For More Effective Workouts, Science Says You Need Exercise Variety

image of Cathe Friedrich working her core in a different way in her new Fit Split videos. Exercise variety helps to keep you motivated and makes your workouts more effective.

What’s your workout style? Do you find something you enjoy, such as HIIT workouts, and make it your “go to” approach to training? No doubt, high-intensity interval training is one of the most effective ways to train, especially when you’re strapped for time. If you maximize the intensity of the active intervals, you can improve your anaerobic and aerobic fitness level, plus, get an afterburn to boot! But don’t get too complacent! A new study shows exercise variety of workouts can best help you maximize the health and fitness benefits you get from training.

Exercise Variety: Don’t Get Stuck in a Rut

In the study, researchers from Skidmore College in New York looked at how various fitness routines influenced markers of health and fitness. What they found was those who used a variety of training methods, including strength, cardio, stretching, and intervals, in combination with a diet high in protein lost more weight and belly fat and gained more muscle than those who did only one type of training. The participants that did a varied workout also had lower blood sugar levels than their less adventurous counterparts. So, as much as you might enjoy running on the treadmill or doing a spin workout, you’ll reap more benefits by varying your training, not to mention you’ll enjoy having more exercise variety.

Even within a weight-training routine, exercise variety works in your favor. In a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, researchers asked individuals to train against resistance in various ways. The exercises consisted of compound exercises, ones that work more than one muscle group simultaneously. One group used a fixed load when they trained and didn’t vary it over the course of the study. The second group changed the load but didn’t vary the exercises they did. Yet a third group kept the load the same but varied the exercises they performed. Finally, a group used varying loads and performed a variety of exercises.

The results? The groups that varied the exercises they did with both a fixed load and a varying load experienced more hypertrophy in the quadriceps muscles and developed more strength than the groups that didn’t vary the exercises they did.

Another advantage of exercise variety – it helps you stay motivated. The human brain thrives on novelty and becomes bored when forced to do the same thing over and over. A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that exercise variety increased the enjoyment among participants, and, more importantly, increased the likelihood they would continue to exercise. One reason people are reluctant to work out is that they find it “boring.” That’s why it’s important to change things up.

Other Reasons to Vary Your Workouts

Another study carried out by researchers at the University of Florida found that participants who changed their workouts every two weeks were more likely to stick to their workouts and derive more pleasure from exercising. When exercise becomes too routine, it’s easy to lose motivation. You wouldn’t want to watch the same movie over and over again – why should exercise be any different? Your brain thrives on challenges. By varying the workouts you do, you lose the boredom factor.

Another issue is training plateaus. If you’ve ever had a workout stop working, it’s probably because your body adapted to the stimulus you placed on it. When you first begin a new workout, your muscles are unaccustomed to the movements you’re doing. It must adapt to accommodate the additional stress you’re placing on it. Adaptation can take up to 6 weeks. Unless you place further overload on your body, it has no reason to continue to change. You’ve essentially reached a point of stagnation. The way around this is to vary the type of workouts you do so your body doesn’t adapt.

Finally, by doing a variety of workouts, you train more systems. HIIT workouts increase aerobic and anaerobic capacity. Strength training builds muscle strength and by increasing the tempo of your strength moves to make them ballistic, you also develop power. However, strength training and exercise that boosts your heart rate, like HIIT, are only two aspects of training. How about adding some exercises that improve flexibility, like stretching, mind-body workouts, like yoga, and balance training? By including all of these elements, you get a more balanced workout. Strength is important but so is flexibility and good balance. Don’t let your workouts get so familiar that you can do them without thinking.

The Bottom Line

Don’t get too comfortable with your workouts and don’t train just one system. If you love running and never strength train, you’ll have good endurance but may experience loss of muscle and strength over time. If you only strength train and never get your heart rate up, your endurance won’t improve. Ideally, we’d like to be fit in all capacities. Varying your workout and doing exercises geared toward different aspects of fitness – strength, endurance, balance, power, and flexibility – will help you achieve that.

Studies also show you’re more likely to stick with exercise if you add variety – but be sure to add more of the things you like. If you hate cardio, do more high-intensity interval training where you spend less time doing it and still get benefits. If you dislike strength training, experiment with a variety of ways to build strength – bodyweight exercises, dumbbells, barbells, machines, resistance bands – and do more of what you enjoy. Even if you’re exercising for health and to stay in shape, there should always be an element of fun. So, now you know why you need exercise variety in your routine and maybe your routine should be a little less, well, routine!



ACE Fitness. “Why is it important to vary my workout routines?”
Medicine.net. “When It Comes to Exercise, Quality Tramps Quantity”
Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research: January 2013 – Volume 27 – Issue 1 – p 244-251 doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3182518010.
UF News (University of Florida) “Adding Variety To An Exercise Routine Helps Increase Adherence”


Related Articles by Cathe:

Exercise Variety: How Important is It for Building Fitness?

5 Reasons to Add Resistance Bands to Your Training


Related Cathe Friedrich Workout DVDs:


All of Cathe’s Strength & Toning Workout DVDs
Total Body Workouts
Lower Body Workouts
Upper Body Workouts
HiiT and Interval DVDs
Low Impact Cardio DVDs
Beginner Workout DVDs
Intermediate Workouts
Fit Tower DVDs
Boot Camp DVDs
Circuit DVDs
Kickbox DVDs
Step DVDs
Cycle Workout DVDs
Abs/Core DVDs
Stretch/Yoga DVDs
High Step DVDs
Hi/Lo DVDs
Compilation DVDs

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