Adding Variety To An Exercise Routine Helps Increase Adherence

October 24, 2000

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Researchers now have scientific proof that variety is the spice of life — at least in the workout room.

Adding some variation to your exercise routine may be the best way to make you stick with it, according to a University of Florida study.

“It gets monotonous if you’re doing the same thing over and over,” said Christopher Janelle, an assistant professor in UF’s department of exercise and sport sciences. “If you vary the routine, there’s a significant increase in enjoyment that leads to greater adherence.”

Graduate student Nicole Glaros also worked on the study for her thesis.

Presented in August at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association and accepted for publication in the Journal of Sport Behavior, the study divided 114 men and women into three groups: one where the type of exercise varied between workouts, another where members were required to perform the same exercise at each workout and a third with no set schedule or regulations.

By the end of the study, 52 participants had dropped out and one had been disqualified, leaving 24 people in the first group, 22 in the second group and 15 in the third group.

“There were significantly fewer individuals in the variable group that dropped out,” Janelle said. “We also learned from their answers that they enjoyed it significantly more.”

The participants in the first two groups were asked to exercise three times a week for eight weeks and given specific exercise guidelines. The participants in the third group were given no instructions about varying their exercise routine; they could do whatever exercises they wanted at each workout session. After each workout session, participants were asked to fill out cards recording the types of exercise they did, the duration of their exercise sessions, their heart rates and their enjoyment levels.

Participants in the first group enjoyed their workout sessions 20 percent more than the members of the second group and 45 percent more than members of the third group. Among participants who stuck with the study through all eight weeks, the members of the first group were 15 percent more likely than the second group and 63 percent more likely than the third group to adhere to exercise on a regular basis.

“Variety and structure contributed to the adherence of the first group,” Janelle said. “The group that had the variable exercise program and the group that had to pick one exercise but stick to a schedule adhered better than the third group due to the structured nature of the exercise prescription. Variety seemed to increase enjoyment in the first group, which helped them stick with the exercise program.”

The UF study confirms what many already believed, said Christine Spain, director of research, planning and special projects for the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports.

“One of the main reasons people stop exercising is that they get bored,” Spain said. “Variety is good for other reasons, too. You should do cardiorespiratory exercises one day and then strength training and flexibility the next and then alternate days.”

The findings also point to a relatively easy way for exercise beginners to start and stick with a workout routine, Janelle said.

“If you work out at home, you can go for a run one day, do aerobics in the house another day and do something else the third day,” Janelle said. “You can even try to vary who you work out with or whether or not you work out alone. And if you choose to go to a gym, there’s so much to do that you can pick whatever you want that day.”

However, if you’ve made the effort to vary your routine and find yourself leaning toward just one exercise, go with what makes you the happiest, Janelle said.

“Stick with it if you find something you really like,” he said. “In fact, you can usually vary things within that particular exercise to keep it interesting. For example, if you like aerobics, you could do step aerobics one day and another kind of aerobics at your next workout.”