Four Variation Tactics for Awesome Results

By Coach Izzy

Raise your hand if you have ever been frustrated over the lack of results from your workout program.  Raise your hand again if this happens a few weeks into your new program.  As the new year dawns and many will embark in their fitness resolutions, I thought I would tackle a topic responsible for killing the momentum of those who start an exercise program only to see their initial results come to a screeching halt in a matter of weeks.

Yep, you are in good company. Even the most seasoned athletes and fitness enthusiasts experience times when their results plateau and their efforts seem to take them nowhere.  When you continue to put in the same effort day after day with little or no results it is safe to say that you’ve hit your own fitness wall.

The definition of “insanity” is doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results. This time proven wisdom holds true for many aspects of your life including your workouts. Your body adapts quickly to any repetitive routine and the way to avoid the stagnation is to keep your training always fresh and innovative.  Your local fitness professional is your best resource for this strategy and whether One-on-One or in a group setting, you will love how much you’ll get out of your investment.

However, if you are among those who for many personal reasons cannot make it to an exercise facility and train at home, or if you train at an exercise facility on your own, I have good news!  Use the following 4 tactics to crank your workouts up to the next level and to deliver the continuous results you want.


The techniques, ideas, and suggestions in this article are not intended as a substitute for proper medical advice. Any and all forms of exercise can be dangerous if performed without proper pre-exercise evaluation, competent instruction and/or personal supervision from an experienced coach.
Always consult your physician or health care professional before performing any new exercise or exercise program — particularly if you are pregnant, nursing, elderly, or if you have any chronic or recurring conditions.

Any application of the techniques, ideas, and suggestions in this document are at the reader’s sole discretion and risk.  The editors, author and or publishers of this article are not liable or responsible to any person or entity for any special, incidental, or consequential damage caused or alleged to be caused directly or indirectly by the information contained within.

Tactic #1: Change Your Focus

Why do the same exercises at the same pace every time when the potential for variation is so abundant? You can easily turn one exercise into 10 or more by changing variables. In the spirit of simplicity, we will focus on 3 aspects of resistance training (there are more) and how tweaking them out could provide you with a great plateau busting experience.

Let’s start by simplifying the different components of lifting a weight into 3 different aspects. These are:

Positive strength: The motion of lifting the weight.

Static strength: Holding weight in a contracted position.

Negative strength: The motion of lowering the weight.

You could easily modify the time you spend at each of those stages and Bam! You have a different exercise. For instance, let us focus on the negative aspect of the exercise. Start by lowering the weight very slowly. Focus on the negative contraction and make each repetition count.

If you are advanced, want to amp it up, and have a training companion, you may use your training partner to assist you in moving heavier-than-normal weight into your starting position, then move it slowly.

Another way to utilize negative repetitions on a machine is to lift the weight using two limbs but then lower it with just one. For example, use both legs to lift the weight on a leg extension machine, but then lower it back down slowly using only one leg.

That was not hard, was it? When you are done experimenting with this, try changing the time and the loads for the static and positive aspects. Have fun breaking the rut!


For those of you in the anti-machine camp, chill! This is neither an endorsement nor a condemnation of selectorized equipment.  The topic will be analyzed in more detail in an upcoming article.

Tactic #2: Do a Drop Set

Drop sets have long been used to fight off exercise plateaus and are great for increasing the intensity of your workout as well as the caloric burn. Here is an example of how to do a drop set in traditional weight training: When you perform an exercise to your fatigue point, don’t stop there. Drop the weight by approximately 30% and do another set.

You could take it a step further by dropping the weight twice, making it a double drop. Or drop the weight three times for a descending drop set.

Use this technique on the final set of the exercise and sparingly throughout your workouts. This could easily turn into a too much of a good thing.

Tactic #3: Modify the Exercise

Certain exercises are considered ‘staples’ in every exercise facility and the bread and butter of many training programs. The squat, the lunge, the bench press, the clean and jerk… You get the idea. If you use them constantly you can find creative ways to modify them and challenge your body. Try these modifications:

  • Squat with dumbbells or kettlebells instead of a barbell.
  • Experiment with different widths and directions for your walking lunges.
  • Use a surface other than the bench for your presses.
  • Do a squat between each repetition of overhead presses.
  • Clean and Jerk with kettlebells, sandbags, or dumbbells instead of a barbell.

Have fun combining! As long as you are safe and getting results, there is no right or wrong modification.

Tactic #4: Use Active Recovery to turn your workout into a High Intensity Interval Training

Tight schedule with no major health issues and ready to make every minute of your workout an opportunity to shed ugly fat? Don’t waste precious minutes with long rest periods between exercises.

While it is important to catch your breath if you feel winded, an active recovery period will maximize your time and increase the intensity. Perform one of the following activities for 30 seconds between exercises and turn your regular workout into High Intensity Interval Training. Make sure you do not exceed more than 30 minutes total and do not hesitate about stopping if it is overwhelming. There’s such thing as too much of a good thing.

  • High Knees with Alternating Punches: Alternately bring each knee high to your chest in a quick jumping movement while alternating forward punches at shoulder level. Make sure you KNOW how to punch, yes, it is a skill! If not, move your arms in jumping jack fashion.

  • Burpees: Start in a standing position and squat down reaching to the floor with your hands. Once your hands hit the floor, push your entire body back, extending your legs until they’re straight and you’re in the push-up position. Go down for a push-up, and when you push yourself up, jump slightly to bring your feet back near your hands. Finally, jump in the air with your arms fully extended over your head.
  • Side-to-Side Jumps: Stand on one side of a step, box, or an exercise bench if you are advanced. Place the foot closest up onto the step, jump up and switch feet, then land on the opposite side of the step.
  • Mountain Climbers: Place your hands wider than shoulder-width apart on the ground in a push-up position. Bring one knee to your chest and then back to the starting position, alternate each leg quickly.
  • Side-to-Side Ab Twists: With feet close together, jump and twist your legs left to right – holding your abs tight. Keep a bend in your knees and swing your upper arms with each twist.
  • Jump Lunges with Pop Squat: Start in a lunge position, lunge down then quickly jump up, switching your leg position in midair, land in an opposite leg lunge. Once you’ve done both legs, jump straight into a squat.
  • Medicine Ball Squat Jumps: With feet wider than shoulder-width apart hold a medicine ball at chest level. Squat down until your knees are at a 90 degree angle. Explosively jump up, raising the medicine ball straight over your head.

Oh Yeah! Busting through those walls can be fun. The possibilities are endless once you are start combining loads, tempo, rest interval, and sequence. My gratitude to Bedros Keulian and the Fit Pro team for the inspiration and guidance for this article.

Why be stuck with the same boring thing over and over when you have  tremendous potential for fun and results in front of you? If you feel you are having a hard time with ideas or need guidance, seek the services of your local fitness professional or take advantage of the many fantastic digital guides available from many experienced and knowledgeable instructors.  Of course, you can always keep visiting my blog for more tips and guidance.

Wishing you a year filled with success, radiant health, an alert mind, and the strong body that goes with them.

See you on the exercise floor!

About The Author


Coach Izzy has been part of the Strength and Conditioning field for over 25 years. He speaks of the advantages of self-sufficiency and the drawbacks of relying on the liner approaches the health world seems fond of.