How To Leverage Specialized Variety For Better Fitness Results

woman doing barbell overhead squat

Pop quiz: All other things being equal, who would be the healthier, fitter, stronger, better developed, and an otherwise, more complete athlete?

a) The athlete who specializes in only one pushup exercise (e.g. the standard military-style pushup) to the exclusion of all others.


b) The athlete who specializes in many different pushup exercises (e.g. standard pushups, diamond pushups, elevated pushups, etc.), and trains several variations regularly.

Or, how about this one…

a) The runner who only runs at the same pace, on a flat track, for around the same distance every run.


b) The runner who runs trails on different grades and terrains, and at different paces for different distances.

And one more…

a) The weightlifter who only specializes in the Big 3 lifts (i.e. barbell back squat, deadlift, and bench press).


b) The weightlifter who specializes in the big 3 lifts, the Olympic lifts, and other unconventional lifts such as strongman training (e.g. odd-object lifting).

Let me give you a hint: bumblebees begin buzzing before breakfast…bibbidi bobbidi boo…brachiosauruses brachiating between behemoth bulldozers…I got nothing. It’s B, people. B as in Bumble-BEE.

But why is that? I mean, haven’t we been indoctrinated to believe that specialization is the key to success? Well, we know that some degree of specialization is essential because the body only adapts specifically to the demands imposed upon it (SAID principle). However, specialization is only one component of a training program. And in some cases, too much specialization is usually not the most effective option, and it can be harmful, too.

I can hear the naysayers proclaiming…

But John, you can’t be good at everything!

Sure you can. Well, not everything. But you can be good at a lot of different physical skills and attributes across a broad spectrum. What you can’t be is the best at everything. So, unfortunately, if you want to set a new world record in powerlifting, you’ll have to give up your career of running marathons. But if you’d be content with a 6 minute mile, and a double bodyweight squat, I think you could achieve both in short order. And you’d have a strong, lean body to go with it.

The key is finding the middle ground between specialization (and thus, specificity) and variety. Speaking of which…

I heard a new term this week that immediately “clicked” for me. StrongFirst Master Coach, Karen Smith, mentioned in one of her training videos that she likes to alternate her grip while doing pull-ups, which she referred to as “specialized variety.” And I thought, “Yes! That’s EXACTLY the right term for it!” And until now, I haven’t been able to articulate this training strategy succinctly. So, thanks Coach Smith!

In this post, I’ll explain what Specialized Variety is and give you some examples of how you can leverage it for better fitness results.

Here’s how it works…

5 Ways To Build Physical & Mental Toughness With Hormetic Training

How to Use Positive Stress To Get Tougher, Build Hardiness, and Cultivate Grit with Hormetic Training

female snow

Science now agrees: what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

It’s a little something called hormesis. Here’s what it means… Continued

Interview with Mark Wildman about Fitness, Movement, and Fighting

Mark Wildman - headshot for interview
Mark Wildman

Mark Wildman is a one-of-a-kind fitness coach who does his own thing and gets his clients exceptional results using an unconventional, science-based approach to training.

Mark is also a 220 pound self-proclaimed “farm boy with no dance skills” who is terrified of heights, and yet, he specializes in aerial training, which isn’t exactly known to attract big guys with no dance skills.

Hint: he’s one of those guys who is proactive about facing his fears. You’d like him.

After I spoke with him for nearly 90 minutes yesterday afternoon, I can tell you Mark is a master of his trade who is definitely making a unique contribution to the world of fitness. You will learn a lot from him in this interview..

But first, watch this short documentary by one of Mark’s clients, Erin Brown, to get to know him and his work…

About Wildman Athletica

“If somebody is swinging a machete at your head, you really should be mentally present.” – Mark Wildman

So, as you can see, Mark is a pretty cool guy who specializes in a wide variety of disciplines.

10 Ways to Make Planks Harder: Plank Progressions

10 Different Ways to Make Plank Exercises More Challenging to Keep You Engaged, Prevent Boredom, and Help You Get Stronger in Less Time

woman doing plank at the gym

Planks are one of the best all-around core strengthening exercises. And everyone knows that the simplest way to make planks harder is to hold them for longer.

But increasing the duration of a plank is only one way to progress in this exercise. And while there are some unique benefits to holding a plank for a long time, the strength benefits are significantly diminished after 30-60 seconds or so.

Plus, holding a plank for minutes at a time can get boring, and isn’t always the best use of your training time.

So, here are 10 ways to make planks harder (and more interesting!):

1. Elevate your feet.

You can simply elevate your feet on a low step, bench or chair. Or, place them flat against a wall for an additional challenge (i.e. pressing into the wall with a mid-foot balance).

plank with feet elevated

2. Increase the leverage challenge.

Slide your elbows forward or walk your feet back (e.g. like an RKC plank) to increase the leverage challenge. Try to hold a plank with your nose positioned directly between your elbows.

RKC plank - leverage plank

3. Focus on the squeeze.

Instead of just “balancing” for as long as you can manage, increase the intensity of your planks by focusing on the isometric contraction during your exhales. So, when you exhale, contract the entire corset of muscles around your core, draw your belly in toward your spine, squeeze your pelvic floor muscles, contract your glutes and thighs, and pack your shoulders down on your ribs. Hold this hard contraction throughout the duration of a slow exhale, and then relax during the inhale.

woman doing plank

4. Add external resistance.

Simply put, add more weight. You can wear a weight vest or a backpack, put some free weights on your mid-back (e.g. barbell plates or a dumbbell), have a partner put some pressure on your back, or wrap a band around your shoulders or lower back.

woman doing plank with weight vest

5. Perform a moving plank.

But aren’t planks supposed to be static? Who says you can’t add a little movement to a difficult pose for strength and conditioning purposes?

