Is Variety the Spice of Life?

Feb 24, 2021

Many of our readers know that I (Paula) consider myself an "adult starter" when it comes to playing the violin.  I took violin lessons when I was nine years old for about nine months.  As the fourth of five children, you can only imagine the ribbing I received from my siblings as I tried to squeak through the pieces in Suzuki Book One.  I didn't stick with it long, but at age thirteen, my dad brought home my very own violin. I messed around on it some, and then stowed it away.  The violin remained in its case until my daughter, Bethanie, began playing in the school orchestra in the 5th grade. 

This past year (February of 2020), I decide I wanted to learn to play.  At first, I found tutorials in YouTube, and while I was learning some, there seemed to be no logical progression in my learning.  I decide to hire a violin teacher, and it's made all the difference.  I am finally getting better!

The past few weeks I've been frustrated that I have been stuck on the same piece of music in Suzuki Book 3 – Humoresque.  But the fact of the matter is that as I learn to play the violin, repetition is going to be fundamental to that success.  I truly believe I could continue to practice solely this piece for the next year and continue to improve.  The violin requires so much precision in order to sound good.  It requires developing muscle memory by hitting each note perfectly over and over again.  I often equate success with graduating to the next piece, but I’m learning that it’s more about perfecting technique regardless of the piece I’m working on.  My teacher could appease me and allow me to rush through each piece.  I’d master nothing and become a mediocre violinist at best.

When I first read through a new piece of music, the outcome is terrible.  The more I focus on one piece, the better I become at it.  Also, the longer I focus on one piece, the more my teacher and I can see and hear improvements.  When I record my first week of playing a piece, and then record the same piece eight weeks later, it’s so easy to compare the results.  It's easy to see, or in this case, hear where I have really improved and areas that still need growth.  So, while I’m always craving the next new challenge, my teacher patiently encourages me to trust the process and focus on the current assignment.  Consistency and patience over time, not variety, is helping me get better at playing the violin.

I also find that for me, and many athletes we coach, variety is not always the best option when it comes to nutrition.  Our athletes who do the best job using food as fuel are very patterned in their eating.  Many eat the exact same thing for breakfast and lunch every day and then mix things up just a little for dinner.  It’s so much easier to fuel properly, if you identify a few breakfast, lunch, and dinner combinations that provide the right balance of macros that work for you and stick with it.  Just as I get bored with working on the same violin piece for weeks, some may get bored with meal repetition.  Not me!  I have figured out what works for me and I’m fine to be boring with my eating habits.

The same holds true with sleep patterns.  Having a consistent bedtime and rising time each day helps the body adapt and get the rest it needs.  When we first married, Dean already had established and "early to bed, early to rise" sleep pattern.  I had grown up under the assumption that a specific bedtime was for children.  I can remember when my bedtime was 8:00 PM and my older siblings' bedtime was 10:00 PM.  And my parents?  They were night owls.  So, I just assumed that when I became an adult there would be no more "bedtime."  I was often insulted early in our marriage when Dean would say, “It's time to go to bed."  I'd suddenly feel like a child! 

Dean's point of reference was completely different.  His dad and mom went to bed super early.  His dad would say, "Well, the sun's down…"  Dean did not see it as a childish act to go to bed early.  It took years for me to develop new habits, but now people who know me, know not to call or text after 8:00 PM.  Yep!  It's bedtime!

Developing a patterned bedtime has helped so much.  I consistently fall asleep more quickly than I used to.  And I always wake up more rested.  Some of our athletes are in a season of life where a routine sleep schedule isn’t possible.  For some, they have babies who aren’t yet sleeping through the night.  If that's where you are, savor those sweet nights!  I promise they are fleeting.  Other of our athletes have jobs with rotating hours, tons of overtime, or swing shifts.  Those athletes have to be mindful and disciplined in order to find a sleep rotation that allows ample rest.  Find what works and stick with it.

The same holds true with coaching endurance athletes.  Often, an athlete will look at the workouts prescribed for the upcoming week and protest a bit.  They want something new, something different.  But, we don’t mix things up just to satisfy an athlete’s itch for a new challenge.  If we have found a sweet spot with an athlete, we may roll with it for weeks, as long as the athlete is seeing gains.  Not every athlete has the same needs and not every athlete responds well to a certain workout.  But, when certain workouts are working well for an athlete, we like to keep things the same for a while in order to compare data and measure improvements.

One of my best training blocks was in the fall of 2019.  Other than my easy distance, my workouts were some variation of 1-minute interval training and 7-minute tempo training.  While there was some variation in that 12-week training cycle, those were by far the majority of my VO2 max and lactate threshold workouts.  I tracked a spreadsheet of all my 1-minute and 7-minute sessions and it was fun to see improvement and it was so easy to compare.  Comparing my first week to my twelfth week was very exciting and rewarding - kind of like watching a video of the first time I play through a piece on the violin verses the 100th time.

The same definitely holds true in the pool.  Most of the time, at the local health club pool, you see a white board with a list of highly entertaining and varied swim sets to do.  Tons of drills, tons of toys – kick board, paddles, fins, etc.  Most swimmers just show up at the pool and do whatever is on the board that day.  While the session may be highly varied and entertaining, is it really giving the swimmer the work he/she needs in order to improve?  We like to figure out where each athlete is as a swimmer, find the few key workouts that will help that athlete improve, and stick with those. 

We love to help our athletes find what works and guide them as they gain strength, fitness, and grit.  If you'd like to learn more, visit our website at or reach out to us at [email protected]


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