October 13, 2016

The Value of Varying Workouts

This morning, my friend Theodora wrote a thought-provoking post on why specificity matters in workouts. I read her post, and I also read the linked articles that provide more scientific background. But I have to say, despite all the science behind muscle confusion not working, I still love ClassPass, and think that the variety it provides is incredibly beneficial.

Ultimately, whether or not specificity matters will come down to your goals. Theodora says,

“If you don’t have specific goals, planning your workout schedule by whatever class is open works.”

However, I’d like to question the definition of a “specific goal”, and how many people really have them for their workouts. Sure, there are a lot of runners who train to get faster and weight lifters who train to lift heavier. But I would guess that the majority of gym-goers are exercising for some variant of lose weight/look better/feel better. Even if you take a more specific approach to that goal (i.e., “lose 5 pounds by Thanksgiving” rather than just lose weight), there isn’t one form of exercise that is going to make the pounds come off significantly faster than the others, provided you’re getting your heart rate up. I think ClassPass can’t be beat for weight loss because of its variety and the psychological benefits that confers.

When I spent the month of August trying to PR in the 5K, I will admit that ClassPass was initially a distraction from running. The first week of my “training”, I was reluctant to give up my beloved classes in favor of just plain old running (ugh). But Adam put together a plan for me that had specific running workouts three days a week (with prescribed distance, pace, etc), one rest day, and then two or three “girlfriend choice!!!” days. The running workouts helped me to specifically get faster at a 5K distance, and ultimately to break my 5K PR by more than 90 seconds! Yet, I think it was the psychological benefits of the “girlfriend choice!!!” days that helped me stick with the program. The variety of workouts and classes made all my training a lot more fun, and I did go to the same studios on ClassPass often enough to see improvement.

In The Science of Us’s article on why muscle confusion is mostly a myth, author Brad Stulberg notes that:

“…programs based on muscle confusion remain popular because doing something new every day is far more exhilarating than the comparatively boring reality of progressive overload.”

Amen to that! Could I have gotten faster in the 5K if I had just focused on running? Probably. There’s a reason that Olympic-caliber athletes don’t do that much cross-training, but spend the majority of their time focusing on their sport of choice. But I don’t have Olympic dreams to motivate me, and I was grateful for the extra hit of motivation that variety provided. I don’t disagree with the facts around muscle confusion not being as good for training… if you are a professional endurance athlete or football player (the two examples cited in The Science of Us piece). But presumably, those athletes studied are already incredibly focused and driven, rather than suffering the motivational challenges of getting to the gym that so many of the rest of us do.

But those professional athletes aren’t really that representative of most gym goers. The average Jane who does the same elliptical program at the same pace every day is eventually going to hit a plateau by doing the same thing over and over, specific though it may be. Since the basic (exercise-related) components of weight loss are building muscle and burning calories, she’d probably be better off lifting weights some days and doing some high intensity interval-based cardio other days, with some rest days mixed in. And that schedule is exactly what ClassPass makes easy.

In between my running days, I love deciding based on my body what workout I’m going to do. Some days I get in another cardio-heavy day, others I work on building strength in a weight lifting or pilates class, and other days I take a restorative yoga or barre class to help calm my muscles. During my 5K training, I loved getting to mix some variety in there, and I frequently picked classes with a run component to them. Based on my surprise 5K PR this spring when I wasn’t doing any running training at all, I think that crosstraining with ClassPass was a big contributor to me getting faster – even though specific 5K training mixed with ClassPass crosstraining is what helped me get my best time ever 🙂

It was a small race, admittedly, but I’m still REALLY proud of winning!

Overall, I think an amateur athlete shouldn’t be afraid of the variety that ClassPass can provide. Yes, specificity will help you dial in your workout to the absolute finest level… but I think that the mental benefit of variety is equally valuable for most people.

Thanks to Theodora for bringing my attention to this study and getting me to think about it in a new way!


4 thoughts on “The Value of Varying Workouts”

  1. I couldn’t agree more! I know I’d probably be a faster runner if I focused a bit more on that… but I don’t think I would be as strong and or as “uninjured” if I wasn’t doing all the strength training that I do. Like you, I’m reluctant to give it up because of that extra motivation and just change in pace from running! I’ll keep up the variety for now 😉

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