There are many styles of training. By styles I mean ways of organizing exercises. One that I have found very challenging I am going to call randomization. Perhaps the term is already used, or maybe it goes by another name elsewhere, but for my purposes I will explain it.
What is randomization?
It is very common for people to design or organize a workout session by way of a list. Once that list is written, it’s very easy to follow it literally. And there’s nothing wrong with that, especially if a great deal of care has gone into pairings or groupings. Perhaps you carefully planned to do chest presses and rows as a superset to make sure you worked upper body symmetrically? Beautiful! That is exactly what you should do on an upper body day. However, you can play with order to create different perceptions of effort. If you always do chest first, you will always be pre-exhausted before you do back. So, sometimes you want to do back first, and that gives your chest a chance to work under more stress.
But that, strictly speaking, isn’t randomization. Make your list. Ensure that you include everything you want to do. Perhaps for your first pass you do everything in the order on your list. Maybe the second time you do the list backwards (which means the last exercise becomes the first, and this turns that exercise into a superset of itself and immediately increases the perception of effort for that exercise). That still isn’t randomization. If, however, on the third pass you jump around the list in such a way that you ignore the “logic” of your groupings, then you have strayed into what I mean.
How does randomization help?
When you train, you are not only working muscles, connective tissue and cardiovascular efficiency. You are also putting stress on the nervous system. If you learn what to expect next, it allows you to disengage to a certain degree that can lower your intensity. Also, your body learns patterns and adapts accordingly. This is why we experience plateaus. Your body does not want to expend any more energy than absolutely necessary. For this reason you become more and more efficient at whatever you are doing, thus requiring you to change your workout. This is the constant challenge behind progressive overload.
With that in mind, if you always do your exercises in the same order, your body will adapt to performing that sequence more and more efficiently. You want that to a certain point; however, once you realize you’re not as tired as you were when you first began a few weeks ago, you know it’s time to switch. “Muscle confusion” is a myth.What it seeks to describe is the need to force your body to constantly adapt to new stimuli. You can create this “muscle confusion” with any alteration of your routine.
How to implement randomization
Randomization creates an exercise experience that keeps you engaged mentally and physically. You will optimize your progress without any type of complicated reprogramming. Make your list. Keep all the exact same exercises at the exact same resistance, sets, reps and tempos. Now totally ignore the order.
Do three circuits of supersets here: Pair one exercise with another without considering why they are together. You will no longer have the gratification of symmetry. Your sense of pacing will be completely confounded. Some exercises you will do back to back (e.g. pushups into pushups). Others won’t get visited for a while; however, doing them in combination with something potentially “unrelated” will affect your perception of their intensity.
To be done in an hour, I choose three “pairs” of exercises. I then do three circuits of these six exercises, and 8-12 reps in each set (assuming my goal is hypertrophy). It takes about an hour to do these 18 sets.
For example, if I am doing a lower body workout, I might create these “pairs:” barbell front squat/barbell deadlifts, dumbbell walking lunges/dumbbell bench step-ups, and box jumps/drop heel calf presses. So long as I get each exercise three times, I don’t worry with sequence or grouping. I make a grid with the six exercises along the vertical column and sets one to three across the horizontal. There are 18 boxes. I just need to get a check mark inside each one. If you decide to perform all three sets of an exercise as a giant set, consider using a pyramid (each set uses more weight but fewer reps) or a drop (each set uses less weight but more reps).
info: Jack Kirven completed the MFA in Dance at UCLA, and earned certification as a personal trainer through NASM. His wellness philosophy is founded upon integrated lifestyles as opposed to isolated workouts. Visit him at jackkirven.com and INTEGRE8Twellness.com.