Porcelain Post: Exercise Variety
NOTE: the term “Porcelain Post” was invented by Brian Patrick Murphy and Pete Dupuis. Without getting into the specifics, it describes a post that can be read in the same time it takes you to go #2.
Huh, I guess that was more specific than I thought.
Know what I say about exercise variety?
“Exercise variety, shmeshmercise flafliriety.”
As in, “Exercise variety? Meh.”
As in, “You don’t need as much of as you think you need.”
Or, to put it another way: “fuck it, it’s overrated.”
I’ve reached a tipping point of tolerance, hovering in the vicinity of going bat-shit crazy as it relates to watching people wasting repetitions (and their time) performing superfluous exercises in the name of Likes and Instagram bragging rights.
Don’t get me wrong: I understand that for some of you reading, this comes across as nothing more than me playing the role of ornery, cantankerous strength-coach…hellbent on reminding everyone that, “when I was your age, I worked out without Tweeting about it, barbells were pretty much it, and I didn’t even CrossFit.”
Now, please excuse me while I go yell at the kids to get off my lawn (and then peel out of my driveway in my Gran Torino).
Exercise variety has its place. I want to make that clear. For some people it’s the “variety” that keeps them sane and motivated to show up day in and day out.
Sometimes, it is about having fun, and there’s a degree of excitement and anticipation when we head to the gym to try something new.
I’m all for it.
In addition, exercise variety can also be a valuable asset to help address technique flaws or weaknesses with any one particular lift. It’s that subtle jolt in doing something different – while attacking something specific – that can make all the difference in the world.
Conversely, it’s the vanilla nature of doing the same exercises, in the same order, for the same sets/reps for weeks, months, and years on end that oftentimes derails progress.
So, in many ways, exercise variety is a crucial component in long-term, consistent, and systemic (improved) performance in the weight room.
On the flip side….
Exercise Variety Can Stagnate Mastery
Far too often I find trainees grow infatuated with the “newness” of new. They turn into Dug, the dog from the movie Up:
Before they’re able to demonstrate any semblance of understanding and “mastery” of an exercise – in this case lets default to the “big 3 (squat, bench press, deadlift) – they’re distracted by the squirrel, or the shiny, gimmicky, whateverthef*** exercise that that guy is doing over there in the corner of the gym.
I am right there with you: the hip hinge looks boring, and it is boring.
It’s not a sexy exercise, and it most certainly will not win you any social media followers; but I gotta tell ya, as a coach, nothing is more valuable to me than the hip hinge.
Once someone masters that, their exercise toolbox grows exponentially.
I can more or less do whatever I want with him or her.
KB Swing? Check.
Fight Jason Bourne? Check.
It behooves me to drill the “big 3,” to the point of boredom and nausea, over and over and over and over again.
The Pareto Principle almost always applies here: 80% of your results are going to come from 20% of the work. If someone wants to get strong, more athletic, or even shredded…the basic, boring, “stuff” is going to get the job done.
I mean, if you want to get better at back squatting…back squat!
I know, I’m full of good ideas.
Besides, you can add plenty of “variety” playing with bar position, foot position, stance width, in addition to fluctuating sets/reps, tempo, and rest intervals.
Granted it’s an “old school” approach, but what good does it do to spend a week or even a month on a given exercise only to move on before any level of competence or motor learning has transpired?
What good does it do to add variety for the sake of adding variety?
We are providing a service, and we must take into consideration our client’s goals and preferences. There is a degree of compromise.
Mastering the basics, using less variety, at least in the beginning, for most people, most of the time, is going to supersede exercise flamboyance.