Find the Sweet Spot: Balance Constancy with Variety

Do you keep hitting plateaus? Temper routine with variety to reinvigorate your training.

Charles is here on a weekly basis to help you cut through the B.S. and get some real perspective regarding health and training. Please post feedback or questions to Charles directly in the comments below this article.

Charles is here on a weekly basis to help you cut through the B.S. and get some real perspective regarding health and training. Please post feedback or questions to Charles directly in the comments below this article.

Last week I wrote about the often under-appreciated relationship between training novelty and the hypertrophy process. That article generated an interesting and worthwhile question on my Facebook page:

“Makes sense … but do you ever feel like you struggle to keep track of your progress if you constantly change your program?”

This question brings up an interesting point, which I’d like to elaborate on this week.

The Truth Is In the Middle

Like many things in life, the truth is not found in either extreme, but in the middle. In the realm of training, you have to find the sweet spot between two competing, but required, demands:

  • Constancy
  • Novelty (or put another way, variety)

Constancy is vital. Repeating a specific stimulus is essential to obtaining whatever fitness attribute you’re trying to improve. If you want to improve your aerobic fitness, you need to train at a specific heart rate. If you’re aiming to improve your maximum strength, you need to use heavy weights for low reps. And if you’re looking to make a specific muscle bigger, you’ve got to train that muscle often, using the appropriate exercises.

At the same time, training schedules that are too monotonous are problematic for at least a couple of reasons:

  • Adaptation: As I discussed last week, variation is critically important to keep the adaptation process moving forward. As soon as your body figures out a specific type of challenge, it reacts to that stimulus less vigourously. A simple test will convince you. Perform an activity that you’ve never done before. Maybe it’s yoga. After your first class, you’ll be so sore you can hardly get out of bed. After a few months of regular yoga classes, you’ll barely have any soreness at all. After a year, yoga no longer makes you sore at all, because your body figured it out long ago.
  • Phase Summation: There’s another reason variation can have a beneficial effect on your training, and it has to do with something Dr. Mike Israetel calls “phase summation.” Some types of physical adaptation are foundational to others. For example, muscle hypertrophy is a foundation for maximum strength. While you could train for size and strength simultaneously (in the same week or same workout, for example), you’re better off training these two adaptations sequentially, in phases.

Remain in each phase of your training only until you stop progressing. Then try something else.

If you always do everything, it’s hard to find anything new to throw at your body to get out of a plateau. By training in phases, you can, for example, do sets of 12 for 4 weeks for hypertrophy, and then shift to sets of 5 for strength. This sudden change in training stimulus re-awakens your body’s adaptive processes, resulting in renewed growth.

A practical question at this point might be, “How long should I stay in one phase before moving on to the next?” The best way to tackle that question is to base the length of your current training phase on its results. For example, if you’re in a strength phase where you bench press for 5 sets twice a week, after a certain point (perhaps 3-6 weeks) you’ll find yourself unable to make further progress. This stagnation indicates that your body is no longer responding to the stimulus. At this point, you’d be wise to change your exercise menu, intensity bracket, or ideally, both.

Back Off to Move Forward

Taking breaks from regular training reinvigorates the adaptation process. If you’ve been training consistently for a long time, even regular changes to your training schedule will fail to have a pronounced effect on your progress. At this stage, perhaps the only thing your body isn’t used to is – wait for it – not training.

If you find your training is taking a back burner over the holiday season, relax. Backing off for a week or so might be exactly what you need. In fact, that’s how my own training is looking this week, and I’m not stressing about it at all.

This Week’s Training:

Volume: 52,252lb (Last Week: 93,804lb)

Significant Lifts:

• Deadlift: 425lb x2

• Chin Ups: 13 reps

As I alluded to, my training isn’t exactly on level 11 this week, which is just fine by me. I’m recuperating, planning, consolidating, and putting my thoughts together for my 2016 plans and goals. However, I still managed four sessions this week, even though three of them were fairly abbreviated.

Thanks for checking in. Next week I’ve got an interesting piece for you on a few different things I’ve been pondering lately. I think you’ll find it useful, so be sure to check back.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Bodyweight: 201.6lb

Volume: 20,900lb

Seated Leg Curl

  • Set 1: 130lb × 10
  • Set 2: 130lb × 10
  • Set 3: 130lb × 10

Goblet Squat

  • Set 1: 30lb × 10
  • Set 2: 55lb × 10
  • Set 3: 70lb × 10

Notes: No pain

High Bar Squat

  • Set 1: 95lb × 10
  • Set 2: 135lb × 10
  • Set 3: 185lb × 10
  • Set 4: 225lb × 10
  • Set 5: 225lb × 10
  • Set 6: 185lb × 10

Notes: Slight medial knee pain in left knee on 225 only


  • Set 1: 225lb × 10

Seated Calf Raise

  • Set 1: 90lb × 10
  • Set 2: 90lb × 10

Hack Squat

  • Set 1: 90lb × 10
  • Set 2: 90lb × 10

Notes: These feel safe and productive – I probably feel them in my quads more than anything else I do.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Bodyweight: 201.2lb

Volume: 7,750lb

Bench Press

  • Set 1: 45lb × 10
  • Set 2: 95lb × 10
  • Set 3: 135lb × 10
  • Set 4: 165lb × 10
  • Set 5: 185lb × 10

Bicep Curl (Dumbbell)

  • Set 1: 40lb × 10
  • Set 2: 50lb × 10
  • Set 3: 60lb × 10

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Bodyweight: 201lb

Volume: 9,925lb

Goblet Squat

  • Set 1: 30lb × 10
  • Set 2: 30lb × 10
  • Set 3: 30lb × 10


  • Set 1: 135lb × 10
  • Set 2: 225lb × 5
  • Set 3: 275lb × 3
  • Set 4: 315lb × 3
  • Set 5: 365lb × 2
  • Set 6: 425lb × 2

Hack Squat

  • Set 1: 50lb × 10
  • Set 2: 90lb × 10
  • Set 3: 90lb × 10
  • Set 4: 90lb × 10

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Bodyweight: 200.8lb

Volume: 13,677lb

Military Press

  • Set 1: 45lb × 10
  • Set 2: 65lb × 10
  • Set 3: 85lb × 10
  • Set 4: 85lb × 10
  • Set 5: 85lb × 10

Chin Up

  • Set 1: 1 rep
  • Set 2: 2 reps
  • Set 3: 3 reps
  • Set 4: 4 reps
  • Set 5: 5 reps
  • Set 6: 6 reps
  • Set 7: 13 reps (Video Below)

Bench Press

  • Set 1: 135lb × 10
  • Set 2: 155lb × 10

Goblet Squat

  • Set 1: 30lb × 10

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