Why is a variation necessary

Principle of variation - this is how you vary your workouts correctly | Part 5

In order to achieve long-term increases in performance, it is necessary to make training stimuli variable, taking into account the basic principles of training planning discussed so far. Changes in the choice of exercises, the training intensity or the training modality have a very high priority in training science, whereby variation is an independent basic principle of training planning.

One speaks of that here Principle of variation

As a reminder: If you have not read our previous articles, we warmly recommend them to you - and to your biceps.


  1. Training planning in CrossFit - Part 1
  2. Principle of progressive increase in exertion - part 2
  3. Principle of supercompensation - part 3
  4. Principle of long-term stress management


Why you should vary your training

The principle of variation is used to manipulate training variables in order to avoid injuries and for long-term optimization of adaptation processes through training.

In the CrossFit world, too, variation has a very high priority and is even mentioned in its definition:"CrossFit is constantly varied functional movements performing at high intensity"

From the point of view of training science, however, it should be noted that not only too little, but also too high a degree of variation can have a negative effect on the long-term increase in performance. "Constantly varied" is therefore not optimal and is not used in practice by CrossFit athletes.


What are the benefits of variation?


1.) Injury prophylaxis

By varying the training, the risk of overloading passive structures can be greatly reduced. Monotonous selection of exercises, paired with high intensity and high training volume, often lead to signs of wear and tear and injuries.

If an athlete pursues the goal of improving his maximum strength in the "high bar squat", this exercise must logically be an important part of his training. Doing heavy high bar squats four times a week for months, however, would most likely not be optimal for his knees. By regularly varying the training intensity, stance, bar position, training frequency and training volume, the likelihood of overload can be greatly reduced and the long-term performance build-up can be improved.


2.) Training weaknesses

In principle, training is always about training towards a specific goal. If we assume that our athlete's goal is to improve his squat performance, then the squat itself would be the "most specific means" of improving it.

In order to master the squat, it is of course important to train extensively in these phases. In most cases, however, other exercises are also necessary to build relatively weak muscle groups. Exercises such as "low bar squats", "safety bar squats", lunges or hamstring curls can be used to train muscular weaknesses and thus support the specific performance goal in the long term.

The "High Bar Squat" should be trained in phases, alternating with a higher and lower frequency and now and then completely replaced by other exercise variations. Phases in which the target exercise is little or not trained lead to an increase in performance in the long term. Because it is precisely during this time that the prerequisites for subsequent training phases are set.


3.) Set priorities

Adaptation processes in the body slow down as the level of training progresses. Increases in endurance, strength and muscle mass are much more pronounced in the first few months than after several years of well-organized training. The air upwards is getting thinner, so to speak, as the following graphic shows.

This means: the higher the training level, the greater the effort required to improve performance. Unlike with beginners, it is no longer possible to improve everywhere at the same time without focusing on training. Especially in sports such as CrossFit, in which a large number of athletic skills (strength, speed strength, endurance, technique) have to be trained, it is necessary for advanced learners to set priorities in phases.

Training cycles that alternate and are designed to improve individual skills in particular, while other skills should remain at the same level as possible, make it possible for advanced athletes to optimally increase their performance in the long term. A planned variation of the training focus based on the competition season, with the ulterior motive of improving performance in the target sport CrossFit, is an important application of the principle of variation.

4.) Motivation

Variation is also important and necessary for psychological reasons. If the training is made too monotonous, it is very likely that athletes will lose interest in training. This factor seems very trivial, but it can have a big effect on athlete motivation. Motivation is necessary in order to sustain actions consistently over the long term. Accordingly, variation in training planning should be used to a reasonable extent, taking specificity into account.


The problem of excessive variation

If variation is used excessively, the body cannot optimally adjust to certain stimuli, and the desired physiological adaptations are by no means exhausted. It is important to note that all previous principles in the hierarchy are above the principle of variation. This means that these should always be taken into account. Excessive variation, for example, is in contrast to the principle of specificity and the principle of progressive increase in exertion. Especially in the area of ​​CrossFit, this is one of the biggest mistakes in training planning.