You can perform a super-slow mountain climber (e.g. 15-30 seconds per repetition), a lateral pushup walk, the alligator crawl, or a bodysaw plank, among others.

Here’s an example of the Bodysaw, which is a fairly difficult plank exercise…

Or, step things up a notch and perform a ballistic plank…

6. Increase the stability challenge.

You can place your hands or feet on an exercise ball or a suspension trainer (e.g. rings, TRX, etc.). Or do both. The greater the challenge to maintain stability, the harder the exercise will be.

plank with feet on stability ball

7. Decrease your base of support and/or raise your center of gravity.

You can raise your center of gravity by performing your planks with your arms straight (i.e. elbows locked) so that your torso is higher off the ground. You can also decrease your base of support (to increase the balance/stability challenge) by moving your hands, elbows, and/or feet closer together (or crossing one ankle over the other). Or, you could simply lift one or more limbs off the ground.

side plank with arm lift

Speaking of which…

8. Lift a limb or two.

You can raise an arm or a leg off of the floor. Or, you can raise one of each (do opposites, e.g. right arm, left leg), which is known as the bird dog plank.

bird dog plank

9. Add rotation with a twisting plank variation.

Who says planks have to always be in a neutral position? Loading the spine in non-neutral position is a controversial subject. And it should go without saying that if you have had back problems or recent injuries, that you should proceed with caution when it comes to adding resistance to positions that deviate from a neutral spine – especially involving rotation. I should also add that you’ll obviously need the requisite amount of mobility and stability at your spine to perform these safely. So, when in doubt, proceed with caution. That said, performed properly, a twisting plank can be a great way to strengthen your core in a new position and in different degrees of freedom.

Here are 5 twisting plank exercises…

Note: you can Click Here for more info on twisting planks.

10. Go longer with a non-stop circuit.

Instead of performing a plank, resting, and then performing another plank, try performing a plank circuit by switching to a new position whenever you get tired.

Here’s an example of a plank circuit, where I demonstrate twenty different plank exercises…

Tip: You can combine many of these strategies. For example, elevate your feet by placing them flat against a wall, slide your elbows forward (RKC plank), wear a light weight vest, and perform a slow and controlled mountain climber with a strong isometric contraction (i.e. squeeze!).

Final Words

Planks do your body good, and hard planks do your body best. So, challenge yourself with a few of these strategies the next time you train.

Here’s a video I filmed to demonstrate these plank progessions…

If you found this article helpful, please share it with your friends:

Health-First Fitness Coach

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P.P.S. One last tip: if you do a lot of plank training, make sure you’re also training your posterior chain with exercises like the shoulder bridge plank and other bridging exercises, and hip thrusts, among others.

P.P.P.S. Photo credit: 1, 2, 3.

Up for a Challenge?

Try out this advanced plank workout which incorporates several of the strategies mentioned above.

Note: you can Click Here for my free 30-day plank training program, which I created for all skill levels.

Related Posts

  1. The Right Way to do the Plank Exercise (Detailed How-To Tutorial)
  2. How to do a Plank: Proper Plank Form (Quick Tutorial)
  3. 30 Days to a 5 Minute Plank and Rock-Hard Abs (Complete Plank Training Program For All Skill Levels)
  4. The 5 Minute Plank For Core Strength, Stability, and Rock-Hard Abs (Plank Challenge)
  5. How to do the Side Plank Exercise for the Best Results
  6. Training Tips From The 3+ Hour Plank World Record Holder
  7. The Ballistic Plank Exercise for Rock-Hard Abs
  8. The Elbow Plank VS Pushup Position Plank
  9. 5 Twisting Plank Exercises You’ve Never Tried Before
  10. How Long to Hold a Plank


Deep Squats: How To Squat Deep in 30 Days or Less

Improve Your Squat Depth, Mobility, and Flexibility With These Squat Mobility Exercises and Stretches to get a Full ROM, Pain-Free and Strain-Free, Rock-Bottom, ATG Squat

deep squats: how to squat deep to improve squat depth

For some reason, most people have trouble achieving a deep squat – let alone being able to rest comfortably in this position.

Even though the squat is a natural human movement (and a very rudimentary one, at that!), the combination of deep ankle, knee, and hip flexion has become a very difficult position for most people to attain. The good news is that with a little practice, most people can dramatically improve their squat range of motion over a few weeks time.

So, whether you just want to get a little deeper in your squat range of motion, or achieve a full, rock-bottom, ATG squat, this post will teach you how to improve your squat flexibility and increase your squat depth with some simple exercises so that you can squat as deep as your structure will allow – and be able to do it comfortably, without straining.

Let’s start with some short-term solutions…

Start Here: 5 Exercise Hacks For Deep Squats

The video below will provide a few squat fixes along with an introduction to some mobility and flexibility exercises to help you achieve a deep squat. If you experience good results from the exercises, be sure to look into the longer list of mobility exercises in the additional videos below.

5 Quick-Fixes for a Deeper Squat: Continued

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