Confused about muscle confusion?

2013June04_GeneralFitness_AThe term ‘muscle confusion’ has been knocking around gyms and fitness centers for some time. Some fitness fans claim it is an idea that opens up a whole new approach to exercise, while others regard it as a play on words without real meaning, or not of any real benefit. So it is worthwhile looking at what muscle confusion is and some of the evidence and ideas behind this fitness trend. Until you can be clear about what muscle confusion is you won’t be able to make up your own mind about whether it could work for you.

What is muscle confusion?

It is a term you were until recently most likely to hear in weight-lifting circles, although it is referred to more and more in general fitness. The theory is that unless your change your routine around a lot, your muscles will plateau and stop reacting to the same exercises. This is because they have become ‘used to’ an  exercise. This is a result of your muscles getting bored. By mixing things up a little you ‘trick’ your body into not being able to second-guess and this inspires your muscles to react and your workout to have maximum effect and progress. Muscle confusion programs are about constantly varying your routine with a wide range of exercise styles. This muscle confusion theory is one that is a favorite with anyone involved with popular exercise programs like P90x.

Is it actually viable?

It certainly sounds like a practical theory on the face of it. After all, anyone who does regular exercise knows that their body can plateau: this happens when you’ve been exercising at a certain level for a while and you simply don’t see the same effects until you push yourself harder, with longer runs, heavier weights, more reps etc,. to get the same results and move beyond. However, there is confusion in the term because the idea of muscles becoming confused is illogical. A muscle is not sentient. Iit is not able to think for itself and cannot become bored and tricked into reacting a certain way. It’s not necessarily about continuously mixing exercises up to the point of confusion either. Often,  just increasing the weight or the number of reps or sets you do in a session is enough to have an effect. Doing a whole new type of exercise won’t get your muscles confused surprised or even mildly curious!

So why is it touted as a fitness ‘truth’?

Muscle confusion has caught on because there IS an element of truth in it. Muscles CAN adapt to your exercise regime but the important thing to remember is that they don’t become adapted to one particular type of exercise, rather they adapt to the ‘loads’ you are placing on them and how long you give them to recuperate. Recovery time and muscle fatigue are important elements too.

Loads and recuperation? How so?

Gaining muscle is about getting the right levels of intensity and giving yourself the right amount of time to recover, which is when the actual activity happens. If you are not using enough intensity to challenge a muscle, or not allowing adequate time to recuperate, then your muscles won’t develop or your body won’t make the most of your efforts.  If you take a systematic approach and gradually build up intensity, you will see results.

Why do programs such as P90x show such great results?

P90x requires that you work out at a high level for up to 90 days. You are also required to follow a strict diet too. This sort of regime allows nearly anyone to see some great changes to their body and health. Anyone who has watched workout DVDs about P90x will also know how an integral part of training programs is being motivated enough to stick with the course and see it through. Many of the people who really get involved in these committed workouts are generally those who are determined and interested in keeping fit too. Their hard work and regular training means they will usually get results, often because they are naturally incorporating what others are terming muscle confusion.  In many ways, the term muscle confusion is just a marketing hook for an intense workout program.

So are there any benefits to mixing your fitness routine up?

Of course. Even the most driven person can get a bit bored with their exercise program and introducing a new exercise or fitness machine is a good way of keeping your interest levels up. It might also ensure that you enjoy more rounded fitness and stimulate different muscle groups. Does what you do at the moment really strengthen and challenge your core. for example? Dynamic workouts can help you avoid overuse injuries like RSI and you may even stumble upon a type of exercise that you really love that works well with your body, your capabilities and your fitness goals.

Want to add some variety to your routine or mix things up a little? Can we help you to reach the next level and not plateau? Get in touch today and we promise not to confuse anything but your muscles!

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