The element of surprise
increase variety for adherence and results

Studies have reinforced the importance of variety to exercise adherence. If you’re looking to retain more clients in the new year, and to help them achieve more, it may be time to shake up their training, says John Pidgeon.

Variety is the proverbial spice of a fitness program. And while it’s essential to long term adherence for your clients, it’s also important for maintaining your own motivation and enthusiasm for training.

If you find your clients are using excuses to avoid actively participating, seem quiet or uninterested, or are even failing to show for sessions, it’s time to shake things up a bit. Research supports the importance of variety for exercise adherence. In a University of Florida1 study, 114 male and female participants were divided into three groups. The first group was given specific exercise instructions for their workouts that incorporated frequent variety. The second group was also given specific instructions for their workouts, but for the same exercises to be performed in each session. The third, control, group was not given any guidelines regarding workout schedule or specific exercises.

The study period lasted eight weeks, with study subjects in the first two groups being instructed to exercise three times a week throughout the duration of the study. The group with the best retention and highest reported satisfaction was the group that incorporated both structure and variety.

While exercise variety can come in the form of spontaneous outbursts based on sudden inspiration, for it to be most effective it should have an element of planning. The best kind of workout variety is a diverse and challenging program with clear options that you can adopt wholesale or configure to the needs and abilities of your clients. Not only does this kind of ‘menu’ offer helpful structure and a more enjoyable mix of activity, it can also provide a more extensive, well-rounded training program. For clients to achieve optimum health and fitness, we cannot prescribe them restricted, narrow and incomplete workouts. Solid, total body fitness requires substantial variety.

The outdoor training business franchise, Step into Life, surveyed over 500 members nationally to uncover their main motivation for continuing to train with their Step into Life trainer for upwards of two years. The number one reason given was that it was outdoors, but the second most cited reason, by a huge margin, was the variety in the training sessions. This was deemed far more important even than the personal trainer conducting the sessions, a factor that ranked in fourth position.

So, how much variety do you need in order for clients to acknowledge its importance in their exercise adherence, and in the results they achieve? Step into Life training includes seven different programs: cardiomax™; toneup™; boxkick™; coreball™; powerflex™; endurit™ and achievit™. Between them, these programs provide an immense range of exercises, encompassing everything from dumbbell and handled medicine ball work to half camels, planks and uppercuts. The way in which these programs are integrated into sessions means that Step into Life members who train around three times per week will not see the same session twice in a 12-month period.

Although it might seem a bit intimidating when you have multiple clients and sessions every week, the fact is that, ideally, your client’s workout routine should change daily. This doesn’t mean you have to use seven different complete programs, or that you can’t have a core set of activities to work from – but those core exercises should make up a part of your client’s workout, not their full training program. Look at how you can incorporate variety into the course of a week’s program, and go from there. Variety isn’t just the natural antidote to boredom – it’s the best remedy for the inevitable plateau clients hit when they stay on the same track too long.

Plan for success

If you find yourself stuck in a rut with your clients’ training, why not make 2013 the year to create a new session outline and fresh set of goals for your clients? Asking yourself the following questions about the cardio work you program for clients can help you to start thinking in a way that will take your training delivery – and your clients’ results – up a gear in the new year.
Firstly, do the cardio elements of your sessions involve the same equipment, on the same piece of grass or indoor area, for the same period of time, week in week out? If the answer to this is ‘yes’, you have some work to do. Predictability is, predictably, dull.
Secondly, do you have a periodisation plan for cardio sessions that involves the rotated use of exercises designed specifically for assorted types of cardio training? If the answer is ‘no’, take some time this summer to map out a plan.


Another way of mixing things up in your training sessions is to transform simple exercises with the use of equipment. In the following exercise, an aqua bag is used to provide three interesting variations to the humble squat. Every small change makes a difference to the way the body works, keeping your clients happy with ever-changing workouts.

Squat with aqua bag (photo 1)

The aqua bag forces the body to bear the weight in a different manner than dumbbells or barbells do. It also has the additional benefit of working on shoulder stabilisation.

Partner squat (photo 2)

By turning a squat into a partner activity you can add variety to a traditionally solo exercise while increasing the fun factor.

Shouldering squat (photos 3 & 4)

Squatting with the aqua bag on alternating shoulders works the whole body with functional movements.

If the training you deliver includes a variety of program types, has a solid periodisation plan for each, and you continually review the equipment you use, you are well on the way to giving your clients the variety they yearn for while establishing a roadmap for great results and increased adherence.

John Pidgeon, BA (PE)
John is the group outdoor personal training coordinator for Step into Life Australia. He has worked in the fitness industry for 10 years, previously spending five years working as a physical education teacher. He has also been a fitness coach with various elite sporting teams across Australia. For more information on Step into Life, including franchise opportunities, visit