further gains in strength and endurance.
By incorporating variety, you have many tools and systems available to foster progression. Consider the martial artist who refuses to train with weights. This individual boasts his ability to perform 500 bodyweight squats. This accomplishment is impressive (strength endurance), but what happens when he attempts to squat with 300 pounds on his back (maximal strength)? If this individual has not squatted with heavy weights, there is a good chance that he will be sent crashing to the floor, unable to handle the weight.
What about the individual who routinely squats 300 pounds? What happens when he attempts to perform a one-legged squat with his non-working leg extended in front of his body? He may struggle to perform one repetition. Perhaps he lacks the balance, coordination, and flexibility to perform this movement.
Each of these individuals assumes they are strong, but they are narrow-minded in their approach to strength and conditioning. A complete athlete will train with a complete program. This individual will be proficient with his own bodyweight, as well as added resistance.
Today's combative athlete must advance with the times. He must not limit himself to one training system, completely ignoring all others. Combat athletes should follow an integrated approach to strength and conditioning. I often compare a complete training program to a cooking recipe. There are several training ingredients that must be included. The combat athlete must first focus on developing and advancing his current skill set. Boxing, wrestling, and MMA are skill sports. Without skill, the athlete will have no avenue to deliver his strength and conditioning.
In addition to skill training, the athlete must condition himself to apply his skill. Common conditioning methods include interval training, heavy bag training, non-weighted GPP (General Physical Preparation), swinging a sledgehammer, and more. Common GPP exercises include burpees, jumping jacks, split jumps, mountain climbers, pushups, and bodyweight squats.
Another important ingredient is strength training. Combative athletes should incorporate variety into their strength-training program by working with barbells, dumbbells, sandbags, bodyweight exercise, etc.
Variety will expedite training results, while providing an avenue for continued progression.
How do you find time for each training device?
The answer is simple. You cannot work with each training device during one session. Incorporating variety within the plan is often much more subtle. Examples include altering exercise selection, working with a different variation of a similar exercise (ex. pull-ups vs. chin-ups, bench press vs. floor press, etc.), adding weight, modifying your repetition scheme, and training with different tools (ex. barbells vs. dumbbells). For example, you can develop a solid foundation by training with weights and bodyweight exercise. Eventually, you can supplement your workouts with various odd objects (ex. sandbags, kegs, heavy tires, sledgehammers, etc.).
Using myself as an example, let's look at a sample week (from the summer of 2004):
- Monday - Strength work with dumbbells, sandbags, and bodyweight exercise
- Tuesday - Plyometric work with the medicine ball, bodyweight variations, and sledgehammer training
- Wednesday - Energy system conditioning, along with bodyweight exercise
- Thursday - Strength work with dumbbells, sandbags, and bodyweight exercise
- Friday - Plyometric work with the medicine ball, bodyweight variations, and sledgehammer training
- Saturday - Energy system conditioning, along with bodyweight exercise
- Sunday - Rest
On Monday and Thursday, I focus on strength training. I integrate dumbbell training with sandbags and bodyweight exercise. I focus on full body movements such as dumbbell swings, snatches, overhead lifts, heavy rows, one-legged squats, handstand pushups, and a variety of sandbag power lifts.
On Tuesday and Friday, I integrate a variety of medicine ball drills with explosive bodyweight movements. I also train with the sledgehammer. I work through a variety of conditioning drills by smashing the sledgehammer against a large truck tire.
Wednesday and Saturday are reserved for my most intense conditioning sessions. These days include interval training on the track, hill sprints, sled dragging, and a variety of other conditioning drills.
In addition to the above listed schedule, I train at the boxing gym during the evening. The boxing workout includes skill training, sparring, core training, and more conditioning drills.
As you can see, there is not one training style that I single out over all others. Instead, I am able to reap the benefits of an integrated training program. The program is constantly changing to prevent habituation. I continue to attack and target the muscles from different angles, with different movements.
Be wary of those fitness gurus who recommend one training device over all others. There is a good chance that the individual has a financial interest in the training tool or system. Do not allow one's marketing speech to deter you from incorporating variety into your training routine.
Mix it up, incorporate variety, and have fun.
About the Author - Ross Enamait is an innovative athlete and trainer, whose training style is among the most intense that you will find. Ross is committed to excellence and advancements in high performance conditioning and strength development. He has a sincere interest in helping today's athlete in their quest for greatness.
Ross has authored several training manuals, and operates a training business in the New England area. Feel free to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow his regular updates at www.rosstraining.com/blog.