‎”The quality if your being expresses the correctness of your understanding.”  – Thomas Campbell

A question from reader Eli Bailey:

I was wondering if you may be able to clarify and expand on your listing on the website that says ” the individual components of the workout – as well as the workout itself, when considered in total – should be constantly variable.”  Is it possible to program constant variety into workouts without  becoming “random”?  Or is random the goal?  Thank you for any information you may be able to provide.

Like all things, Eli, the real answer lay somewhere between the continuum of “totally random” and “static/unchanging”.  Much also depends here upon one’s ultimate goal.  For instance, there is a huge difference between altering the hand position or degree of incline in a press, workout to workout (a good thing), and in alternating that same horizontal pressing motion with something totally out of left field; let’s just use Indian club swings as an example.  Clubs being not a bad exercise tool in and of themselves, so long as they’re programmed correctly according to one’s goals.  But would they be a good choice here?  In a word, no.  In the press-variation example, we have a sort of…let’s call it, “directional accuracy”, and in the other, we have an exercise seemingly drawn from a hopper.  Remember the old Sesame Street ditty, “which one of these is not like the other one”?  Yeah, it’s much like that.  We want randomness, yes…but randomness with borders and direction.

And this is just one example of the many points at which we have to leave template training schemes behind, and become artisans (or “chefs”, as I’ve sometimes said) within the gym.  Painting by numbers and cooking from a recipe will get you only so far.  I absolutely love the old Bill Star 5 x 5, or Wendler 5/3/1 using basic lifts, but these will only get one so far.  The point is that the body will adapt to a given movement pattern, implement and tempo, then go no further.  Actually, this is probably due to a CNS/mind limiting factor, but the real-world result is the same — stagnation.

Two PFX12 participants checkout the ARXFit horizontal machine.  Some variations here might be tempo/speed of movement, foot position, number of reps, rest between reps, and utilization of pre-exhaust techniques, just to name a few.

Let’s take overhead pressing as an example of weaving “randomness” into an overall program.  Once or twice a week a vertical pressing session will make an appearance in my training.  Now, vertical pressing is a pretty wide-open category, and that’s the point.  I might choose from any of a number of vertical press options — front presses, BTN presses, push-presses, or jerks.  The implement may be a barbell, dumbbell, ARXFit or Nautilus machine.  I may utilize pre-exhaust or I may not.  You get the idea.  One thing I won’t do though, is repeat a method or modality the next time I vertical press.  Except that sometimes I do.  I’m not trying to be purposely cryptic here, but this is where the artistry comes into play.

For most folks it’s enough to know that once a base level of strength is established with the basic lifts, it’s time to start adding subtle variations/permeations within that base workout routine; from shoot to branches, as it were.  It keeps the body guessing and the mind fresh.  It also helps keep one on the road to continued improvement, and out of the bar-ditch of overtraining.

In health, fitness, and Ancestral Wellness –





  1. I agree, except that Wendler 5/3/1 offers more variation out of the box than does a traditional 5×5 program, especially the one by Medhi. The problem becomes how to program. I found this out trying to set up my Transformation project. Variations are a good thing, depending on your goals, it could be daily, weekly or monthly changes.

  2. Neurological factors make their greatest contribution to strength gains during the early stages of a training programme, so it is important to ride these out to make significant hypertrophic gains.

    Wendler and 5×5 are great templates from which to build from. But you’ve got to remember “if you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got!”. Throwing the odd curved ball in to your routine is seldom detrimental IMO.

    • Am I right in thinking that neurological adaptations are also largely responsible for changes at the other end of the spectrum as well?

      I seem to remember something about this from my studying, years ago, in relation to elite level weight lifters, that as they got older the didn’t gain any extra muscle, but they still got stronger…

      Constant variation within a small reference range?
      That’s the goal with training, no? To walk the tightrope between sufficient consistency of stimulus and not getting stale from applying the stimulus!

      Keep up the good work,
      George Super Boot Camps

      • Absolutely. And we saw this in one of our Efficient Exercise trainers who endeavored to push his max dip through the roof. he did just that, but didn’t gain much at all in the way of muscle (as verified via DEXA scan).


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