The following points are negatively affected by excessive application of the principle of variation:


  • Physiological adaptations are not or only to a limited extent possible from a higher training level, as the necessary focus on individual areas is missing.
  • Comparability and measurability in training is difficult because exercises and training methods are constantly changing.
  • Progressive increase in stress is difficult to understand.
  • It makes learning special techniques and designs more difficult, as there is less practice time for individual techniques due to the high variation in exercises.
  • Frequent sore muscles caused by constant, unfamiliar training stimuli.


Correct application of the principle of variation in the area of ​​CrossFit

The complexity of the sport CrossFit makes the application of this principle seem almost impossible at first. However, it is very possible to bring all of the points discussed so far under one roof.

In principle, when planning training it is always important to create a basic framework that is based on a certain scheme. This not only simplifies training planning, but also enables training results to be documented. If the goal is to build strength in a training phase, strength training will be a fixed part of the training week. These strength training units should take place two to three times a week on fixed training days and increase in work weight or training volume over a few weeks. In training science, such training phases are called mesocycles and usually last 4-6 weeks. If two mesocycles follow one another with the same goal, some exercises are often slightly modified or exchanged in order to optimally apply the principle of variation.

In addition to strength training, “CrossFit” must of course also be trained. If possible, these units should also pursue a certain focus goal depending on the training phase. In contrast to strength training, however, much more exercise variation can be done here. As long as it is not about the immediate preparation for a competition, workouts with maximum intensity should only be used very sparingly, since sufficient energy for regeneration is necessary for other aspects (strength training in a strength building phase) in the training. For example, CrossFit workouts can be used during a strength phase to improve “workflow”, skills and endurance. Workouts can be planned here in such a way that exercise combinations can be found that do not interrupt the constant movement but at the same time support the consolidation of skills.

Above all, when learning skills, it makes sense to regularly incorporate exercises over a longer period of time in order to allow sufficient practice time. If, in addition to the focus on strength training, you also set the goal of improving the ring muscle up, then separate skill training - but also CrossFit workouts - can be used to improve this skill. In order not to interrupt the workflow of a workout at the same time, the number of repetitions of the ring muscle ups must be well coordinated with the other exercises. Here is an example workout for an athlete who can do 9 ring muscle ups while rested.




6 rounds:

  • 500m concept 2 bike
  • 3 muscle ups
  • 12 Burpee box jumps


Muscle ups shouldn't be a big problem in this rep range and in this constellation, as long as the pace of the other two exercises is well chosen. Endurance training, workflow training and technical training under stress are thus brought under one roof. The constants here would be the ring muscle up and the focus on workflow. Variation can be built in using exercise selection and workout modality, intensity, and workout duration.


CrossFit training plan including variation

The basic framework for a training week for an advanced CrossFitt athlete could look like this.


  • Goal # 1: increase strength
  • Goal # 2: improve workflow and maintain perseverance
  • Goal # 2: Improve Ring MU (max reps 9 ring muscle ups)


Distribution of the individual units

  • 2 x strength training units (goal of progressive increase in load)
  • 2 x CrossFit units with focus on ring muscle ups & workflow (intensity 70-80%)
  • 2 x Crossfit units (intensity 70-100%)
  • 1 x endurance units (constant pace)
  • 1 x weightlfting units (focus on technique 60-80% 1RM)


Example training plan


The variation within the strength units from week to week is relatively small. The exercises are not changed during the mesocycle. However, slight adjustments to the work weight and the number of repetitions or sets are made. The same goes for weightlifting. However, the focus here is more on improving technology than increasing the working weight.

Ring muscle ups are an integral part of the training week and can be included in workouts to a demanding but feasible extent.

In principle, variation can be used arbitrarily in CrossFit workouts, as long as it does not negatively affect other training units. For example, if there are 100 pullups in the CrossFit session on Monday and ring muscle ups are trained the next day.

The load-bearing capacity of the traction apparatus and the forearms would probably be severely restricted. The effect of the exercises, the number of repetitions and the training intensity have an impact on the entire training week. When planning, therefore, the entire training week should always be considered as a whole and variations within this framework should be used sensibly.


The main points summarized:

  • Variation serves to prevent injuries and to build up long-term performance
  • Variation brings variety to training and has a motivating effect
  • Variation can be used to train weaknesses and to set priorities
  • Excessive use of variation makes progressive increase in exertion difficult
  • The principle of variation should always be applied taking the overarching training principles into account