The most important concept you must understand regarding training is progressive overload. This is just a fancy term which means your training (your workouts) are getting harder. This can be by increasing the weight you’re lifting on an exercise, performing more repetitions on an exercise you previously did, doing more sets with an exercise you previously did, etc. There’s a few more but I’ll spare you the details. They’re not important for this short blog post.
I’ve had countless conversations with people thinking that you have to change up the workout every time you exercise in order to get results. Just last night one of my clients explained to me that he heard you had to do this in order to “confuse” your muscles so you continually make progress without any plateaus. So lets set the record straight. This is complete B.S. I don’t know how this urban myth got started but it apparently won’t die. Actually doing this would be a great way to ensure that you don’t make much progress. And here is the reason.
What gets measured gets improved. If you change things every time there’s no way to measure progress because there’s no frame of reference. What would you be measuring it against if you never repeated an exercise?
First of all, you can’t confuse your muscles because they don’t have a brain. What’s really going on here has to do with your brain and not your muscles. Your brain eventually gets used to the rep ranges with an exercise first, not the actual exercise. So using the back squat as an example, if your rep ranges are 4-6 repetitions, your brain will get used to those prescribed reps before it gets used to the movement pattern of the back squat. So you could continue to do back squats once you’re not seeing improvement, but you should be changing the rep ranges. Once you’re not able to go up in weight while maintaining 4-6 reps you’ve adapted to that rep range. How quickly this happens is often referred to as your “rate of adaptation”.
Here is a real world example of one of my clients actual training sessions.
If you look to the far right you’ll notice some big numbers below a column labeled TOTALS. That is the total poundage lifted once all the weight, reps, and sets are added up.
So A1 is the Mid Incline Barbell Press. On the first workout (the one on the top with the date of 1-17-11) the total amount lifted was 2450 pounds. On the second workout (the one on the bottom with the date of 1-24-11) that same exercise totaled 2600 pounds (130 pounds lifted for 5 repetitions equals 650 pounds. That exercise was done for 4 total sets with the same weight and the same amount of repetitions of 5. 650 times 4 equals 2600 pounds). That’s the difference of 150 pounds lifted from his first workout of just that one exercise to the second workout. And that happened for EVERY exercise. The total difference lifted between the two workouts equals 1136 pounds.
As stated earlier, how on earth would you know you lifted more weight or did more reps of a certain exercise if it was never repeated because you bought into this ridiculous concept of doing something different every time you exercised to “confuse” your muscles. If you’re being sincere the answer is you wouldn’t.
There’s a very good strength coach I respect that says to remember to keep the goal the goal. This sounds like a simple concept but from my experience people have a very difficult time doing this.
If you’re looking for improvement remember that. Don’t make the mistake of training for entertainment. Unless of course that’s why you’re training. When people hire me they never mention that though. They’re looking for improvement with hard evidence and I bet that’s why you train. Numbers are hard evidence and very important. They don’t lie.