Boredom. Monotony. Tedium. The same day after day. Dull as tombs. Nothing new under the sun. As fun as watching paint dry. While we hope these phrases don’t apply to any part of your life, we definitely hope they don’t describe, above all things, your workout! We’re half-kidding, of course. Nonetheless, variety is definitely the proverbial (and, we’d argue, essential) spice of a fitness program.
Of course, there’s the issue of motivation. If you’re schlepping yourself to the gym with the look of the “Time to make the donuts” guy, it’s time to shake things up a bit. And, wouldn’t you know it, research out of the University of Florida in Gainesville suggests the same. The study divided 114 men and women into three groups. The first group was given specific exercise instructions for their workouts that incorporated frequent variety. The second group was also given instructions for their workouts, but they were the same for each session. Researchers did not give the third group any guidelines regarding workout schedule or specific exercises. The study period lasted eight weeks, and those in the first two groups were instructed to exercise three times a week throughout the duration of the study. The group with the best retention and most reported satisfaction was – as I open the envelope – the first group that incorporated both structure and variety.
Variety, as we intend it here, is about more than momentary whim. The best kind of workout variety is a diverse and challenging program with clear options that you can adopt wholesale or configure to your needs and abilities. Not only does this kind of “menu” offer helpful structure and a more enjoyable mix of activity, it can also provide a more extensive, truly well-rounded fitness program. Sure, we talk ad nauseum about optimum health and fitness (‘cause we love this stuff), and what we mean by optimum isn’t targeted, restricted, narrow and incomplete. Solid, all around fitness, by necessity, requires substantial variety.
For these reasons, we like the Crossfit approach as it encompasses all fitness domains and an infinite diversity of exercise approaches. The idea behind a complete workout, as the Crossfit folks explain so well, is to “encourage creative and continuously varied compositions that tax physiological functions against every realistically conceivable combination of stressors.” With everything from weight sets to medicine balls to pirouettes to kips and cartwheels, the Crossfit philosophy intends to work it all and work it all in. They offer an immense list of exercises and demonstrations. We’d suggest taking a look and laying out some new options you’d like to try.
Ideally, your workout routine should change almost daily. Though that concept might seem a bit intimidating to someone who’s just established a solid routine, don’t feel you need to “re”- build Rome in a day. And it doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t have a core set of activities to work from, but let those core exercises make up a part of your workout, not the full extent of your total program. Look at how you can incorporate variety into the course of a week’s program, and go from there. Variety isn’t just the natural antidote to boredom; it’s the best remedy for the inevitable plateau we hit when we stay on the same track too long.
Whether your workout leaves you feeling blasé these days or you feel you can kick it up a notch and challenge yourself anew, we’d suggest laying out a new outline with a fresh set of goals. It’s one thing to be a man/woman with a plan, but quite another to be half-consciously stuck in a self-limiting, numbing rut.
So, we’ll turn it over to you now. How do you keep your fitness routine from becoming rank? What does variety mean for your workout approach?
Oh, and one last thing: check back in coming months for a Primal Fitness column. We plan on bringing you more tips, tricks and workout suggestions to get Primally fit in a variety of ways.