The Importance of Variability in Exercise

The Importance of Variability in Exercise

A little while ago I wrote an article busting myths (here if you missed it) about injury prevention including common practices such as stretching before training and ice-baths after workouts. I was then speaking at a runner’s symposium when I was asked: “what does actually work then?”

When it comes to injury prevention, most of the good advice is boring common-sense stuff that we all really know even if we don’t do it. Things like;

  • Incremental increases in volume an intensity
  • Periodistaion and recovery
  • Appropriate fueling and hydration
  • Thorough active warm-ups and cool downs for high intensity activities.

But one point that is often over-looked and has an increasing body of evidence behind it is VARIABILITY. Mixing things up has been shown to improve athletic performance, increase physiological adaptation and reduce the rates of injury.

Injury rates:

  • Highly specialized athletes are up to 60% more likely to be injured in a single season.
  • Athletes doing their primary sport for more hours a week than they are years old have a 34% increased injury risk in one season
  • Junior athletes who play a sport for more than 8 months of the year have a 68% increased injury risk.
  • Even runners who always wear one type of shoe are at least 40% more likely to be injured than those who alternate through multiple shoes.


  • All coaches and physiologists know that to increase performance you can’t train constantly at the same pace. You need low intensity, high intensity, targeted strength work and drills, form and stability work specific to the sport.
  • In many ball sports and sports requiring reactive execution of skills rather than predictable repetition (think football compared to swimming), playing multiple sports has been strongly related to sporting performance. It is assumed that teaching your body to move and react in a variety of ways is beneficial.
  • Even for non-competitive exercisers, constantly training the same movements and systems leads to very specific adaptations in those areas which can leave other elements under-trained.

So the take home message is


If you are training for a one discipline event like a marathon, you can still mix it up by varying footwear, terrain, intensity and duration and even throw in a few recovery sessions in a completely different discipline.  If you’re not training for just one discipline, you can mix it up even more. By doing so, you’ll keep it fun, reduce your injury risk and experience greater fitness gains.

Past and Present Affiliations

  • Triathlon International Triathlon Union
  • Football Federation Australia
  • Swimming Australia
  • Westcoast Eagles
  • Australian Boomers
  • Precision Biomechanics
  • Western Force
  • Aquatic Super Series Western Australia
  • Cricket Australia
  • Sports Medicine Australia
  • Australasian College of Sports Physician
  • The Royal College of General Practitioners
  • Life Care
  • Front Runner
  • Kokkaburras
  • Catalyst Nutrition Dietetics
  • Westcoast Fever
  • Cloud Running
  • Netball Australia
  • Cirque Du Soleil
  • Perth Wildcats