The 3 Variables of Exercise in Practice

TL:DR | These are the principles and variables I use when I exercise or train clients to continuously gain progress when working out.

3 min read
The 3 Variables of Exercise in Practice

I think I have written about these a while back, but I wanted to discuss with the lessons I have learned since writing that older post. The 3 variables of exercise are the variables you change in each and every workout.

Usually you pick one to focus on changing during that session, and then the the other two are stagnant. As you don't want to increase the difficulty too much. As that could lead to injury. Although sometimes you may do two variables, every once in a blue moon per se.

The 3 Variables are as follows:

  • Speed
  • Intensity
  • Volume

The order doesn't matter, and you don't necessarily want to stick to one for TOO long. However you do also want to try to milk out as much progress as you can before switching macro focus.

Why is it important?

You can't do the same thing twice, and doing things over and over again. Expecting different results, is the definition of insanity.

By taking your same exercises however, and changing how fast you do them, how intense do they feel, and how many repetitions you do them for. That will increase your strength in different ways, but most importantly. All three will continue to create progress for your development.

How do they work?

Each variable acts as a magnifier for the exercise you are doing. If you increase the amount, the weight, or the duration. Then you change how that exercise effects your body. From type-1 to type-2 muscles, endurance or explosiveness, muscle memory, constitution, and more.

Changing Intensity

This as simple as just adding more weight, or changing the angle. If you were to do a push up you could start on the wall, then work your way down to the floor as you got stronger.

If you start out curling 3lbs, then you could do that for a month or two, then 5lbs, repeat the process until you get to 10lbs. Work from there.

Changing Volume

Often what I tell people to start with, as it helps you gain better form over time. More total reps equals more times you have done the movement, which in turn means more times you have done a rep perfectly.

I have a pretty simple system when it comes to Total Reps:

3, 20, 50, 100

You break up your sets from that total number that you are aiming towards. 3 is for when you do something really hard. 20 is an average amount for anything. 50 is a hard day. 100 is when you get really good at something after like a year at least doing it.

Changing Speed

The studies show that both fast and slow exercises have their benefits. I often find myself going at a medium speed, so that I can focus on the other two variables. However sometimes you can slow yourself down for endurance training.

If your form is great then you can try going for fast reps, but you can't let your form slip doing that.

What I would do:

While I am a bit biased towards REPS, which means Volume variable. It is really for a good reason actually. As your muscles take time to remember, and to train that muscle memory it is key for safety and form. By doing the reps over and over again, presumably at a lower weight/intensity. Then you allow for your muscles to learn the form deeply well.

You also train the deep muscles too, which helps with endurance.

Thus when I trained clients more, I would focus on getting them to do more repetitions. Then over time I would add in a heavier day, like 15lbs instead of the normal 10lbs for example (numbers are different for different individuals).

Or maybe I would get them on rare occasion to do faster or slower reps. Meaning the extremes. Not just slightly faster or slower, but full on 20 second reps. If you were doing a curl, then it would be 10 sec up, and 10 sec down.

You start off with reps, increase the intensity, then switch back and forth for a while. Perhaps doing a high rep and then high intensity, AFTER doing the former two for a long while. Eventually moving onto Speed as well.

How do they fit into your routine?

The way you can think about it is that it is often based on how you feel when you walk into the gym. Do you have less time, more time? Do you have a lot of energy to burn, or is the grey weather outside draining you?

Things like this go through your head, and then you can decide "Okay, I'm doing this variable today."!

Each one is important, and you can multiply the same workout routine by changing these variables.

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