Combating Stress Adaptation With Variety

lunge with kettlebell

Do you or someone you know have a “routine” when you go to the gym?  Remember when you first worked out with these killer moves and were sore the next day? Keeping this routine with the same number of reps, sets, weight & plane of motion can quickly put your results to a halt.  Weird since your workout seemed to be so effective to begin with.  This is the result of something called stress adaptation response.

Stress adaptation response is experienced when your body experiences a level of stress higher than previously received.  Once stressed, the tissue  causes the body to pull in stress stabilizing proteins and beneficial inflammatory mediators.  After removal of the stress, the body generally returns to homeostasis within 6 to 48 hours.  At a fitness level, this means an increase in physical capability.  You or your client increase the level of fitness and potentially body composition.   Failing to continue to exercise these muscles to the point of stress will allow the muscles to quickly adapt and therefore slow progression.

Whether or not you are needing to switch up your workouts or keep it fresh when you train clients, there are a multitude of ways to accomplish this goal.  I like to think of some of the basic types of movements and coming up with variations.  You can change things up by increasing range of motion, plane of motion, modality, plyometric or isometric movement, etc.  Go crazy!!!

Here are some examples I use for variations to the basics:

Move – Forward lunge

lunge with kettlebellSwitch – Lunge with kettlebell swing

Hold a kettlebell in the opposing hand of your lead leg. As you step forward to lunge, swing both arms forward and the kettlebell forward to eye level. Holding weight unevenly will challenge your balance, obliques and add dynamic to this exercise essential.

Move – Push-up

Switch – Push-up on dumbbells

Place dumbbells in an upright position and hands on top.  If your dumbells are unable to stand upright, you can also lay them flat.  With your hands elevated, you will increase the range of motion that your pecs have to work and add extra stress to these working muscle groups.

Move – Squats

Switch – Pop squats

Lower into a squat, stand up explosively and jump the feet together.  Jump the feet back out to lower into a squat.  Adding in this jump will activate more type II muscle fibers and a cardio element to it.

Move – Plank

Switch – Plank with feet on medicine ball

With both hands firm on the ground, place one foot on the ball with your leg fully extended.  Engaging your core step the other foot onto the ball and balance as long as you can.

As a personal trainer, I have found that varying workouts give a continuous challenge of balance, strength and stamina to my clients.  What are some of your favorite twists to a fundamental exercise?


Christine Oakes is an ACE Certified Personal Trainer, Fitness Nutrition Specialist, Health Coach, NASM Corrective Exercise Specialist and 200RYT certified yoga instructor . She currently operates her own fitness company offering personal training, bootcamp and yoga classes in the Mountain View, CA area. Christine has had a love for being active since childhood and believes that true fitness comes from a balance of strength, nutrition, flexibility and a dose of fun. Learn more about Christine at