Pros and Cons of Exercise Variations

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How often do you change up your workouts? The other day I mentioned that I changed things up and decided to use the cable machines instead of barbells and dumbbells. I got a question about why I did that and if it really makes a difference. Judging from the soreness of my muscles, I think it did make a difference.

barbell hamster

I try to change things up pretty frequently with my workouts to avoid hitting that dreaded plateau. Like any experiment, I do this in a controlled manner. I don’t change every exercise every workout because that would make it hard to track progress. You can’t tell what works and what doesn’t if everything is constantly changing.

I plan out and stick with the same exercises during workouts for about a month and then I change exercises. Every couple weeks during the month I try to modify a bit to hit different muscle types. You have larger muscles to do the heavy work, and you have smaller muscles to help with stability. Both are needed to function in every day life so you should work both.

For example, during April I chose the bench press as my main lift on chest day. I started off using a barbell. Barbells let you lift heavy weight and require less effort to stabilize since the bar helps distribute the weight. Barbells also allow your stronger side to compensate for the weaker side. You can push the bar up in a bench press, but one side might work harder than the other.

If you use dumbbells, both sides have to work equally to lift the weight and you also have to use more stabilizer muscles to do the work. Holding a barbell keeps your hands the same distance apart for the press. Using dumbbells forces you to work to keep your hands evenly spaced. It also causes each side to lift the same weight and can correct muscle imbalances.

Switching to cables ups the instability even more and provides a bit of variation in resistance as the handles move further from or closer to the machine. This fires off even more stability muscles. This is especially evident if you watch someone who mostly uses barbells jump on the cable machine. There’s a lot of shaking going on as they try to keep their form. 😉

Try changing things up every now and then to keep your muscles guessing and work on functional movements. Which do you prefer in your workouts – barbells, dumbbells or cables?

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