Is Exercise Variety Wrecking Your Workouts?

is exercise variety wrecking your workouts

I’ve talked before about how often you should change your workouts.

And I’ve mentioned that in the fitness industry, it can be very popular to offer variety just for the sake of offering variety.

When I spoke about it before I meant specifically in the context of your workouts, but that can also go down one level to the specific exercises you choose as well.

And it is sometimes possible to go down the rabbit hole of trying to put so much variety into your exercise selection that effectiveness goes out the window.

So is it possible your exercise variety is wrecking your workouts?

Variety For The Sake Of Variety

I think it’s also worth remembering that exercises can be effective. They can be effective and varied and they can also be varied without being effective.

It’s quite common that in the pursuit of a variety of exercises, we actually end up losing the effectiveness of the exercise that we’re trying to do, or of the training effect that we’re trying to achieve.

Two very good examples come to mind.

Weird Push Up Variations

The first one came up from one of the fitness apps I’m subscribed to – or was subscribed to.

There’s a strength workout in there where the instructor is getting you to do a bear plank pushup.

A bear position is if you imagine you’re on the ground on all fours, you tuck your toes and lift your knees off the ground.

They’re hovering off the ground a little bit, and basically doing a pushup from that position. So it’s varied.

A bear plank is a great exercise.

A pushup is a great exercise.

Combined, maybe not.

But that’s choosing variety over maybe effectiveness.

A bear plank is great for the core and for stabilizing through your shoulders.

Pushups are great for upper body strength, particularly your chest, shoulders, and arms.

When you combine them, you’re probably not getting the effective core workout you want. You’re also probably not working the upper body muscle groups that you want to work.

At the angle you’re going at you’re going to be putting a lot of strain through your neck and shoulders, which is something you probably want to avoid usually.

Spin Class Nonsense

Another one that really, really bugs me is pushups in the middle of the spin class.

So you’re doing them on the spin bike.

And it’s not just that it’s not effective. It’s also probably dangerous.

Usually, most people in a spin class will go up and down in their push-ups to match the beat of the music.

They’ll also be pedalling on that same beat, which means that they’ll always be pushing down with the same foot when they go down into their push-ups.

So what that’s going to do is it’s going to put your core in a slightly off-centre or maybe twisted position.

And because every time you go down and in your push up, you’re going to be going down at the same side, you’re going to create an imbalance in your core.

And that can – especially if you don’t alternate the legs that you do it with – that is going to lead to imbalance, which can lead to injury.

If someone has the presence of mind to alternate feet when they are trying to do that, it is a better way of managing it. But a lot of the time it’s hard to keep up with the rhythm, keep up with the beat and still work out how to alternate your feet at the same time.

Also same as with the bear pushups the angle is a little bit skewed.

So again, you’re going to be coming down and putting pressure through your neck and shoulders, which is something you want to avoid.

And lastly, spin can be a very intense cardio class and you can sweat a lot.

Imagine if you have sweaty handlebars, you’re holding onto them. You go down in the pushup, your hands slide forward. You can smack your head on the handlebars.

To be honest, I have a very strong bias against turning a spin class into an upper body workout, but that might be something for future content.

I also don’t know why there seems to be this trend amongst fitness instructors to want to try and bastardize pushups. But here we are.

When Exercise Variety Is Important

It’s always worth thinking that yes, an exercise might be giving you some variety in changing up your workout a little bit, but is it effective?

Is it keeping you in line with what you’re aiming to achieve? Is it helping you move towards your goal?

There are some occasions where variety just for the sake of variety, rather than thinking about effectiveness can help.

Plateau Busting

Say you’re stuck on a certain plateau with lifting weights. And you just wanted to mix things up a little bit, just to see if it can help you get over that plateau. It’s worth trying.

Giving Yourself A Break

When you’re doing a specific movement pattern or a specific exercise on repeat, you sometimes just need to sort of mix things up a little bit to reduce your risk of injury.

A good example can probably be back squats. I love back squats (with the barbell on the back). That can, however, put a lot of pressure on your back and on your spine. So now and then then it might be worth mixing up your squat variations.

You might switch to front squats, you might switch to overhead squats, or you might switch to lunges just to change the movement pattern, and also take some of the pressure off your back and off your spine to let it get a little bit more recovery in.

Introducing New Kinds Of Training

And it can also help to ease yourself into a new style of training.

I’ve gotten into yoga a lot more recently, but I had a huge mental block to doing it for a while before that.

What worked for me was Les Mills BodyBalance. It’s called a yoga fusion class. So it’s yoga moves and some pilates moves synchronized to music.

And so it’s not really pure yoga.

There’s more variety in there for me. And it was a bit more structured to music. So it was a very good starting point for me to actually get enough into yoga, to be able to carry that on, on my own.

For The Sake Of Fun

And of course, sometimes variety is just there to make things more fun. That is an important part. And maybe I didn’t emphasize that enough earlier.

Because you do need to enjoy your workouts to be able to stick to them.

Just remember that sometimes there may be a trade-off between doing something that’s effective and something that’s varied.

Minimum Effective Dose

When thinking about workout or exercise variety versus effectiveness, I am a big fan of minimum effective dose.

I like to focus on getting maximum bang for my buck from my workout, and then that leaves me free to do other things – like complain about horrible pushup variations that I have a grudge against.

is exercise variety wrecking your workouts

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