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How important is variability?

Updated: Jun 21, 2023


In part 1 of this series, we discussed the first principle that helps direct our program design- progressive overload. To quickly review, we have 4 primary principles that help us organize and make decisions with regards to applying training stress to our bodies:

  1. Progressive overload (covered in part 1)

  2. Accommodation/Variety and the Law of Diminishing Returns

  3. Specificity

  4. Individualization

Principle #2 focuses on The Law of Accommodation, also known as variation, variability or in some resources may be referred to as stagnation or the avoidance of stagnation. Accommodation in itself is a general law of biology, and an organism repeatedly exposed to the same stimulus, will become less and less responsive over time. This can be easily seen on the graph below (also presented in part 1), which depicts the natural decrease in response to a given training stress over time.


(Photo taken from Science and Practice of Strength Training, 2006)

From a fitness or performance standpoint this becomes quite clear- be must alter the applied stresses over time in order to avoid stagnation or stalling. This is merely the result of this naturally and undeniable accommodation effect that will take place. It is nothing to fear or think that you can work past- it is going to happen, know it is coming every few weeks and plan accordingly to avoid or minimize it so that you can make continued progress

There are a few easy ways to approach things when trying to minimize the effects of accommodation. These simple examples may give clarity on how to apply it to yourself, based on where you are at in your training life span and experience level:

  1. First year of training- Complete 4-5 weeks of repeated training stress/program (learn movements and work to progressively improve # of reps completed or increase loads used from week to week)

  2. 1-2 years of consistent training- Complete 3-5 weeks of repeated training stress/program (keep mastering movements, increasing training loads and total volume)

  3. 2-5 years of consistent training- Complete 3-4 weeks of repeated training stress/program (starting to get more advanced, training will begin becoming more intuitive)

  4. 5+ years of consistent training- This is where the gray area starts to become more noticeable, and that will lead us into the next aspect to consider…

A lot of well-educated and experienced people have both proposed and anecdotally shown that at approximately 3-4 weeks of consistent overload training, the body as a biological organism begins to become less responsive to the training stress. This is accommodation in its truest form.

For a more experienced individual, be it in strength sports or other competitive activity, the need to plan and periodically change the training stress to some degree becomes more and more important.

As individuals get more and more advanced and get closer to their genetic ceiling, the magnitude of stress and total training volume can get very high. Along with this, the duration in which the stress can be applied begins to get shorter. It is not uncommon for elite level individuals to change training variables every 103 weeks in order to continue making progress and keeping stagnation at bay as much as possible.

Here is a summary of accommodation and easily applicable recommendations:

  1. Remember that the body will adapt and you must be prepared for this, when is a matter of individual experience. Over time you will know when you need change and cannot improve further

  2. Work harder and harder each week on each program (progressive overload)

  3. Changes in training variables can be slight, or larger if not training for a specific activity (discussed more in part 3)

  4. The more advanced you are, the more frequent your changes and variations will need to be to avoid stalling and stagnation in training response.

  5. Magnitudes of training stress will need to increase over time, this is a normal part of pushing the human body to greater level of adaptation!

In part 3 we will address the Principle of Specificity and how it relates to training program design and specific goals. Remember to keep things as simple as possible, and focus on the quality and effort in your training, it will take you further than any flashy or buzz friendly program ever can!


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