How to Use Variation in Training

There are many fundamental training principles that are integral to a successful workout program. One of these principles is variation. Variation is important for working on weak points, letting your body recover/adapt, and for increasing overall training success and enjoyment. In this article, I will outline what variation is and give you some different ways of implementing it in your routine.

Photo by Andrew “Donovan” Valdivia on Unsplash


  • Variation = Any change in; Volume, Intensity, Frequency, Ex. selection, Technical Focus(how you perform an exercise i.e. stance, grip, cadence, etc.), Strategic Focus(exercise placement)
  • Why? We must periodically change training variables to optimize results and prevent staleness. 
  • What is staleness? Staleness is when our body adapts to the resistance we are placing on it. Basically, it gets use to us putting it under the same stress over and over again. If we do not vary our training, our body will not be forced to ADAPT and therefore we will not see very much progress. This staleness also puts us at an increased risk of injury.


There are two types of variation and it is important to distinguish between them in order to know when to apply each one. We do not just want to use variation randomly as we could be losing out on gains from exercises that benefit us the most!

  • Timely Variation – This is when we use a different stimulus to increase gains and refresh our old stimulus. For example, if you have been doing high bar squats for 6 months, you could switch to leg press in order to load the quads and hamstrings differently. Also, when you return to high bar squats, your body will not be used to the stimulus and will be forced to adapt.
  • Directed Variation – This is when we use a different stimulus to focus on a weak point. For example, if you struggle with the lock-out portion of your bench press, you could add in a board press to focus on loading that specific part of the movement.


Let’s say that your goal is to increase your deadlift 1RM strength. How should you vary your training?

You start your deadlifting workouts with regular deadlifts for a few months. Then, you notice that you have a sticking point right below your knees. For the next month or two, you could do pause deadlifts to work on your pulling strength below the knees. Then, lets say you perform barbell deadlifts for the next 8 months and you notice that your strength has hit a plateau and your fatigue has increased dramatically. You could replace barbell deadlifts with trap-bar deadlifts. This would still help you work your deadlifting strength while also giving your body a break from the movement pattern of barbell deadlifts. Then, when you return to barbell deadlifts, your body will need to adapt and will grow accordingly.

In conclusion, in order to optimize your training, it is important to include variation. This can be done by manipulating exercises, sets, reps, frequency, intensity, technical focus, and/or strategic focus. It is best to change these variables in a timely manner when your previous approach become less effective. You can also include variation to work on your specific goals or weaknesses. Understanding when and how to include variation within your programming is essential to long-term success.

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