Doing the same routine day-in and day-out may seem sensible because it’s consistent, but it can actually reduce training effectiveness over time.
A well-known gym adage dictates that a programme is only as good as the time it takes for a lifter to adapt to it.
In other words, if you follow the same exercise with the same volume and intensity over a long period of time, your progress will slow and eventually stagnate. And if you keep it at, you will eventually reach a state of detraining, where you can actually lose strength and fitness.
Muscle confusion can reignite progress
In this regard, muscle confusion is a training principle that creates variety in your training to stimulate the body and potentially ignite new progress.
More importantly, it introduces new elements into a programme which more than anything delivers a mental benefit by keeping training interesting and engaging.
Numerous studies show that regular change is effective at producing muscular improvement as part of a periodised training programme.
The biggest difference between a proper training plan and muscle confusion, as frequently misinterpreted by many lifters, is that changes are meticulously planned and not randomly selected according to instinct.
Implementing controlled confusion
Employing muscle confusion intelligently entails changing variables such as training style, intensity, workout duration and frequency in a structured manner.
There are numerous tweaks you can make to your routine to “confuse” your body and muscles, such as:
- Changing your workout structure in terms of sets and reps.
- Introducing different exercises that target the same muscle groups as the core plan.
- The tempo of your reps.
- Workout volume.
- The type of bar or attachment used.
- Your range of motion.
- Switching your grip, hand or foot position or stance width.
Keep in mind that if you change things in every training session haphazardly, you may lose the progression element that is vital to make gains. Implement change, don’t wing it!
Practical take aways:
- Change your exercises every 4 to 5 weeks to keep progressing, but keep them closely-related.
- Slash your volume every 4 to 5 weeks by de-loading to rest and grow.
- Don’t be afraid to take a total break away from the weights.
- Changing the intensity, reps and sets, frequency, volume, and rest time are all ways of putting progressive overload and muscle confusion into action in your own training.
- Avoid long workouts. They only lead to diminishing returns on all goals except endurance.
- Cycle between heavy and lighter weights or focus on isolation exercises instead of compound moves.
- Don’t change variables too frequently.
Author: Pedro van Gaalen
When he’s not writing about sport or health and fitness, Pedro is probably out training for his next marathon or ultra-marathon. He’s worked as a fitness professional and as a marketing and comms expert. He now combines his passions in his role as managing editor at Fitness magazine.