By: Fred Munzenmaier

During the month of April, the SPARC Staff reviewed an article that compared two important elements of physical training—repetition and randomness. Our conclusion was that the two should be inextricably intertwined when it comes to training programs. Fundamentally, one of the first things people realize when they learn about training is that persistence is very important. Athletes and the general population alike have to diligently and consistently work towards their goals. Therefore, they repetitiously do specific things they believe will help them meet their benchmarks. Reps and sets are assigned within a workout for each specific exercise, and those exercises are also repeated cyclically throughout the overall program. Think for a moment about why repetition is such a vital element to a training program…  Repeating things is necessary to improve specific movements and also to reach the ultimate training goal of a program, whether it is weight loss, increasing strength, or improving sports performance.

However, repetition can be taken too far, and it often leads to a standstill for a variety of reasons like over training, asymmetry, or even flat out boredom. Therefore, it’s important to marry repetition to its compliment—randomness. In simple terms, randomness occurs when people sporadically change and implement things into their training programs. Most people have likely heard the term “muscle confusion” that was made famous in the mainstream by Tony Horton, maker of P90x. There is a lot of value to that term; however, before the catchy name came along, the idea existed for quite some time. As a matter of fact, Louie Simmons, a renowned powerlifting coach, was largely responsible for proving the importance of randomness to the American weight lifting culture. He is the founder of Westside Barbell, and the brains behind the Conjugate Method. The fact that two reputable yet starkly different programs both apply the same theory of randomness is evidence that the principle is important for various training programs.

Louie Simmons
Louie Simmons

I’d like to focus more on Louie’s methodology as an example, because he’s been demonstrating the importance of randomness for so long. Not to mention, his athletes’ results are plastered all over the record books. Louie has successfully integrated repetition and randomness in optimal proportions. As I mentioned earlier, Louie has coined his philosophy the Conjugate Method. His strategy combines using varieties of exercises within the structure of sound repetition schemes to improve the three core lifts of powerlifting—the bench press, squat, and deadlift. The array of exercises utilizes different implements with varied movement patterns in efforts to strengthen weaknesses and ultimately increase the numbers that matter in competition for a power lifter’s main three lifts.

Here is an illustration. A quad dominant squatter who sees early lockout in the knees and then essentially finishes his/her squat pattern with a back extension could potentially trace the movement deficiency back to weak glutes. Simply performing more squats is not likely a great solution, but using a variation like the box squat may help queue the athlete to fire his/her glutes to bring the hips into extension. In addition, using supplementary exercises that explicitly target the glutes, such as a barbell hip thrust, can be beneficial in a repeat effort. Simmons is so confident in his approach, which aims to stress weak points, that some of his lifters may not even perform the traditional form of a movement like the squat during a pre-competition training period. Yet, they still continually improve and set records on competition days, because randomness accounted for the weak links in their movements.

There is evidence that both repetition and randomness are important to many types of training programs. Even though the examples above only include one form of circuit training and one approach to powerlifting, the principle is the important element to capture. There is one essential goal in every training program that requires repetition coupled with randomness to maximize achievement.

Consider how to use repetition and randomness in any program to reach training goals successfully.  For example, football players usually try to achieve rapid and powerful rates of force production, which conventionally used lifts like the squat and power clean promote very well. It’s important to apply repetition to those movements to bring up the bottom lines of strength and power. However, there’s no predicting how many planes of movement football players will encounter on the field, so they should not be limited to practicing a couple movements. The general fitness population should use the same line of thinking. Imagine how many ways people squat down, bend over, carry, push, and pull as they go through life. Get creative when planning to train and be prepared for anything.

Here are some helpful links from professionals and also a more in depth look at the Conjugate Method. You may enjoy them…

http://www.westside-barbell.com/index.php/the-westside-barbell-university/articles-by-louie-simmons/articles-published-in-2013/291-the-conjugate-method

http://www.exrx.net/WeightTraining/Powerlifting/Westside.html

http://www.ericcressey.com/repetition-vs-randomness-get-fit-faster