The Muscle Confusion Confusion

We've all been told that we shouldn't do the same exercises each time we workout. The reason being our muscles need rest and will get used to the exercise resulting in lack of progress. Late night infomercial guru Tony Horton termed this need to mix things up "Muscle Confusion." But is that really true?

Well, yes...and no.

Yes because we can't do the same workout with the same weight for the same amount of reps and sets forever or we won't see much in the way of results. You'll also be bored to tears and probably stop working out, resulting in the same lack of desired results.

So here is why I also said no. We grabbed the Muscle Confusion headline and took it to mean we need to change things up all the time, never repeating an exercise for fear our muscles won't be confused enough, but we need continuity in our training. We need this because without continuity we can't master any movement, which will result in lack of strength gains and possible injury.

For example, I recently met a woman at the gym who was complaining that she can't lose weight or get stronger. She also told me that she keeps getting injured, which also impedes her progress. I asked her what her typical routine was like. She told me that she met with a trainer at the gym once a week, had a different trainer come to her house once a week, then she did group classes (i.e. bootcamps, spinning, aerobics) several other days of the week. Talk about confusing those muscles! 

This woman had no continuity. Her body never had a chance to work on movements to strengthen her body before she was off with another type of training routine. We don't respond well when we are completely confused, so why do we think our muscles should?

What we want to do is keep the continuity in our training along with some changes in routine. What do I mean by that, you may be asking? Well, our bodies have certain movement patterns: squat, hip hinge, push, pull, rotate, walk, carry. What we can do is work on these patterns and change them up by changing the load (weight), number of reps and/or sets, the tool used (barbell, kettlebell, TRX), or do a variation of the movement (sumo deadlift instead of conventional deadlift).

Here is an example:

  • Monday: Kettlebell Goblet Squat (18 kg for 3 sets of 10 reps)
  • Tuesday: Aerodyne Bike HIIT for 30 mins
  • Wednesday: Barbell Back Squat (115 lb for 4 sets of 6 reps)

Here I took the squatting pattern and not only changed the variation of the movement, but I also changed the tool, the the set and rep scheme and the load. Making these changes can keep you working on the movement pattern and still stimulate the muscles to work without being completely confused. I added the bike HIIT on Tuesday to give us a good cardio workout in between lifting days.

The next time you plan your workouts, try to work smarter instead of in a state of confusion. We don't respond well when we are confused, why should we expect it of our muscles?

Feel free to comment below or ask questions if you need help getting your muscles out of the confusion.