What Is Muscle Confusion?
When it comes to the body, myths tend to spread due to a simplistic view of how the body works. One of these myths is muscle confusion. Over the years, programs that utilize muscle confusion have become popular due to their instant gratifying effects. In a nutshell, muscle confusion is a program that switches your workout routine on a week to week or a daily basis. The thought is that by switching your workout constantly i.e "confusing your muscles", you will continue to get stronger and won't hit a plateau. This program became popular due to the success of P90x and other workout programs that used muscle confusion as their main selling point. The idea behind muscle confusion works well on paper; it is based off of overload and progression, also known as progressive overload. Put simply, if you wish to become stronger then you must stress the muscle or energy system with more stress than it can handle. The stressed muscle will eventually become stronger and adapt to the current stimulus i.e your workout routine. You will then need to progress to a greater stressor i.e a harder workout routine in order to get the same benefits. In the fitness world this is known as the S.A.I.D principle i.e specific adaptation to imposed demands.
As I stated above, muscle confusion sounds great on paper, but our bodies do not adapt as fast as people think. In reality, a workout routine should last between four to six weeks and sometimes up to 12 weeks. Yes, that means you would be doing the same weekly workout routine for four to six weeks straight because that is what it takes to become stronger or leaner. And yes, there will be beginners who make progress in the first two to four weeks of a program but that is mostly do to neurological factors i.e greater motor unit recruitment (1). In order to become stronger and healthier you need to do the same movements over and over again until you are proficient in those movements. Now this doesn't mean you have to do the same exercise over and over again because that can become very boring. To keep your workouts novel and fun you can change the rep scheme, volume, tempo or the type of load. For example, instead of using a barbell, you can use kettlebells or dumbbells. Remember, your body can't tell the difference between the modalities you use, load is load. Now a barbell does allow you to use the greatest amount of load, so each modality has its own benefits.These variations won't hinder your performance if you are able able to have adequate technique with each tool. And remember, quality over quantity is the most important thing when it comes to training.
In my career as a trainer, I haven't found too many clients who can master the basic movement patterns (squat, press, pull, lunge, hinge) in a week's time. If anything, we need to spend more time on these movements. People are moving worse then ever. We sit far too much and only train specific muscle groups, which leads to injuries and terrible posture. Take a look around, most people have rounded shoulders and forwards heads with and overly extended lower back, we are literally evolving back into dinosaurs, but I digress. The SAID principle states that a muscle will adapt to the stress that is placed on it. And remember, any time we perform an exercise we are shortening a certain muscle group. For example, the bench press will contract the pec and shorten the pectorals. If you do not balance out the upper body with proper upper back training (rows) then you will develop rounded shoulders and a hunchback. Therefore, it is essential that we train our weaknesses for an adeqaute period of time. Most of us did not develop poor posture over night, it took years. Luckily, the body can correct itself with proper training, but it can only correct itself if you address these weaknesses. However, we tend to neglect our weaknesses because it is too uncomfortable and instead search for comfort through the exercises we love to do. And I get it, we have busy, stressful lives and we can’t handle anymore discomfort. You just want to go to the gym and do what makes you happy. Don't get me wrong, I have been there too and I have made the mistake of only doing the things I enjoy.
The only way to overcome these weaknesses is with proper programming and patience. Granted, any beginner in any program will see results in the first six months of an exercise program, but that is the easy part. The hard part is the ability to continually train when you don't see any results. There is no magic program to becoming stronger. It is very simple, but hard to follow. You must have patience and be willing to resist the lure of instant gratification. Change won't happen overnight, it takes months and years for these processes to occur. Unfortunately, our environment has conditioned us to desire short term gratification. Everything is at our fingertips and technology has rewired our brains to feel pleasure in seconds. However, you can’t let this behavior interfere with your training program. We are still the same humans from 10,000 years ago, and as of now no technology is going to change that. If you want to feel younger and move better then it is going to take patience and dedication. It isn’t going to happen as fast as you think, but it won’t take as long as you think either.. Stop expecting this path to be easy and just accept that it will be filled with obstacles and challenges. The sooner you can accept this the closer you will be to achieving your results. Do not rely on motivation or willpower, rely on disciple*; set a plan and commit to that plan. Head to the workout program section for a plan that does just that.
*Quote: Jocko Willink