The Muscle Confusion Myth

August 25, 2021

Originally written by Brandon Morrison

I am sure that most of you have heard of the muscle confusion theories. The idea is to change exercises and set and rep schemes on a regular basis. P90X is a prime example of this. Here are the top 3 quotes I usually hear about muscle confusion:

“You’ve got to change your routine a lot or your muscles will get used to the same one and stop growing.”
“You’ve got to ‘trick’ your muscles and keep them guessing.”
“If muscle growth hits a plateau, you have to ‘shock’ the tissue in order to resume progress.”

These can be written off as ridiculous statements except for one thing: Like all myths and misconceptions, this myth evolved out of a truism that became distorted over time. Muscles CAN become “adaptive” to whatever you throw at them.

However, what they become adaptive to is the volume load, NOT the exercise selection or workout sequencing. So, if the muscles are not adequately “volume overloaded” and adequately rested between sessions, they will simply stop making progress.

Muscle Confusion Myth

The key point is this: if the muscles are hit with enough intensity during workouts yet recuperation between workouts is inadequate, muscle growth will come to a screeching halt.

Conversely, if muscles aren’t hit with sufficient intensity to stimulate ‘volume overload’, progress will likewise cease to exist. Muscles are incapable of being “confused”.

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but muscles cannot be confused, perplexed, bewildered, or even a little befuddled. Despite claims by the advertising industry to convince you otherwise, you cannot “confuse” your way to a better shape.

Muscle is merely comprised of contractile tissue made of two proteins-actin and myosin. This makes it pretty simple stuff that will respond nicely to basic principles of “precision overload” and “adequate recuperation“.

Muscles require systematic overloading and recuperation to grow and develop, and just this by itself is one of the strongest arguments to debunk the muscle confusion myth.

You can’t just overload your muscles for a week and then shift base to other muscles for the next week. It is a continuous process that needs enough time to overload and then, more importantly, recuperate.

Muscle confusion myth is a misconception based on the concept of ‘pump’ in body development. The pump is a temporary phenomenon wherein the person gets a feeling that the muscles have expanded right after the workout.

The feeling of a pump is basically a misunderstanding of the sensation which is triggered due to the accumulation of lactic acid and myofibril contraction, which leads to the constriction of blood flow. This in turn triggers a rush of blood into the capillaries of the working muscles making them appear as if they have expanded.

“But hey, wait a minute, my friend knows a guy who said…..” yes, and chances are that guy was probably a novice. It is no great feat to take a sedentary individual and put a little muscle on them or shed a little fat. You tell me what is easier, putting on that first 5lbs of muscle/ losing the first 5lbs of fat, or gaining the last 5lbs of muscle/losing that last 5lbs of fat?

Changing your routine up continuously can lead to deterioration of the body mass instead of enhancing it. The simplest way to get bigger muscles is a successful lifting regimen for a long period, followed by an adequate recuperation.

This will facilitate growth in muscle size and strength. It’s not bad to change your workout regimes once in a while to get rid of boredom caused by routine. But one has to make sure that these changes are not frequent and won’t hamper your health in any way.

Like Rip has stated over and over, You don’t get bigger from lifting weights, you get bigger from recovering from lifting weights. Believing in muscle confusion won’t do you any favors on your path to success, and is just a shortcut that will lead you to a dead end.

About the Author

I am a professional strength & conditioning coach that works with professional and international teams and athletes. I am a published scientific researcher and have completed my Masters in Sport & Exercise Science. I've combined my knowledge of research and experience to bring you the most practical bites to be applied to your training.

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