Often we perform movements, or see movements performed like paused squats, board pressing and block pulls, but in a sport of three disciplines, why would you need to stray from the three specific lifts? Maybe you don't.
Let's talk about what variations are. They are movements that are NOT our specific competition lifts, that should assist us in getting our competition lifts stronger. This can be anything from a finger-width grip change in bench press, all the way down to a dumbbell fly.
But lets stick to talking about closer variations than dumbbell flys, as there is a crossover point between variation & accessory. A variation should have A degree of direct crossover to our competition lift, an accessory is generally to develop the supporting musculature of a movement or lift.
I like to think of variation movements in three categories, Pattern Re-enforcement, Overloading and Stimulus Altering, many movements will overlap two or more of these categories.
- Pattern Re-enforcement should be everyone's go to when looking at adding variations to their training, they are very close to our competition movements but in some way challenge our technical execution of the competition lift. Using Bench Press as an example, a pattern re-enforcement variation would be adding tempo work.
- Overload movements should be used carefully and likely not by beginners. These are things that allow us to use supramaximal loads to challenge our central nervous system to perform in extreme conditions. They can also be very powerful for improving confidence under extreme weight. An example of this may be Slingshot Benching or Board Pressing.
- Stimulus Alteration occurs anytime a movement pattern is challenged in a different way to our competition style, but I personally look at something like a grip change or the use of specialty bars as purely Stimulus Altering. They are too distant from our competition lift to re-enforce our specific patterning, and we don't really use them to overload (although you could), we generally just use them to change shit up.
So why use variations anyway?
We have to have the mindset that the way to get better at a skill, is to practice that skill. So performing our competition lifts, to a high standard, through various set/re/intensity schemes is going to increase our performance in those three lifts more than anything else. But repeated exposure to the specific stimulus they deliver can come at a costs.
I'd suggest the main costs of repeated exposure are:
1. We can develop bad habits and end up repeatedly performing the lifts like shit, therefore decreasing our chances of improvement at top end intensity.
2. We beat up certain joints/structures which makes getting the necessary volume in impossible (we all know about those fucking elbows).
3. We neglect certain muscle groups necessary for long term health and progress.
So the way we combat these is carefully selected and carefully programmed variations. They can allow us to improve our patterning so our competition lifts get performed to a high level. They can allow us to work in adequate volume around injuries and common afflictions. They can allow us to physically handle and feel weights beyond our capabilities. They allow us to favor muscle groups less directly stressed by our competition movements, allowing us to stay balanced and our joints supported through our lifting career and beyond.
So prioritize your competition lifts, do them really fucking well and select variations that will have a directly positive affect on your competition lifts.
Be Vicious, Be Deliberate, Be Ruthless.