Part of the reason is simply that the more variety you include in a workout, the more it’s likely to keep your interest. And, studies show that boredom is a major reason many people drop out of weight lifting programs.
But there’s another reason you want to tweak your strength training that has more to do with your body than your mind: adaptation.
In its own way, your body can get just as bored with your weight lifting as your mind. Stick to a straight 3 set, 12 rep workout on bench press, for example, and — even if you add weight — you’re really not going to see the gains you might if you make some more radical changes. That’s because your body adapts to the loads being placed on it, gradually discovering just how many muscle fibers you really need to get a job done — say, squatting 185 pounds 12 times — and it recruits that many and no more. Add weight, and it recruits a few more.
Change Your Reps, Accelerate Strength Gains
A better way to recruit more fibers more quickly is to confuse your body by changing the demands you place on it. That’s what’s behind a concept called periodization, which also can be thought of as cycling.
Let’s say you decide to launch a 12-week strength training phase and you want to target your bench press. If you stick to a 3-set, 12-rep weight lifting workout, adding weight as you enter each new week, you’ll definitely see some gains.
But, let’s go just six weeks and then change to, say, 4 sets of 6 reps at a significantly heavier weight for the final six weeks. Your bench press will be greater because your body is going to recruit more muscle fiber quickly until it finds that perfect balance.
Take it a step further, and break your 12-week period into four distinct micro-periods of between two and four weeks and you’ll see your best gains. Guaranteed.
For Maximum Strength Gains, Vary Workout Routines
The bottom line for optimum strength training? Your body really wants to be lazy — or economical — and use just the right amount of muscle fiber to perform a task. And it learns over time what it needs and continues to pare down its recruitment until it’s using the bare minimum. The best way to keep muscle fiber recruitment high is by confusing your body.
And that’s one of the main reasons periodization works. So, the next time you’re looking to make big gains in your weight lifting, start by changing your approach to your overall strength training. You’ll be surprised at how quickly your make big gains.