2 Need to Know Techniques to Obtain Truly Awesome Results
Have you heard the expression “muscle confusion?” It’s not when you walk into the gym and don’t know what the heck you're doing.
Muscle confusion is the idea that when you frequently change up movements and training stimuli it keeps the muscle from getting efficient (which leads to stalled progress). This variety and novelty can be associated with a better workout, especially to the newer exerciser.
Don’t be fooled though. Even though you might burn a few more calories, brake up the monotony, and be entertained while watching your friend struggle through downward single-leg-deadlift-dog… if muscle growth is your end goal (whether a newbie or advanced) progressive overload is the main driver.
This is where muscle confusion falls short.
See, new exercises require the central nervous system to perform movements more efficiently.
Example: When new to exercising, there’s a period of several weeks where there just isn’t a lot of physical adaptation, but there is notable strength gains. This is because the CNS is refining the movement patterns and getting more efficient.
Physical adaptations i.e. muscular development, i.e. gains i.e. a strong, sexy and sculpted body occur once they’ve reached an appreciable level of skill with a movement.
So it can take weeks before the CNS can even refine the move before you will experience notable muscle changes. Focus on muscle confusion and you might be well on your way to a new move before you even get a chance to reap the benefits.
The opposite technique is linear periodization-style progressive overload. Here the idea is to train a handful of basic movements (foundational exercises) week after week to take advantage of the CNS’s efficiency allowing the the body to steadily increase weight or volume to create a need for the body to adaptate.
A beginner or intermediate lifter might spend several weeks performing a movement and largely getting better neurologically before getting into real muscle gains, which makes sense for them to stick with progressive overload as their main lifting technique.
But there’s a problem. The advanced lifter can hit a movement for a session or two and see appreciable gains from it but because there’s not much new CNS learning for them the movement loses some intensity.
Basically you can hit the muscle building ceiling much quicker...this is where muscle confusion in a properly designed program is beneficial. Regularly changing accessory exercises and stimuli can reintroduce challenge.
So what does this all mean when I’m putting together a program either for myself or a client?
I always revolve my programs around basic movements (hip thrust, squats, presses, deadlifts, etc) that can be progressed and developed but include a variety of accessory movements that add new challenges, variety and muscle confusion.
But even still with the accessory moves, the goal is to continue to make progress within them, sometimes it can be week after week for months on end before I move on and change things up again. It’s not just about changing things up just to change things up.
The Foundation - The movements that make up “the foundation” of my routines..the ones that I do every week: the Hip Thrust, Squat, Reverse Lunge, Deadlift, Pull ups and Military Press.
Accessory Moves - The added moves that are more flexible, add variety, help sculpt a specific shape (esthetics) that push adaptation through muscle confusion: Rows, Side Lateral Raise, Face Pulls, Dumbbell Curl, Plyometrics and Banded Exercises etc.
*FYI muscle confusion can also come from the order we perform moves in, inter-set rest times, time under tension, and not just variety in exercises.
Hope that helps clarify the function and need of these two muscle building techniques in a well designed program.
If you have any questions or want advice about how you can best utilize progressive overload and muscle confusion feel free to shoot my a message at MelLaurenFitness@outlook.com.