Consistent Change or Slow and Steady?

Posted on: January 10th, 2018 by Karl Gellert No Comments

I’m a fairly basic guy. I like sports and the video games. When it comes to eating I’m fairly predictable – beef, eggs, potatoes, rice and spinach pretty much all the time, and have been known to help myself to whole pizza on occasion. In the gym, I do the big three lifts (bench, squat, deadlift) or some variation of them, pretty much all year round, unless I’ve done something dumb and hurt myself.

You could probably say, and it would be fair, that I’m kind of boring.

My personal programs are set up in 12 week blocks with the main exercises staying the same for those 12 weeks but going up in weight/reps. The smaller, assistance exercises change at least slightly every 3 weeks because even I’m not THAT boring.

I pride myself on giving credit where credit is due. I personally use and feel I’ve got the best results from using Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 program. It’s a little modified, based on my years of running it but the spirit remains intact. Get better, rep by rep, pound by pound, slowly and surely over time.

I’ve kind of etched and chiseled away at this philosophy for years and figured out what I like and what I dislike to make something that’s mine and that works for me.

However… I can see how some people wouldn’t like that. It’s not all that fun and/or exciting to do the same things over and over. Some people like constant variety, change and dare I say….. excitement!

So to you, gentle reader, I ask: what kind of person are you? Do you want slow, steady progress or do you need a more varied and wide array of exercises to keep you engaged? (There should still, obviously, be progress either way.) There’s no wrong answer here – some people respond better to a wide stimulus and some people like to really dig into the nitty-gritty of trying to master a certain exercise.

What’s the Goal?

Before you decide either, you need to determine what your end goal is. Are you trying to get stronger? Are you trying to get in better shape conditioning-wise? Are you trying to look better? Get huge n’ swole? Without a clear, definitive answer here we’re kind of in no-man’s (sorry, it’s 2018, no-persons) land. We are just kind of…. doing stuff.

On a side note: this is my main issue with “CrossFit” style programming. Before you jump all over me, I actually like Crossfit as an idea and as a philosophy in general. When it’s executed well, it’s a great idea when it’s not…. it’s random exercise programming done for time, under fatigue, which usually leads to movement quality going right out the window. (I know, you can make the argument that anything done poorly isn’t good, but bear with me here, it’s just my opinion). I just don’t like the lack of a clear, defined end point. But I love Kelly Starrett, so don’t send me hate mail.

Regardless of who you are or what your end goal might be, there are three key things I think every program needs to focus on

Numero Uno – Movement Quality

Obviously, as the name might indicate, this is how well someone moves. Do they look decent when they do basic movements such as bodyweight squats, push-ups, lunges, planks etc. or are there some glaring deficiencies? Doesn’t matter what you’re doing – olympic lifting, running, powerlifting, cycling, being a pirate – movement quality is key. You’re never going to get anywhere without a solid foundation to build upon. Having this foundation is not only going to reduce your chance of injury but it’s also going to set you up for the best chance at sustained success. It’s hard to improve, scratch that, you pretty much can’t improve if you can’t move at least competently. Think of watching the 40-year-old dudes play basketball at your local Y versus NBA players. This is an extreme example for sure (no one expects you to be an elite worker-outter) but my point remains: get (more) efficient at moving. Let me tell you what happens when you move lots of weight (relatively speaking) poorly, because early 20’s Karl was something of an expert. Pain, injuries, lack of progress, cursing the gods for forsaking you, more injuries, negative progress, money and time spent fixing yourself to start the process over again. Basically “Numb” by Linkin Park in human form. Don’t be early 20’s Karl.

Blasting in at Number Two – Strength

Strength, strength, strength. More specifically speaking, progressive overload. Progressive overload is the “gradual increase of stress upon the body during exercise “ according to wikipedia. Blue collar definition: we move better, we do more reps, we add more weight, slowly and surely over time. I don’t care if it’s going from squatting 95 lb for 5 reps to squatting it for 8 reps. As long as it’s performed correctly (no half-reps, bouncing, knee caving in mayhem), you can definitively say you got better. And those little gains here and there add up over the year to become bigger gains. And the years add up to… you get my point. It adds up, you get better, one day you realize you’re a rock star. I’m still waiting. It’ll come. Any day now…

Rounding Third Base – Conditioning

Can you reach and maintain at least a baseline level of conditioning? Depending on what activity you want to do, the short answer is yes. If you want to run a marathon or improve your stamina playing basketball these obviously have different energy demands than someone who just wants to look good. Pick a “cardio something” and try to improve it. A couple baseline tests I use – 1000 metres on the rower for time, 8 minutes of 30/30 second sprints on the Airdyne bike and for you runners out there (but not really), how fast you can run a mile. These are just a few examples but you see the idea behind it – something to establish a baseline, then improve upon it. Notice how I’m not extending the time on any of them though – we want the most bang for our buck – if you want to run a marathon, yeah, by all means, go nuts. If you want to look better, we can accomplish that with faaaaar less time sink.

I feel the ol’ Karl explanation kicking in (think Grandpa Simpson) so I’m going to end part 1 here. If you’re still alive by then, check out next week’s article for the second part which will focus on how to select your exercises and options on when to change them.

Until then, keep on rockin’ in the free world!.


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