The Variation Principle

The Variation Principle suggests that minor changes in training regimens yield more consistent gains in sport performance. Training programs for virtually every sport include variations in intensity, duration, volume, and other important aspects of practice.

The most well known method of practice variability concerns training in phases. Typically, an annual sports training program includes phases of training for conditioning, intensive sport-specific work, in-season maintenance, and an off-season regimen. Training in phases, or periods, is called periodization.

Periodization was used by Eastern Europeans for about 50 years. Macrocycles (a year), mesocycles (about a month), and microcycles (a week) include planned changes in exercises, intensity, volume, and other training variables that target the athlete's goals for peaking during the competitive season.

Adjustments in training are very effective when used for skill learning, as well as for fitness training. Changes within a range or class of skills is well supported by Schema Theory. Schema theory suggests that variations of skills within a range promotes learning and performance. Examples of applications of this theory include using slightly heavier or lighter implements in throwing or batting, or performing variations of the Olympic lifts.

This principle does not conflict with the Specificity and Overload Principles. Specificity is about how the athlete's body adapts to the type of training program used, and training should be similar to the demands of a sport. Practice variability simply suggests that athletes should not perform exactly the same regimen each day. It supports specificity because competitive conditions present different situations that demand slightly different responses. The Overload Principle implies that gradual and progressive changes in training must occur in order for improvement to take place.

Training Tips for Applying the Variation Principle

1. Set up an annual sports training plan using phases, each with a specific purpose.

2. Plan how all sports training activities can cohesively build to a training peak during the competitive season.

3. In each week of each training phase, coordinate the intensity of fitness training activities with technical and tactical work to allow ample recovery.

4. For weight training, adjust exercises, sets, reps, rest, and volume within a range that fits the training cycle.

5. For aerobic training, adjust distance, speed, duration, recovery, and volume within the training cycle.

6. When signs of overtraining occur, change workouts by reducing intensity and allowing longer recovery time.

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