The Variation Principle

The Variation Principle is a very well founded theory that suggests that regular minor changes in training regimes yield better gains in sports performance. Further, when coupled with the Overload Principle (gradual and progressive changes must occur for improvement to take place) accelerated adaptation can occur. Yet, when observing the athletic community at large at the local gym and the customers of nutritional supplement stores, I rarely see any application of the Variation Principle to training, nutrition or supplementation.

Which leads me to recall the adage that “the definition of insanity is repeating the same thing over and over but expecting different results”. If you are making gains and progressing without injury doing what you’re doing, then by all means keep at it and congratulations! But if you have plateaued and are no longer making progress, maybe it’s time you try something different? I regularly observe people performing the same exercises, in the same order, on the same day of the week and very likely for the same number of reps and at the same weight. This type of exercise, while better than not exercising, is not the type of training that will promote any type of performance gains for the intermediate athlete. Likewise, we talk to customers who consume the same pre and post workout ready-to-drink every time they train. The myriad of reasons for sticking with the ‘norm’ and not trying something new range from “this is just what I do” to “I won’t like the way anything else tastes”. Even though they are working out and supplementing, they do not appear to be making progress from week to week.

I am hypothesizing, and I do not have any scientific studies that I can locate that support this, that the lack of variation to nutrition and supplementation can lead to the same stagnation of performance gains that parallels the lack of variation in physical training.

I know from my own personal experience that I routinely vary my nutrition and supplementation in concert with applying the Variation Principle and Overload Principle to my training sessions. At 45 years of age, I am still making consistent gains in both volume of training capacity, 1 rep maximum weights, adding pounds of lean mass to my body while maintaining single to low double digit body fat percentage. I supplement differently depending on the type of training program I am performing, adjusting macro nutrients and calories commensurate with the goals I have set.

As one example, on days where I train quadriceps and hamstrings at high intensity, I will increase my carbohydrate consumption substantially to load my muscles with glycogen stores. I will include carbohydrates with every meal, with my pre-workout stack, with my intra workout bcaa’s and for all post workout nutrition meals. However, on days when I train much smaller muscles, I will limit carbohydrates to post work out recovery meals only. But even with this approach I often deviate, and have trained legs effectively under severely restricted carbohydrate intake to promote greater fat metabolism.

So don’t be afraid to try something new or different in the gym or at your local supplement store. Don’t be afraid to apply the Variation Principle. Who knows? You might find that you break through to new levels of performance that you didn’t think were attainable!