Muscle Confusion Debunked

Posted: 22nd April 2013 by Jon in Exercise and Fitness, Movement

For some reason, you still hear about the concept of ‘Muscle Confusion” concerning many fitness programs and routines. Frankly, I’m really tired of it and wish it would just die! It seems like confusion is the “state of mind’ of most gyms today and seems to be common practice in the fitness industry. I know you have seen it everywhere, as have I. One of the biggest problems is that so much of this industry is based around people selling gimmicks and putting results into an illusion of mass confusion. However, consumer advocacy, education, and real training results will always reign supreme.

I know the readers here are smart and bring energy and information from a variety of mind, body, and strength capacities. Many of you will get this question from the so-called “experts,” so I thought I would try and set the record straight. 

Terms like “muscle confusion” are common and many will tell you that these are sound exercise principles. In fact, they are useless techniques that are the opposite of progress and are often gimmicks promoted by greedy entrepreneurs.

 These training methods can even be used to hide the fact that paying clients, or even athletes for that matter, are making zero improvements by following the routine. Muscles are incapable of being “confused.” Despite the claims, you cannot “confuse” your way to anything. Most importantly, you’re trying to get stronger, not confuse and thus significantly limit and undermine your progress.

In reality, most recent training programs (if you want to call them that) like CrossFit, P90X, Insanity, etc. are simply glorified and well-marketed versions of circuit training.

 The muscle confusion theory leads to a paradox: training that leads to no significant muscular adaption. The body can only adapt sufficiently to chronic stressors, which are stressors that are applied with enough intensity, volume, and regularity to cause a change in the physiology necessary to the adaptation.

 If you frequently change the nature of these stressors, your physiology can only adapt to those aspects that are consistent between workouts. The cardiovascular (CV) system may respond and adapt to every circuit training session you conduct, but if the exercises are not consistent, there is no adaptation. If, for example, you choose a different lower body exercise for each session, your body will only accommodate strength into those parameters that are consistent from workout to workout. To the untrained eye, a variety of exercises may seem like a good idea, but in reality it limits strength because the body’s inherent motor learning capacity is reduced.

Key Principles

People need to focus on progressive OVERLOAD. That does NOT mean that every day or every training session has to be max effort with sub-optimal form and technique. Focus on three main components of overload:

  1. Intensity: Intensity should mainly be defined as the degree of effort. Load, weight, percentage of one-rep max, or relative intensity is also used.
  2. Volume (weight x sets x reps)
  3. Density (volume/time)

Try to establish a PR during every training session in one of those three components (at a minimum). Your body will respond. No need to confuse it!

The bottom line is this:

Training the same exercises regularly allows the body to adapt and thus grow stronger. On the other hand, training a large variety of exercises equates to doing the same workouts with little to no adaptation.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t change exercises, methods, or training. I’m simply saying that one needs to understand the nature of adaptation.

 Essentially, that this muscle confusion is a total myth.

 
  1. Great article. I’m just starting out again and I had believed this to be true for quite sometime. Sure, I lost weight but, I really didn’t gain strength. I feel for fat lose, it’s mostly diet, something I need to work on. Thanks for a great read.

    • Jon says:

      Thanks man. Yea, many believe this to be true but it’s not. Have to do high intensity interval training combined with heavy lifting, and quality nutrition. It’ll come!