Training variety for varieties sake and employing variety as part of an overall plan are different things. Variety for its own sake can negatively affect progress or potentially cause more harm than good. A thoughtful coach intelligently maximizes and employs variety as part of a greater plan or possibly as situational substitute based on what the student is presenting on that given day.
Key benefits of Variety Helps prevent overuse injuries.
Introduces new training stimulus.
Reduces training monotony.
Creates a different hypertrophic effect.
Elicits a different exercise experience.
Develops strength through various means. Can serve as a progression/regression
Real World Example Exercise: Barbell Deadlift.
Posterior Chain development.
Improve overall strength.
Lower Back rehabilitation.
General physical preparation.
Specific physical preparation.
The deadlift (and the hinge family of movements) confer so many benefits that its inclusion in most programs can be argued. I can teach a healthy beginner how to deadlift a barbell in a few minutes. That said, not every beginner should start deadlifting barbells right away. The movement screen indicates if the person has the requisite range of motion,motor skills and mobility to determine if this is even a consideration. For example…
Student is intimidated by barbells.
Student has hand/grip issues.
Student has a history of low back injury .
Student is inflexible to the point they can’t touch their toes. Student didn’t show up to training at 100%
Using variations will still confer benefits while keeping the training within the students defined abilities. There is no sense in saying “Tool A is superior to Tool B” until you know what the client is trying to do and where the person is starting.
This is also why I don’t introduce unstable training in the initial phase of training unless its a lower limb rehabilitation case. If a person has enough problems stabilizing on stable surfaces, why would I put them on a wobbly device?
Barbell Intimidation: Change the tool being deadlifted. A Sandbag or a Kettlebell are particularly valuable here and a sandbag presents no major issues if dropped. Once the client is lifting 85 or more pounds with a sandbag you could re-attempt teaching the barbell deadlift as they have enough strength to pick it up.
Kettlebell Deadlifts on their own are great exercises and set the stage for the swing, which confers many of the same benefits as the barbell deadlift. Deadlifting 24kg (53lbs) would be the first major goal to achieve. Unlike Sandbags, Kettlebells present a greater hazard if dropped, even more than the barbell does in my opinion.
Some people may never use another tool to deadlift again. They might not need to and this is OK.
Grip Issues: The Trap Bar Farmers walk works well here. It requires a Trap Bar Deadlift and extended isometric hold. Prudent use specialized grip/arm training,grip variations and holds can also be used. I rarely resort to using straps or lifting hooks but will include them if the situation or training warrants them. Two Kettlebells or Dumbbells can be substituted for the Trap bar and the loads may need to be elevated for the client to be able to reach them.
Injury History: The emphasis is putting quality movement before quantity ,volume before intensity and stable before unstable. This will help develop the proper neural adaptations as well as a low level of hypertrophy.
Inflexibility: Similar to injury history, a proper warm-ups,correctives intervention and flexibility work with special attention to the hamstrings,knees,ankles,shoulders and spine. Multiple warm-up sets and a gradual increase in load. Rack Pulls (barbell) or elevated objects (Sandbag,Dumbbell/Kettlebell) can also be used.
I typically train the main pattern until the student has developed technical efficiency and confidence. Only then are variations taught.
The manner in which I personally teach the variation is by demonstrating the similarities and any warning orders that differ from previously learned material. For example, early in barbell deadlift education I teach how to safely drop the bar to get out of a bad lift. That method does not apply to Kettlebells or Dumbbells. The Sandbag on the other hand is quite safe to drop and likely wouldn’t injure anyone even if it fell directly on their feet.
Practical Coaching Even within a movement family variations present their unique challenges. If the challenge is changed, the exercise response and user exercise experience changes.
Thinking “I know how to do the seated dumbbell press, therefore the standing dumbbell press is no different” or “The only difference between the standing behind the neck press and standing barbell military press is where the bar goes” is incorrect.
You have to know what you are doing and whom you’re doing it to. Just as important, you need to have spent time yourself working with the variations to develop physical empathy to what the student is going through during the lift. If you simply copied a move from YouTube without having any context or actual experience in the technique you are minimally short-changing, and at worst potentially endangering your student.
Partial Photo album of the Overhead Press family. Just because it is a load going overhead doesn’t mean they’re exactly the same experience or require the same skill level.