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Variation Without Change

Written on November 14, 2020 at 6:14 am, by Eric Cressey

I can recall the late Charles Poliquin speaking many years ago about the concept of “Variation Without Change.”

When I first heard this phrase, I believe he was referring to the stimuli needed to induce muscular hypertrophy. If you wanted bigger lats, you might do chin-ups (supinated grip) for a month, then neutral grip pull-ups for a month, then regular (pronated grip) pull-ups for a month. Simultaneously, the focus might shift from sets of 8-10 reps to sets of 4-6 reps.

The principle was simple but effective: if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten. However, subtle variations to the approach – without throwing the baby out with the bath water – were important for providing for longer term adaptation while not developing overuse injuries or mind-numbing boredom.

To me, “variation without change” is a subcategory of periodization. The overall training priority might be adjusted from one mesocycle to the next, but some of the exercise categories can remain relatively consistent. Medicine ball work is a good example; we use it in a variety of ways throughout the year.

In-season, for a right-handed pitcher, we might do left only rotational med ball scoop tosses to counteract some of the crazy imbalances that can emerge in such a unilateral dominant sport.

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In the early offseason, we might utilize anti-rotation drills to give athletes reminders on where to find rotation without being so aggressive that it beats them up at a time of year when they should be recovering.

As the offseason progresses, we can get to more drills where we attack rotation – and then build in sequencing that incorporates momentum.

Finally, as the season approaches, we can make the drills more open-loop by having athletes either respond to a “go” command or have to “receive and release:”

As you can see, all of these exercises fall under the same broad heading, but are each categorized slightly differently. In our recent podcast with Bill Parisi, we discussed how pronounced fascial changes take 18-24 months, so you need variety to keep athletes engaged while still incorporating these long chain, multijoint movements at varying speeds and loads.

In the weeks ahead, I’ll have a few new articles to dig deeper on the topic of rotation. In the meantime, however, I would strongly encourage you to check out my new Medicine Ball Master Class. I created this new resource in collaboration with Athletes Acceleration, and it’s on sale for 20% off through this Sunday at midnight. It includes over 50 exercise demonstration videos, as well as my rationale for including them. Just visit www.CresseyMedBall.com and the discount will be automatically applied at checkout.

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