This piece explains what exercise variation and movement variation are, and how they can help or hurt your training if not implemented appropriately.
WHAT IS EXERCISE VARIATION?
Exercise variation is exactly what it sounds like. It means you do a bunch of different kinds of exercises. Exercise variation can be in reference to one workout, or your week of workouts, or your entire training program. For example: If you always do squats for your workout, then you have no exercise variation. If you always do a different exercise, then you have a lot of exercise variation in your workouts.
WHAT IS MOVEMENT VARIATION?
Movement variation is NOT exercise variation. They are different things. Movement variation means you do the same foundational movement, but slightly change it. An example of movement variation would be front squats, back squats, sumo squats. These are all squats, but they are slightly different versions of the same movement. Another example of movement variation would be a basketball player who practices throwing three pointers from different parts of the three-point line. Ultimately, that player is still shooting three-pointers over and over, but they require slightly different skills because some can rely more or less on the backboard, and so on.
This picture is of plank variations: a kind of movement variation:
WHEN SHOULD YOU USE EXERCISE VARIATION?
Exercise variation can be good or bad for your workouts, depending on how it is implemented.
Exercise variation can be beneficial to avoid the “burnout” of doing the same workout all the time. Some athletes even plateau on progress without some exercise variation in their programming (which is why periodized training can be important). Exercise variation can be important to make sure that all your important muscle groups are being targeted, and that you are not neglecting one muscle that is important for stability of a joint. If you get injured, it can be very important to switch up your regular exercises with new ones to strengthen the injured area, or to lay off that injured area until it is healed.
That being said, Too much exercise variation can be bad. It is important to try to avoid exercise variation where possible. If you never repeat any fundamental motions throughout your training, then your body can never improve those movements. Therefore, if you are trying to improve a specific skill or a specific muscle group then you need to train that exercise repeatedly. For example, if you only do a plank once every 4 months, and then do a bunch of other core exercises in between, you won’t see nearly as much improvement in your plank as if you had practiced planks two or three times a week for that same time period. This is when too much exercise variation can be bad.
WHEN SHOULD YOU USE MOVEMENT VARIATION?
We talked above about the pros and cons of exercise variation, but what about movement variation?
When you were a baby and your parents were trying to teach you to walk, what did they do? They made you try to walk over and over and over again. You tried walking holding their hands. They made you walk holding the couch. You walked on carpet. They made you walk on tile. Eventually, you walked by yourself. Your parent’s used movement variation to train the same skill (walking) until you got really good at it.
Many athletes do use movement variation in their training on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. Movement variation is essential to making progress towards perfecting a skill. Movement variation is basically the idea behind “practice makes perfect”. If you practice a golf swing every day from the tee, from sand, and from a wooded area, eventually you will be able to hit a golf ball like a pro, from anywhere.
WHAT DOES VARIATION HAVE TO DO WITH THERAPY?
The important thing to know about movement variation, is that it not only trains the skill, but it helps us to be able to do the same skill in many different contexts. It wouldn’t be very helpful if you could only walk on flat concrete ground right? Then you couldn’t walk in the grass, or on a dock, or on a beach. With movement variation, we can learn to be able to perform a skill in many contexts so we can apply it to anytime in our lives. This is especially important when trying to break old habits, like bad posture, and trying to implement it into your everyday activities.
Movement variation is also important to physical therapy recovery because the goal of physical therapy is to train/ retrain important movements, and then eventually be able to make you skilled enough to continue them in your everyday life.
This week on our facebook page and instagram (@symmetryptmiami), we are discussing neutral spine, and give you a few great variations of the bridge exercise to train your spine to remain neutral!