Muscle Adaptation and Variation

Muscle Adaptation and Variation

When was the last time you gave your old, stale, well too familiar, workout routine a lift? I’m not sure about you, but I am ready for a change!

At this very moment I’m sitting on a plane, returning home from an amazing week in beautiful Vancouver, B.C. Even though I would have preferred to stay much longer, I’m eager to return to my clean eating and training regime. Since I am unable to nap, due to this uncomfortable middle seat I was given, I find myself planning my next training routine. I need something different in preparation for this september, when I will be attending the upcoming Mr. Olympia in Vegas (no, I’m not competing). I realize that it’s time I change things up in the gym, as I have not been attaining that post workout soreness lately, what fitness professionals refer to as DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness).

It has been shown that our muscles quickly adapt to our workouts and hence, stop responding and growing. This is referred to as the SAID principle of exercise (Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demand). I certainly have a lot of work left to do in regards to making improvements to my physique, so there is no way that I’m willing to let my hard work in the gym go to waste by doing the same thing over and over every time I step in the door. It’s recommended we change our workout routine every 4-6 weeks. This could mean an entirely different routine, or a few simple changes to a current routine in order see new gains. Simply changing the order of your usual exercises, the amount of reps you do, the resting time between sets, the weights you are using, etc, can significantly serve to shock your muscles again, and make them respond to growth.

I’m flipping through the August issue of IronMan magazine, which has helped me decided that my new plan will consist of changing the time I spend performing each rep. There is an article called “Train, Eat, GROW!”, in which they suggest to spend 1 second during the positive phase of the rep (positive meaning the up phase in which the muscle is in a state of flexion) and 3 seconds on the negative phase (the down phase in which the muscle is in a state of extension). A study, published in the International Sports Medicine Journal, showed that by doing this you are keeping the tension on the muscle fibers longer. This prolonged tension will cause more damage to the muscle and thus force the muscle to grow. Furthermore, the explosive turnaround for the 1 second up phase of the rep forces your body to bring into play more muscle fibers, more muscle fibers equals more growth. This type of workout can be very taxing and tiring because you are keeping the muscles under tension for longer periods of time. So, my plan is to add these “power cadence sets” to my last two working sets of any given exercise.

Don’t be afraid to try new things in the gym. Don’t shy away from certain machines because you are not sure how to use them. Ask a personal trainer at the gym or someone with more experience to show you the proper form. If you’re only using machines in your routine, then add some free weight exercises as well, or vise versa. Maybe you’re ready to pick up a group exercise class, or perhaps you should try drop sets. Maybe you’re ready to burn that extra nagging fat by finally giving HIIT a try. Just go for it! The goal is to switch things up and keep your workouts fresh. Don’t allow your body to adapt to your tiring routine, it might be time to switch things up to achieving your desired fit and toned sexy physique. A general rule of thumb that I use is, if you’re not sore the day after you workout, something needs to change.

So, how are you going to give your old workout a lift? Keep me posted on your progress, I would love to hear how you improved your workouts! :)


Refenrece: IronMan Magazine August 2011

Comments | discussion on "Muscle Adaptation and Variation"

  1. August 1, 2011 at 9:38 pm

    This post could not have come at a better time for me! I was just thinking this morning while doing legs that I really need to start changing things up. I don’t do legs again till Friday so this will give me time to do some research and get things rocking again. Thanks!

    • August 1, 2011 at 10:00 pm

      Thanks so much for reading it… Glad it helps:)

  2. Jamal B Reply
    August 2, 2011 at 12:32 am

    My trainer had gave me a bunch of workouts so i use those. also i use what i find in magazines

    • August 2, 2011 at 4:45 pm

      Nothing beats having a personal trainer, and magazines are great resources which I use as well. Thanks for sharing Jamal.

  3. shiri Reply
    August 2, 2011 at 1:04 am

    I’ve actually just adjusted my workout routine by splitting my bicep and triceps days up, since I always used to do them on the same day, I am now dedicating a day to them each, followed by HIT training for 10 minutes, and mild cardio for 10 minutes! So far, so good. I have also increased the amount of exercises for legs, and sets to give that extra boost! I tell you, my glutes are killing!!!

    • August 2, 2011 at 4:46 pm

      Awesome Shiri, sounds like you’re definitely on the right track!!

  4. Sandy Lieu Reply
    August 23, 2011 at 5:56 am

    You have one of the best websites! I love EVERYTHING about it! You are truly an inspiration! I look forward to meeting you one day :)

  5. Kvasi Reply
    November 5, 2011 at 9:35 am

    Very nice article, I’ve always said that variation is the key to progress.

    One suggestion though, a proper reference with a link would be great instead of just writing “published in the International Sports Medicine Journal”.

    • November 5, 2011 at 2:06 pm

      Thanks for your comment. Unfortunately Iron Man did not provide the proper reference in their article and that’s the reason why I could not either. I agree it would have been nice to go back and read the actual article..

  6. Olivia Reply
    December 9, 2011 at 7:23 am

    Hello Vanessa,talking about gaining muscular mass,I’m going trough that ”get ripped” period ,30 mins of cardio 5 days a week plus the muscular training,wich means i train 1 h 30 mins daily,hardcore training.I could use an advice about how to avoid losing muscular mass :) and if i ask you it’s mostly because you’re awesome,nice plus got no girls with guns from wich to get advices.(PS-I hope you aren’t upset I didn’t tagged you from the very beginning on my FB fitness page,I simply didn’t thinked about it,however your name its mentioned on the initial post.That page it’s a tribute brought to persons inspiring me)Thank you!

    • December 11, 2011 at 5:21 pm

      Hi Olivia,

      It sounds like you are definitely training enough. Make sure you give your body enough rest and fuel. 1-2 days a week of either not training at all, or going in just to do some stretching, or low intensity cardio. In order to maintain muscle mass I would recommend you be careful on how much high intensity cardio you are performing. I typically recommend only performing high intensity or HIIT cardio a maximum of 3 times a week and the rest should be low intensity cardio for 30-60 minutes. Other than that make sure you are eating enough protein and you may want to take a supplement like glutamine of bcaas.

      Good luck girl!

  7. Britt Reply
    February 17, 2012 at 2:25 pm

    Always motivated by you!
    Thanks for sharing all your tips.

  8. Matthew Delfino Reply
    March 23, 2012 at 8:46 pm

    Vanessa, it’s funny you mention legs. In February, I read an article about you on It was the first time I had heard of you. For whatever reason seeing pictures of huge, burly men doesn’t motivate me as much as seeing beautiful women. Probably part because I have no interest in becoming a huge, burly man, part because, well, what red blooded straight dude doesn’t like beautiful women?

    One of your workout routines, a 4 day rotation, was posted on your article and I thought, “I can do this.” Since my workout routine hadn’t really changed much in 8 years and I wasn’t seeing much in the way of results since 7 years and 9 months ago, I decided to adapt your routine (with only a few, minor changes). I’ve been doing it since February 12th, 2012.

    By far, the longest day at the gym is the day for doing legs! It also happens to kick my butt the most, especially when I get to the lunges. As a matter of fact, I have to do legs yet today! No excuses! I plan to stick to this routine until the end of March (I’m still sore), then I’ll probably have to create a new one. But, I think you’re right… workout routines have to change every several weeks to keep the body guessing.

    Thanks for being an inspiration! Now, if only there were a place where people could share Excel or Numbers files that had their weight training / weekly workout routines all mapped out, that we could all go to, put up our routines and use other people’s every couple months to keep it fresh…?

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