Trading Efficiency for Novelty
‘I play tennis for a living even though I hate tennis, hate it with a dark and secret passion and always have.’
Andre Agassi – Open
Of all the training principles we know, there is likely no one more important than progressive overload. Progressive overload, defined simply – is the aim of systematically increasing the workload in successive training sessions. This could be done in multiple ways, the most obvious being intensity and volume.
However, progressive overload (in most instances), requires rigidity to be effective. A four week squat cycle for example, requires the same squat variation for four weeks. Some cycles even ask for longer. By adhering to structure, we facilitate an environment where the client is able to practice that pattern consistently. And they will improve at that pattern.
What is often the pitfall of such structured programs is this – boredom. One might argue that ‘if you want results, this must be accepted.’ I believe there is truth to this, but with a caveat. If you are able to accept to boredom, then you will attain results with this strategy. This aspect of programming is often overlooked. We are taught the most efficient means of attaining results, at the expense of the individual experience.
The bottom line is this – if your client is bored, they’re more likely to drop out.
Why is this important? The greatest program in the world – is the one we can stick to. The rigidity of your program should be proportional to individual personality characteristics as well as what is desired out of the training experience. For most of the general population (the population group with the highest probability of ‘losing motivation’), the utility of adhering to a rigid program is only as useful as the individual who likes rigid programs. If the program was a key, and your client was a lock, a rigid program is a key that would only fit into a one type of lock.
There are masses of people who seek to enjoy training. The more repetitive something is, the less enjoyable it becomes. In fact, most experts in a particular craft, claim that they no longer derive enjoyment from their practice. It is simply a job to them.
As coaches, above all else, I believe our role is to foster a positive relationship between our clients and their training. This means that we must take special care in program composition and determine which trade-offs are most important. Do we choose efficiency over variety? Do we choose boredom over novelty? When approaching program design with this in mind, novelty becomes a fundamental consideration.
The next logical question would be – how do we progress novelty though? In short, we can’t. But this isn’t the question we should be asking. The question we should be asking is – how much enjoyment is my client attaining from this method? This can then be measured by the level of adherence. How many sessions have my clients completed out of the prescribed?
Building a positive relationship with exercise is the first step to creating sustainable habits. Never underestimate how much enjoyment can be obtained simply by doing exercises that are fun, novel, and challenging. Progress doesn’t have to always come in the form of decreased body fat percentage, or increased muscle mass, or increased performance measurements. Progress in adherence is just as (if not more) important for the vast majority of the population.