EFFECTIVE Program Design: Variation vs. Consistency in Physical Development

Hi folks!

Just an FYI…this one’s for the nerds (kind of a Kinesiology 101).

Last week I had a client who asked me a great question:  “Why we do so few “exercises” in a training bout vs. other trainers who have their clients moving all over the room?”  Actually, I told him, “I used to do just that.  I had the belief that being efficient and getting as much done as possible was the way.”  I did used to train like that for a while.   But, it was tiring and I didn’t seem to get a lot out of it.  For clients whose only respite from the cubicle was our workouts it worked.  Although, it seemed to take more discipline and energy than they really had left in their tank on a consistent basis.

Then, I read a book concerning business efficiencies and inefficiencies and they talked a bit about the concept of effectiveness vs. efficiency.  Efficiency gets a lot of tasks done.  Effectiveness gets specific tasks done that produce results!

So, I returned to the way that I had trained in college…careful, methodical, focused, attentive….with a few new tweeks and tools in my tool belt, of course.  This brings us to today’s topic…. the balancing of variation in a program vs. consistency.  In other words, “How to be EFFECTIVE!”

How do we balance variation versus consistency of movement?  We know that the body needs variation to adapt.  However, how is one to tell truly gauge progress when all variables are constantly changing?  Was the program effective and, if it was, what was effective element within it?

Here are some of the possible variables in a training program:  Resistance (weight), repetitions (volume), sets (volume), time under tension, body position, range of motion, direction of force or movement, unilateral vs bilateral movements, rest periods, speed of contraction, exercise order, stability, complexity of movement, change of direction of force, joint angle, heart rate, distance, acceleration/deceleration

Exercise science is just that…a science.  One of the main rules of the scientific method is that when doing an experiment, only one variable may be changed at one time while all others stay constant.  Otherwise the experiment cannot prove cause and effect as more than one possible cause has been changed.  Therefore, consistency must be kept in order to gather quantitative results.  And our clients’/athletes’ programs are nothing if not each an experiment in human adaptation.

However, the body is an amazing thing. It adapts to specific imposed demands.  Therefore, the more different types of demands we put on it, the more it may adapt.

With so many variables, how does one know which to keep constant and which to change?  Well, first we have to look at the client.  What are the needs of that specific person?  What will get them from where they are to where they need to be?  The only way to know this is through very thorough testing and evaluation.

Certain parts of a program need constant components while others need variable ones.  One needs to, based upon the results of testing, put together a set of exercises that need to keep consistent while only changing one progressive variable at a time over the course of a program. This is the “Core” **portion of the workout.  Most of the time, the basic compound movements will serve this purpose in the case of pure ‘strength’ training.  Jumping, sprinting, and other basic movements will serve in other conditioning aspects.

**not to be confused with “core” as in the center of the body

After determining the core portion, the variable exercise component should be added in a precise manner according to the testing in order to balance the body and meet any secondary needs.

For example, in the strength portion of a workout, the trainee may have ‘the deadlift’ as core exercise.  The weight and/or repetitions (intensity and volume) change from bout to bout.  But deadlift remains as the basic exercise in that portion of the workout.  The supporting strengthening exercises may change, such as lunges instead of step ups.  In parts of the workout for warmup, flexibility, athleticism, or correction, more variety still may be present based upon how the client feels and other day to day factors.

Jason Root, CSCS

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