Five Simple Ways to Vary Exercise Programs

At a meeting today I had a colleague ask me a simple request that I get fairly often.  She wanted to have her current program she received from another trainer “tweaked” a bit because she was getting bored (that’s why they call it a “routine”).  It was also a great reminder to me of the fact that some people receive guidance from a trainer and are given limited options for what exercises they can do for themselves and how that should be applied.  The nice thing about the human body is that it is so versatile and can achieve so many different positions.   Just for an example, with only one degree of deviation your glenohumeral (shoulder) joint can actually achieve over 60,000 different position starts.  There are literally thousands of different ways you can perform exercises, but to simplify I’m going to give you some of the easier ways to change up your exercise program and give your joints a different application if you feel you are becoming stagnant.

The only thing I’m going to mention is as always that your exercise modifications should be appropriate for you specifically.  This means that if your joint doesn’t want to go there, don’t force it to try.  You also have to consider your ability to control the joint in question – this means, if you can’t control the movement then you should probably modify it another way.  People can run into lots of trouble by trying to do things they have no business doing (and this is where people like me come in).  CrossFit, P90X and Insanity are prime examples of this type of thing and is why many people tend to get hurt rather quickly.  That’s not a knock against any specific methodology, it is a knock against people being told to do things way too hard that they can’t control properly simply for the sake of feeling something or hitting an arbitrary number of reps or time.

Digression over – here’s some simple ways to throw some variety into your current program and stimulate your body in a different way:


This is the most obvious one of course.  Simply by once in a while increasing (or even decreasing) your weight and then doing the same movement for a different number of repetitions changes the stimulation.  Next time you want to do a chest press, simply increase the weight by 10-20% and see how many repetitions you can do with good control.  And for those of you who might be worried, you aren’t going to blow up into the Hulk simply because something is five or ten pounds heavier.  This will also be a reminder that you’re probably not lifting heavy enough weight in the first place because if it feels easy, then it probably isn’t doing much.


If you automatically default to 3 sets of 10 repetitions, adjust and add a 4th set.  Or, if this seems like too much you can always drop down to 8 reps and still add on the fourth set.  Different people are stimulated differently.  Some of us can even get away with one maximal set and still see excellent results.  While I wouldn’t advise this for everyone, it is just an indicator that the typical way of doing things isn’t always the most effective for the individual involved.  Another way to do this might be to drop a set, but take the repetitions up – so instead of 3 sets of 10, try 2 sets of 15 (if you can control the weight).


Most people lift heavy things way too fast and without any control.  When I’m with my clients I am typically all over them making sure everything is perfect with every repetition and cuing as we go.  To try this out, simply slow everything down that you’re performing to about half speed.  You can even count out seconds if you like.  This can basically take your time under tension to double or triple what it previously was, which fatigues everything that much more.  Conversely, you can also adjust in mid rep – for example lowering the weight slowly and then raising it with some speed.  Just be careful:  speed generates inertia and momentum and can cause a massive increase in torque around your joint.  The rules about control still apply.


We all normally take rest periods in between sets, but there are many people who are guilty of taking far too long or not long enough.  The general rule is that the lower your repetition range is, the longer your rest period should be.  Powerlifters when they are attempting triples will often rest for five minutes or more between sets.  Have you ever timed your rest periods?  Keeping consistent time between sets can change your workout entirely.  The next time you do your workout, try to decrease your rest periods by even 15 seconds.  It can mean that you lose control faster during an actual set but can also give your body a different type of stimulation.  Rest periods are one thing that many people don’t even think about when they exercise


Like I explained with your shoulder, there are so many different ways that you can move through a range of motion that you really don’t need to ever do the same movement twice.  In RTS, we call this “rotating your tires” because by simply abducting your shoulder to a different angle you can change how the muscles are stimulated crossing it.  For example, if you normally do forward lunges, try reverse lunges or lateral lunges.  If you normally do chest press flat, try incline or decline.  This also means that you may have to adjust the load in question in order to perform the movement properly.  It still stimulates the joints in question, just in a slightly different way in terms of force which is why you need to be careful.

Of course, you can also apply more than one of these at a time.  For example, for your next workout you could do the same routine but increase your load, slow down your lowering portion and only rest for 30 seconds in between sets.  Your body will have a slightly different stimulation and it will give you a bit of variety in your workouts in a very simple way.  Give it a try and you can thank me the next day (or not)!


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