There are two laws in exercise physiology. One is the Law of Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands (SAID):
“When the body is placed under some form of stress, it starts to make adaptations that will allow the body to better withstand that form of stress in the future.”
In other words, in order to get stronger on an exercise, you have to practice that exercise and practice it frequently. However, there is also another law called the Law of Accommodation:
“The response of an organism to a physical stimulus decreases over time.”
In other words, the longer you repeat an exercise, the less of an effect (i.e. strength increase, hypertrophy) you will get. So we have a catch-22 here. In order to build strength and muscle, you have to work on specific exercises, but if you do those exercises for too long, then your size and strength gains come to a screeching halt. How do we get around this?
One thing that I have always stressed in my training programs is variety. Variety of exercises, variety of training modes (bodybuilding, powerlifting, weightlifting, gymnastics). If you want to get stronger and break through plateaus, then you have to do some planned variation in your exercises. You should become familiar with a diverse array of exercises that build muscle through high tension.
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To build strength over time, however, you have to work the same general movements (push, pull, squat) but do different variations of them. In my article on ectomorph training, I discussed a concept called Building on. This is when you sequence exercises in a workout so that each exercise serves as a warm-up for the next exercise. This building on strategy can be used to introduce exercise variations. In other words, one exercise variation serves as a warm-up for the next variation, and so on and so forth.
Every so often I’ll do a powerlifting type of program as a decompression workout. I’ll do a 4 way split routine based on movements as opposed to muscle groups:
Day 1: Squat workout
Day 2: Pullups/Overhead Presses
Day 3: Off
Day 4: Deadlift workout
Day 5: Bench press/Rows
With each workout I do variations of the exercise planned for that day. So for Squat Day it will look something like this:
Warm-up: Body weight squats
One legged squats
On Deadlift Day it will look like this:
Snatch grip deadlifts
Barbell Hack squats
As you can see with these two workouts, each variation serves as a warm-up for the next variation. Snatch grip deadlifts set you up for barbell Hack squats, which set you up for platform deadlifts, which set you up for regular deadlifts. As you add more weight from set to set, you progress from harder variations to easier variations of the exercise for that day. Each variation builds on the variation before.
The Building On Strategy is an excellent way to build strength through high volume and exercise variation.