One Exercise or Many Exercises? That is the Question.

Once or twice a week I lift in a small commercial gym. Some may ask why I would do this, given that I have free access to a state-of-the art facility, packed full of strength "toys" to use whenever we at SAPT aren't training athletes+clients. I mean, why would I want to ever avoid training in a place with prowlers, turf to sprint on, sandbags, no mirrors to throw me off, and plenty of free squat racks?

Not to mention, I have freedom to drop a ton of weight on the ground without worrying about the manager of the wine shop below coming up to yell at me. (Yes, the commercial facility I lift at is situated immediately ABOVE a wine shop...DON'T ASK. I was not the architect/urban planner for that one).

Well, for one thing, it does provide a change of scenery, and, thus, a bit of a "mental" break. It can actually be nice to lift under a different roof than that which I coach under all day, all week long. Second, the commercial gym just so happens to be right across the street from my favorite local coffee shop, so I can knock out both in a one-two punch.

Below is a picture I recently took at Caffe Amouri. In the middle is a cup filled with the best coffee your lips will ever touch. I'll even go so far as to state that their coffee is the best I've EVER had, and, when it flows over your tongue like velvet, the flavor hits you as would the sweet nectar of the gods. On the right is my awesome Lord of the Rings PEZ dispenser that Sarah gave me for Christmas.

Okay, actually that entire introduction was just a way for me validate showing you my sweet PEZ thingy, but I digress.

You are jealous though. Admit it.

Anyway, back to training at the commercial gym. One thing I consistently notice is that the majority of people in there bounce around from one exercise to the next, perhaps hitting upwards of 10-15 different exercises in their workout. You know....squat for a set of ten, do side bends for a set of ten, lunge, russian twist, cable row, pec deck, do some crunches, then leave. This got me thinking about something I've known for a while but apparently have taken for granted:

Your body will adapt to a given loading parameter (weight used, rep range, tempo, etc.) faster than it will an actual exercise.

As such, in order to get the most out of a resistance training program, it is better to manipulate the reps, sets, rest period, bar speed, etc. for one main lift than to consistently change what exercise you are doing.

Let me provide an example. Say I give you twenty-four weeks to get as strong, lean, and mean as possible. You have two choices:

1) You can only use the squat as your primary knee-dominant lift. However, I will give you a program that perfectly manipulates the loading, sets, reps, tempo, rest periods in order to minimize the risk of progress grinding to a halt.

2) Every few weeks you have free reign to cycle in whatever knee dominant lift you want (front squat, bulgarian split squat, single-leg squat, stepback lunge, split squat, forward lunge, walking lunge, skater squat, etc.). However, you must ALWAYS do three sets of ten reps with a :75 rest period for the entire duration of the twenty-four week program.

Which option would you choose?

I can guarantee you that option 1 will allow you to see better results across the board. Manipulating the bar speed, reps, sets, rest period and other variables using one good exercise is certainly going to allow you to see superior results compared to multiple exercises using the same parameters. The body will adapt to a given loading order far before it will adapt to a particular exercise.

As a disclaimer, I do realize (and I may get a lot of hate mail for this) there are schools of thought out there preaching the continual rotation of exercises on a weekly basis, but that's precisely my problem with using that style training for beginner and intermediate lifters (you can ignore this statement if you're squatting 600lbs+). It's simply too frequent of a shift to allow for continued adaptation, accommodation, and to see what is actually working.

So, when in doubt, stick to the same exercise, and milk it for all it's worth. You'll be far better off squatting (or deadlifting, or bulgarian split squatting, or whatever) and appropriately changing how you do the exercise rather than constantly rotating exercises.