Intensity or Exercises Switching? What's More Effective to Build Muscle And Strength - Switching Exercises Yields 20% Higher Strength & 5% Higher + Balanced Muscle Gains!

Intensity or exercises switching what's more effective to build muscle and strength - or is it best to do both?
Let's be honest: When was the last time you've switched up your exercise regimen? Kicked out the old boring bench presses and squats and did something totally different? You don't remember? Well, what if I tell you that the latest study from the University of São Paulo, the University of Tampa and Delboni Auriemo Diagnostic Imaging Sector shows that not switching up your exercises is what's keeping you from making the gains you deserve?

Shocker? Well in that case I highly suggest you read the rest of today's article, before you go back to the drawing board and revamp your training regimen.
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The actual purpose of the study, the results of which are soon going to be published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research was...
"to investigate the effects of different combinations of training intensities and exercises selection, as well as the combination of both, on muscle strength and CSA." (Fonseca. 2014)
Base on the authors previous findings (Lamas. 2012; Laurentino. 2012; Wallerstein. 2012), Fonseca et al. hypothesized that muscle hypertrophy would not be affected by the different loading schemes and exercise variation; however, the differences in motor unit recruitment provided by the exercise variation would produce superior gains in muscle strength.

A secondary purpose of the present study was thus to identify if the loading scheme and exercises variation would produce differences in the hypertrophy response of the quadriceps muscle heads.
Figure 1:  Vastus lateralis (VL), vastus medialis (VM), vastus intermedius (VI), and rectus femoris (RF) cross sectional area (mm²) for the constant exercise-constant intensity (CICE), constant intensity-varied exercise (CIVE), varied intensity-constant exercise (VICE), and varied intensity-varied exercise (VIVE) groups, pre- and post-training (Fonseca. 2014)
Speaking of muscle heads, the two letter acronyms in Figure 1 represent vastus lateralis (VL), vastus medialis (VM), vastus intermedius (VI), and rectus femoris (RF) and as you can see the hypertrophy response was affected by the different loading schemes and exercise variation.
Navigate the SuppVersity EMG Series - Click on the desired body part to see the optimal exercises.
Based on the caption of Figure 1 you will already have gathered that the study protocol involved 4 different conditions (+ control; not shown in Figure 1).
Maybe it's not just about the exercises, but also about which exercises you rotate in... This is something you should keep in mind, when you look aat the results of the study at hand. Ok, squats may be the best exercise for legs, but is it surprising that adding in some leg presses and deadlifts will yield even better results? I don't think so - do you?
Table 1: Overview of the Training protocols; CICE= constant intensity and constant exercise, CIVE= constant int. varying exercise, VICE= varying int. and constant ex. VIVE= varying int. and varying ex (Fonseca. 2014).
I would have to waste a thousand words to explain exactly how the exercise regimen differed.

Therefore I decided to simply give you the overview of the 12 training weeks from the original paper in which you can see that there were two parameters Fonseca et al. varied, i.e.
  • intensity as in higher reps, lower weight vs. lower reps, higher weight and 
  • exercise, i.e. did the subjects to the same stuff all the time or did they switch from one exercise to the next,
And eventually, both of them influenced the training outcome, with varying exercises producing a "more homogeneous muscle hypertrophy response" (Fonseca. 2014). 
In terms of strength gains, it's ~20% less efficient to vary only the intensity on the same exercise (Fonseca. 2014).
Bottom line: As the scientists point out, future studies will have to elucidate,"whether highly trained individuals would be able to handle a high degree of training variations (i.e. intensity and exercises) and achieve greater strength gains when compared to a program that only varies the exercises." (Fonseca. 2014)

In the mean time, the Brazilian / US research team is yet spot on, when they say that "variations in training intensity are not critical to produce strength and muscle hypertrophy gains in the initial phase of a ST program." (Fonseca. 2014).

Specifically for rapid mass and even more so strength gains beginners and early advanced trainees (instead of trainees who hadn't touched a weight regular for at least 6 months, as it was the case in the study at hand), varying the the exercises and thus the stimulus mode instead of its intensity will yield significant gains and "seems to produce a more  complete  muscle  activation  hypertrophying  all  of  the  heads  of  multi-pennate muscles." (Fonseca. 2014)
  • Fonseca, RM, et al. "Changes in exercises are more effective than in loading schemes to improve muscle strength." Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research (2014). Published Ahead of Print.
  • Lamas, Leonardo, et al. "Effects of strength and power training on neuromuscular adaptations and jumping movement pattern and performance." The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 26.12 (2012): 3335-3344.
  • Laurentino, Gilberto Candido, et al. "Strength training with blood flow restriction diminishes myostatin gene expression." Med Sci Sports Exerc 44.3 (2012): 406-412.
  • Wallerstein, Lilian França, et al. "Effects of strength and power training on neuromuscular variables in older adults." Journal of aging and physical activity 20.2 (2012): 171-85.
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