If you’ve been hanging around in the weights area of your gym, chances are you’ve heard the phrase “Muscle Confusion” thrown around quite a bit. But what does it mean?
Usually, people use it when talking about changing their workout routines. Many believe that constantly changing routine, and switching around the exercises you do is the best way to “confuse” the muscles, and avoid hitting plateaus, helping you to constantly get bigger and stronger. However, while a certain amount of variation is needed in a routine, too much can be a bad thing.
How Muscle Confusion Works
It’s true that if you do the same workouts over and over again, with the same weights and same rep scheme, then eventually, you’ll stop making progress. At this point, changing your routine around can spark new growth, by giving your muscles new stimuli.
While muscle confusion can be very valuable in aiding your progress in the gym, too many people use it at the wrong times – especially beginners.
It’s easy to take the idea of muscle confusion to the next level, and go way over the top by completely changing your routine every single session. You may think that this is a good idea, but in reality, it’s not. You can make perfectly good progress for a reasonable amount of time by simply trying to get stronger on the same exercises.
Most beginners will make excellent progress by doing just a few basic exercises in their routine. If you’re just starting out training, then a simple full body routine, comprised of squats, deadlifts, chin-ups, military presses, bench presses and rows will give you great results. You’ll probably find that you can do more reps on each exercise, or add weight to the bar in every session for the first six months of your training. When this is happening, there’s no need whatsoever to jump into muscle confusion techniques. As the saying goes – “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.
Methods of Muscle Confusion
The easiest, and one of the most effective ways to confuse your muscles, and provide them with new training stimuli is to change your set and repetition scheme around. For example, if you’re used to doing five sets of 10 reps with a moderate weight on all your exercises, try three sets of five with a heavy weight.
A slightly more advanced method is to do small variations on your current exercises. Say you always perform your chin-ups with your palms facing towards you, try them with your palms facing away. You can do other things too, like changing regular deadlifts to sumo deadlifts, or doing your squats with your heels elevated. It may surprise you, but these relatively subtle changes are enough to aid muscle confusion, and give your workout a huge boost.
The final method is changing an exercise completely. This is only ever needed for more experienced trainees, or if you find that progress has stalled even when you’re making small tweaks to exercises as detailed above. In this case, you’ll need to make bigger changes, such as doing dips instead of bench presses, front squats over back squats, switching from barbell shoulder presses to a machine, and so on.
When Muscle Confusion is Needed
For beginners, muscle confusion is only needed when you reach a plateau in your strength or size gains.
Muscle confusion is needed more if you’re an intermediate of advanced trainer, but should still only be used sparingly, and small changes should always be introduced first. The easiest way to ensure constant progress is to change your exercise variation every six weeks. For example, if your main leg exercise is the back squat, you could do regular back squats for six weeks, increasing the weight each week, then switch to heels elevated back squats for the next six weeks, and then onto safety bar squats for a further six weeks. On week 19, go back to regular back squats – you should be able to use more weight than you did in the first six week block.
As a final resort, you can completely change exercises around, but only when necessary.