Classic: Same but Different by Staley and Snideman

In 2006 Charles Staley and Keats Snideman wrote an article for T-Nation called Pulling Your Chain For Massive Gains! Same But Different, Volume I. This article did a great job of summarizing part of my philosophy of strength training. Here’s an excerpt:

Ever notice how two supposedly inviolate principles of resistance training are basically contradictory?

On the one hand, the Principle of Specificity states that in order to realize a specific adaptation (or response), you need to perform a specific type of training to elicit that response. For example, if you want bigger biceps you’ve gotta do curls. If you want maximal strength, you’ve gotta focus on heavy loads. If you wanna raise your estrogen levels, you’ve gotta watch Oprah every day.

On the other hand, the Principle of Variability predicts that the same type of training, performed week-in and week-out, will lead to habituation, which is just a highbrow term for nervous system boredom. Eventually your body gets so accustomed to the training that you get zero results. Is this phenomenon sounding intimately familiar to any of you?

At Staley Training Systems, we actually think of these two principles as opposite extremes along a single continuum. The most successful trainees are those who manage to find the “sweet spot” in this specificity-variability continuum. The process of finding this sweet spot is the “same but different” concept.

Essentially, it’s all about finding the “best” exercises for your particular objectives, and then finding jillions of different ways to perform these exercises, so that 1) you’re always doing the best movements, but 2) you’re not habituating to your training sessions because every time you do one of your best exercises, you’re doing it in a different manner than last time.

Variations at BCSC aka Bret’s Garage


full squat
goblet squat
front squat
low box squat
high box squat
Zercher squat
parallel squat
safety bar squat
cambered bar squat
manta ray squat
pause squat
speed squat
sumo squat
squat against chains
squat against bands


conventional deadlift
sumo deadlift
trap bar deadlift
deficit deadlift
rack pull
Romanian deadlift
snatch grip deadlift
dumbbell deadlift
negative accentuated RDL
speed deadlift
deadlift against chains
deadlift against bands

We also do tons of:

Single leg work: Bulgarian squat, high step up, walking lunge, reverse lunge, single leg RDL, single leg hip thrust, single leg back extension, pendulum quadruped hip extension, pendulum donkey kick

Bilateral posterior chain work: Hip thrust, barbell glute bridge, Skorcher hip thrust, good morning, back extension, 45 degree hyper, reverse hyper, pull through, glute ham raise, Russian leg curl, gliding leg curl

Then there are explosive lifts, sled work, plyometrics, ballistics, strongmen drills, EQI’s, etc.

Finally, we have upper body and core work!!!

As you can see, it’s quite advantageous to possess a huge arsenal of exercises. It prevents habituation and stagnation and makes lifting more fun! By rotating lifts yet sticking to the same basic movement patterns, we get really strong at what matters while still keeping safety in mind.


  • Rick says:

    Bret after reading your article on barbell hip thrusts I included it into my core workout with good results.
    as a distance runner I’ve always had a problem with poor posture [ tilting my pelvis down and sitting back when i ran] this exercise has made a big difference to both my posture and running performance.
    i now do the hip thrusts before each run and this helps me to maintain good pelvic position as I run.
    cheers Rick

  • Johan says:

    What is your take on the extreme approach of the bulgarians with only cleans, snatches and front squats? My own training has drifted towards only hitting the oly lifts, ending with some other exercise usually focused on the posterior chain and then going home. I am not sure if it gives me the variety I need, but to be honest after doing cleans and snatches I am so dead that the idea of hitting several more exercises is out of question.

    Cutting down on snatches and cleans doesn’t seem to be an option for me either because I can feel immediately that if I don’t hit them both 4-5 times a week they begin to feel “awkward”.

  • I think of it as priority

    1) do a much work on your SPECIFIC goal as possible.

    When that does not work, move to

    2) Common

    Common is where the variations come into play.

    We are looking for the exercise that has the highest POSITIVE TRANSFER back to our primary goal.

    So, if you want to bench press more weight
    1) bench press as often as possible
    2) when you can’t do this, use a variation that you believe will make your standard bench press go up (positive transfer).

    A few of my fav deadlift variation to add are
    –B Stance deadlifts
    Great if you have one leg that is a bit weaker than the other in the deadlift

    –reverse band deadlifts
    great to experience locking out heavier weight at the top

    –Axle deadlifts
    Really works to increase your grip in a specific manner. If your grip fails, you will not even get it off the ground as it will “shut down” your whole body.

    Use a 2 inch axle (a normal bar is about 1 inch diameter) or add some towels/thick grips to increase the bar diameter with a double overhand (both palms down) grip

    Good work man! Tell Charles and Keats I said hello.

    Rock on
    Mike T Nelson PhD(c)

    • Mike, it’s funny how we all have our favorite deadlift variations. I have top and bottom band peg attachments on my Elitefts power rack and still I’ve never tried the reverse band deadlifts. I should try them soon. I just always liked the idea of band deadlifts over reverse band deadlifts. And as for the axle deadlifts, I always figured I’d train my deadlift at full power and then train my grip separately. But it’s good to hear you recommend them. Rock on!!!

  • Frank Rizzo says:

    So to simplify the argument, we need to program are training going from general (GPP) to specific (SPP). Accumulate, Intensify, Restore?

    • Not really Frank, just rotate exercises, incorporate variety (but the variety is always along the same lines of movement patterns…quad dominant, hip dominant, bent leg hip dominant, etc.). It’s not about moving from general to specific, it’s more about preventing stagnation, slowing down gains to prevent injury, etc.

  • billydarrer says:

    after doing the movement screens and seeing what specific areas need strenghtening or lengthening, etc, this is exactly how i start my programming for my clients. Figure out what exercises/movement illict the response I’m looking for and makes them feel what I’m looking for, then figure out different ways to progress them or just do them differently.

  • Zach says:

    how long do you typically wait to rotate your movements? do you typically have a designated timeframe until you switch (i.e. stick to full squats for four weeks, then goblet squats for four weeks, then front squats for four weeks, etc) or do you take more of an “autoregulatory” approach and stick with the same movement until you stall on it, and then pick a new movement accordingly?

    • Zach, I use my own unique system. I’ll always have my clients do full squats and deadlifts at least once each week (perhaps with different rep ranges), but in addition to this I’ll also have them do other variations which I determine by asking my clients questions, judging what their weak link is, looking at their journals, etc. For example, I had my client Karli do high box squats and rack pulls when her adductors were sore as the adductors come more into play in deeper ranges of flexion.

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