You are in a forest and you want to get out. You see a road outside the forest and you start walking in that direction, but soon there is a tree right in front of you. What do you do? To achieve your goal - get to the road outside the forest - you walk around the tree and continue in the direction of the road.
How does the above relate to training?
The road outside the forest is the client’s goal. The tree symbolizes a plateau in the client’s progress or any other obstacle that requires a change to the program.
The story as a whole is all about HOW you make changes to the client’s program. Here are two common phrases that personal trainers often use to talk about variation to the client’s program:
I like to mix it up
I like to throw <name of exercise(s)> in
The two phrases imply that the criteria for change is that something is different in the program without discernment for the direction of the program. In the forest analogy, that would make it okay to walk parallel to the road or even turning around and walking away from the road.
The forest analogy is a reminder that as we make changes to the program, the overall direction of the program must be maintained. In other words, variation in the training program must be systematic.
This article and videos showcase a particular strategy for creating change to the client’s training program by focusing on the same movement pattern, but with a different piece of equipment.
A 1st Principle of Physical Training
A 1st Principle is a statement that appears to always be true, to be true in all cases. A first Principle of physical training can be defined as using exercise to stimulate structural or functional adaptations specific to the athlete’s or fitness client’s goal.
Strategies are ways that personal trainers can stimulate structural and functional changes specific to the client’s goal.
Strategy – Variety
Novelty, unaccustomed stress and frequent changes are keys to progress with periodized training programs. (1)
Variation of the exercises may be as important, if not more important, than changes in volume and intensity, and can also result in more complete muscular development. (2)
Variation of exercises can be executed in many different ways. One such way is to perform the same movement pattern with a different piece of equipment.
Tactic – Same Movement Different Equipment
Research has shown that unidirectional loading is effective only if it forms part of a complex of several means of a single primary emphasis involving a variety of methods. (3)
So, what does this mean?
Unidirectional loading could refer to a hypertrophy training cycle.
Several means of a single primary emphasis can refer to the same movement pattern executed with different pieces of equipment.
A variety of training methods can refer to different combinations of loads, sets, repetitions and contraction types.
In his book, Power to the People, Pavel Tsatsouline expressed balancing variety and continuity in less technical terms - different, but the same – which is a great mental tagline when you think about creating changes to the training program.
Using the same movement pattern with different equipment is a great way to execute the concept of “different, but the same”. Below are 4 examples of pulling exercises with their unique features highlighted.
Dumbbell - Single Arm Supported Row
The single arm supported row is a variation that results in low spine loads while challenging the torsional torque generators. (4) Additionally, the latissimus dorsi is challenged at its shortest range. Add the so-called Table Top Technique to discourage torso rotation.
The different forearm positions change the shoulder movement from more horizontal abduction to extension and thus targets both scapula retractors, posterior deltoids and lats.
Single Arm Supported Dumbbell Row:
Landmine – Ipsilateral Landmine Row
The unique feature of the landmine row is that the load moves in an arch. Well-designed landmine exercises match this arch to the natural anatomical movements of the body. An additional benefit of landmine rows is trunk stability (anti-rotation) unless you have two landmines.
Bent Over Row + Hand Brake Landmine Row:
Barbell – Bent Over Barbell Row
In general, stability should be improved before strength. (5) Thus, the single arm row variations precede the bilateral barbell rows. Different aspects of the back can be targeted through the specific degree of trunk lean.
Bent Over Barbell Row, Bottom pos (pronated grip) + Top position (Supinated grip):
Plate – Bent Over Plate Row
The Bent Over Plate Row is a unique exercise variation that requires significant hip abduction and flexion capability. Additionally, the finger flexors are challenged at a longer length compared to gripping a bar.
Plates – Wheel Chair Row + Arm Pit Row
Plates can also be pinch gripped. Due to the strength difference between a pinch grip and a row, this variation should mostly be seen as grip training, with rowing as a secondary effect. This variation works well as a finisher with a lighter load and higher number of repetitions.
Wheel Chair Row + Arm Pit Row Wheelchair Row:
The wheel chair row could also be named a circular row or rolling row.
1. Jensen K. Periodization is a flexible strategy, not a rigid tactic. www.yestostrength.com. 2019
2. Fonseca RM, Roschel H, Tricoli V, De Souza EO, Wilson JM, Laurentino GC, Aihara AY, De Souza Lao AR, Ugrinowitch C. Changes in Exercises Are More Effective Than Loading Schemes To Improve Muscle Strength. Journal of Strength And Conditioning Research. 28(11):3085-3092.2014
3. Siff M. Organisation of Training. Supertraining. Chapter 6, page 367. Supertraining Institute. Denver, USA. 2004
4. McGill S. Advanced Exercises. Low Back Disorders. Evidence-Based Prevention and Rehabilitation 2nd Ed. Chapter 13, page 237. Human Kinetics. 2002.
5. Jensen K. First develop endurance of deep stabiliser muscles and then develop the strength of prime movers. Periodization Simplified. How To Use The Flexible Periodization Method on The Fly. Section 7, page 40. www.yestostrength.com. 2015.