Boy do we love variety. We love eating new things. We love wearing new clothes. We love dating new people.
And it’s pretty simple to understand why. Never before, in the course of humanity, have we had access to so many options. With our insta-alerts about insta-grams on insta-dates, we are insta-distracted by something new! something other! something sexier? something different!
This study from Microsoft revealed that our attention span is now less than a goldfish.
Sheeit. We’re becoming a culture of goldfish.
But this isn’t only a tale of technology. Our obsession with variety has crept its way into our relationship with exercise. The success of group fitness classes and CrossFit rely upon this obsession. We call these chaotic training methods because they fully embrace constant variety – a new workout every time you walk through the door. Obviously there is no consideration given to short or long term progression, because you’re not doing the workout again. Variety is king.
Here’s the problem: when we allow our diminishing attention span to dictate our training, with no consideration given to short or long term progression, we eventually stop making progress. Progress should be our master, not variety.
Variety is the spice of life.
– William Cowper
Classic. And true. But think about it. If variety is the spice of life then CONSTANT variety is like having way too many spices. That shit won’t taste good.
From a physiological standpoint, too much variety is just as detrimental to progress as too little. The problem isn’t so much that we need less variety, it’s that we need a stronger training stimulus to push our body towards adaptation. One workout simply isn’t enough to get better. We have to do the workout again, and again, and again…incrementally challenging our previous benchmarks. Baby steps. This is called phase training and is a better long term strategy for our collective dreams of bigger, faster, stronger.
Obviously there is a shelf life to phase training as well. Continue to do the same workout too long, and your body (and mind) will get bored. We’ve gotta Goldilocks it – there is a variety sweet spot where progress continues to kick ass week after week, month after month, year after year.
If you plan on training for less than 2 months, it literally doesn’t matter what you do. Any challenging fitness routine will elicit growth. But who the hell wants to have a short term relationship with progress? If you’d like to make gainz ad-infitum, you’d better get organized.
Your first class ticket to organization station:
With a smart plan in tow, the next step is a question of execution: what does a well executed training phase look like? Enter, training logs.
Bandana Laws of Training Logs
Keeping track of your workouts is vitally important. It’s what separates the champions from the wanna-be’s, the lions from the gazelles, the micro-brews from the Coors Light. Here are a few of the rules I use to help guarantee success:
I) I record all of my workouts on my iPad because I like to save the rainforest.
II) Always record the date of the workout so you can reference it later on.
III) While there are many ways to progress a workout, the most traditional is intensity – increase the weight of a lift. Here’s a good example of a client log that utilizes traditional training blocks. Notice that load and reps are recorded:
*A weird note about me. For barbell exercises, I like to record the load on ONE SIDE of the barbell. This is because I spend so much time in the gym with such a wide variety of clients, I don’t want to constantly subtract the weight of the bar and divide by two to figure out what I should be putting on the bar (no it’s not hard math, it’s just an unnecessary step and I’m a whore for efficiency.) Plus, I’m not generally concerned with how much weight my clients lift, I only care that they’re pushing their limits – wherever those might be.
IV) Generally speaking, workouts should be written with rep ranges. If you fall outside of the rep range, the next week don’t add additional load. For example, in week 3 (7/21/2015) of the workout above, the athlete (let’s call him Tyrannosaurus Flex) was unable to finish the 8th reps of 45º DB bench. Instead of increasing the following week, the weight remained at 90 lbs, but Tyrannosaurus Flex was able to get all of the prescribed reps. This offers a strong psychological bonus as well – athletes quickly learn that they “earn” progress – you no gimme 8 reps, you no lifty heavier weights.
V) Intensity is not the only way we progress a workout. For energy system intervals, I’ll often record treadmill speed. So if my workout includes 1/4 mile sprints, it looks like this:
If you’re doing 1/4 mile sprints at a track, you’d record your 1/4 mile splits. If you’re doing density training, you would record total sets. If you’re doing timed circuits, you would record the time. If you’re doing progressive distance training, you would record total miles covered. And so on, and so on.
VI) As sure as the grass is green, the sky is blue, and the ocean is wet, if you record your workouts, you’ll get more out of them. Plus, you’ll think twice about skipping your auxiliary sets if you have to write that shit down.
The big take-homes are this: When it comes to training, progress (not variety) is king. That means we need a thoughtful plan, determined execution, and immaculate training log. But if you want to leave your fate up to the gods, that’s cool too…you’ll just never be Hercules.