Variety: The Key to Lean

You’ve probably noticed we do some pretty off-the-wall movements around here. From ropes to get-ups and getting creative with kettlebell swings, it’s safe to say we like to throw our bodies for a loop during workouts. And this isn’t just for fun (because it is fun).

We do this because adding variety and switching up your workouts is a proven way to boost all aspects of your fitness, especially if you’re trying to break through a weight loss plateau or are hitting a wall in your performance.

Adaptation, or Why You Should Regularly Switch Up Your Workouts

Our bodies are designed to adapt to their environment. Whatever we throw at them, they do their best to make the necessary adjustments to “handle the load,” so to speak.

In the context of performance and fitness, we see this reflected in our muscle fibers and metabolism: when we lift heavier weight or move in a new way, our muscle fibers strengthen and become move flexible to handle the increased pressure and range of motion we’ve given them. When we add more endurance, circuit training, or higher-intensity metabolic exercises to our regime, our bodies respond by kicking our metabolism into gear enough to handle the increased intensity.

Shredded … By Switching It Up

You may notice that when you’re training for fat loss, progress tends to slow down the closer you get to your goal. This is because your body has essentially adapted to your new style of working out and eating, and if you keep repeating these workouts at the same level, your physique is most likely going to stay at that level as well.

However, if you add new movements to your workouts that challenge your body again by increasing intensity, it will adapt accordingly by shedding more fat. This is also why HIIT workouts are some of the best you can do, because of the constantly-increasing challenge it puts on your entire system.

One study, done on participants doing steady-state cardio (i.e.: doing cardio for a long time at a slow, steady pace) on a bike versus those adding in high-intensity interval training illustrates this well. It found that a group that sprinted on a bike for 8 seconds, followed by 12 seconds of light exercise – for just 20 minutes – lost 5.5 lbs of fat, while another group that did 40 minutes of steady-state exercise lost no fat. [*] Here we see that by pushing their bodies beyond what they’re used to, the group doing the HIIT version of biking were able to actually lose more fat in less time.

Other studies show challenging your body with new or more intense workouts actually creates changes at a cellular level in your musculoskeletal system that causes it to burn more fat, even while at rest. [*] Not to mention, a flood of hormones that promote fat loss, such as epinephrine and norepinephrine, are released in higher amount during exercises where you’re challenging yourself. [*]

How to Add Variety to Your Workouts

Adding variety doesn’t have to equal overhauling your entire routine every other week. Instead, you can simply choose one of the variables below to increase, decrease, or switch up:

• Amount of reps/sets
• Intensity
• Workout length
• Workout duration

Let’s just use intensity and workout time as two variables you decide to switch up in your workout. Maybe your normal routine is to work out for 45 minutes to an hour each day, 5 days a week. Perhaps during that workout, you do 25 minutes of some type of cardio on the treadmill, a bike, or even jogging around the block.

If you find you’ve hit a plateau (you’re not shedding any more fat, muscle gain is minimal, performance has stabilized) what you may need to do is increase the intensity of your workout, drop the duration, and only work out 4 days a week. You could switch to high-intensity circuit training (kettlebells are, obviously, great for this!), pushing as hard as you can for 20-25 minutes straight doing full-body functional movements, and drop the extra cardio.

Because of the increase in intensity and duration change, your body will be “shocked” out of its normal routine and metabolism, which will cause it to adapt to handle the new style of workout (aka, you will start to see changes again).

Extreme example of adding variety: start lifting people.

You can keep this process going, experimenting with shuffling around your high-intensity, short workouts with your longer workouts pushing heavier weight.

My video-guided online course also gives you a structured approach to constant variety using kettlebells, which is easy to do seeing as they’re so versatile. If you’re looking to maximize fat loss and break through a wall with minimal equipment and guidance, be sure to check it out.

Primal Kettlebell Course