Muscle confusion is a hot topic in the fitness industry. The idea behind it is that muscles quickly adapt to exercise routines and therefore need to be “surprised” by a constant changing of your workout routine. This frequent changing in exercises and training stimulus is thought to then “shock” the muscles, forcing them to rapidly grow and develop.
While all of this may sound well and good- it is far from true. Think about it, what gets you results with anything (and is often talked about in this blog)?
...and most importantly
So long as the workout routine you’re doing isn’t completely horrible (which it wouldn’t be if you were following a personalized Forza training plan…), then it will get you results to some degree as long as you provide the time and consistency needed for it to work! If you keep changing things, then results simply will not happen (or will take way longer than people are willing to give them time for). Much like with many other aspects in the diet/nutrition/health/fitness world, the top reason people fail to get results is because they don’t have the commitment to stick with something.
Think about professional sports players, power/Olympic lifters, and your everyday hobbyist- how do they improve at their sport/hobby? By practicing it over and over, consistently. Basketball players repeatedly practice their shots and movements on the court, lifters repeatedly practice their main lifts, and any person trying to excel at any hobby progresses by practicing that hobby over and over!
Point and case...
The same goes with getting bigger, better, leaner, and stronger. Changing your exercises frequently prevents you from being able to measure progress and aim for improvements. Each time you do a new workout, you essentially start back at the beginning. You test the waters, trying to figure out the appropriate weight to start out with, and have no baseline to build off of or personal record to beat. Believe it or not, there is such thing as “too much variety” and a “muscle confusion training plan” provides just that! Instead, stick with a proven set of exercises, work on getting stronger and better at them week after week, and you will see positive results.
Now, does this mean you can never change your workouts and the only way to finally achieve your goals is to do the same exercises day-in and day-out for the rest of time? ...of course not.
Change must still happen at some point because doing the exact same routine using the exact same variables (weight, reps, sets, rest…) will cause you to fall into a comfort zone where workouts are no longer challenging. No challenge means plateau, and plateau means you stop making gains.
Here’s where I get confusing. I just got done preaching about how too much change is the “gains killer”, and followed it up by saying no change means no gains-- what exactly are you talking about, Maria?
I’m talking about progressive overloading.
This principle involves continually increasing the demands on the musculoskeletal system by continually making the muscles work harder than they’re used to. This can be done by changing or increasing resistance, volume, training frequency, rest time, and/or reps.
For example, say you can leg press 450 lbs. for a 10 rep max (10RM). Over time, your legs will get stronger and this weight/rep combo will no longer feel challenging. Because your legs have adapted to that initial overload, there is no longer a reason for them to grow larger or stronger-- unless you put a greater demand on them!
You have a few routes you can go here: you can either slap on more weight so those 10 reps are challenging and maxing you out somewhere around there again…
...OR you can keep the 450 lbs. but increase your rep range perhaps somewhere around 12 reps (though, I wouldn’t go much past the 12 rep range- if 12 is too easy then go for changing resistance, aka adding weight)…
...OR you can increase the volume by adding more sets! Rather than 3 sets of 10, do 4 (the same an be done with all exercises in your routine)...
...OR you can increase your overload by decreasing your rest between sets! This then requires your body to become more metabolically efficient.
Another effective approach for making the right kind of changes to your routine is keeping a similar overall setup and structure, but switching up the moves over time. For instance, swapping out your typical standing barbell curls for seated dumbbell curls, doing split squats instead of lunges, switching from underhand lat pull-downs to overhand lat pull-downs, and so on and so forth. Just replacing an exercise (or multiple exercises) with another similar exercise following the same movement pattern and/or targeted muscle groups. Simple enough, right?
Don't be afraid to try new moves or toss in a new workout here and there, just be sure your overall training is keeping some regularity.
These types of changes still have you consistently training the same muscles in very similar ways, while overloading them to recruit more fibers and undergo more stress. You are still “shocking” your body, but in a familiar and challenging way.
So, how often should this “confusion” -aka overload- happen? That depends on the person.
- If your routine is working perfectly, your strength is consistently increasing, and you aren’t just “going through the motions”, then don’t make a change! You’re in a great spot for muscle and strength development!
- If your overall progress has been stalling out for a significant amount of time, or certain exercises have become ineffective, change it up.
- As well, if you are just plain bored with your program-- legitimately bored to the point that it is hurting your motivation to train-- then make a change.
Remember, repetition and consistency are key. Results don’t occur overnight, but rather after prolonged periods of sticking to a strong routine!
Throwing in a bunch of burpees one day and then kettlebell squats the next isn’t going to “confuse” your muscles to make them magically grow and develop in ways they never could have before, just like how eating a salad for dinner today and chicken breast and brown rice tomorrow isn’t going to suddenly cause you to drop fat.
Take your time.
Stay dedicated, stay consistent, stay patient.
^^ Not fitness related, but the general concept is still there: you want to be successful at something, you want positive results from it, then you need to keep practicing it.