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Muscle ConfusionEver heard of muscle confusion? Got any idea what this really means? Wonder why you should care?

Muscle Confusion

In all honestly, muscle confusion is a bit of a misnomer, because muscles themselves obviously don’t get confused. The concept basically refers to regularly changing exercises in your workout routine, versus doing the same regimen day after day. By adding frequent variety and change, the muscles become “confused,” and aren’t able to adapt so readily.

When the body adapts to the stressors provided by performing the same exercises, over time, you may no longer make fitness gains, and potentially plateau. Rather than gaining strength, endurance or flexibility, you instead are simply maintaining fitness.

How Does it Work?

For example, let’s say you want to be able to do 25 push-ups. For some of us, that might be too difficult to execute the first time we try it. So you may start on your knees with modified push-ups, and begin with 10 or 15 reps. As you get better, you add more repetitions. And eventually, you get off your knees and perform a few full push-ups. Over time, you work your way up to 25, and then do those 25 full push-ups three times per week.

Physiologically, you are making gains and increasing strength and muscular endurance from the time you begin with just a few push-ups, all the way through mastering 25 push-ups. However, as you do those same 25 push-ups at each workout for the next 6 months, gradually, your body adjusts to this challenge, and instead of gaining additional strength and endurance, you simply maintain what you have achieved.

Now there is nothing inherently wrong with doing that 25-push-up routine. But if you want to keep making progress in your fitness level, you have to incorporate “muscle confusion” by adding different exercises or varying the push-ups with different arm positions, doing the exercise on a decline with the feet elevated, pushing up to a clap in between each repetition, wearing a weighted vest, etc.

The basic idea is to continue challenging the body with varying demands and different exercises so that the muscles are constantly taxed in new ways and cannot adapt so easily to the same stressors. Muscle confusion is a bit of a fancy (and definitely NOT scientific) term for cross training and exercise progression.

Again, this doesn’t mean that you can’t continually perform ultra-effective exercises like squats, lunges, chest presses, planks, etc. But periodically progress or vary them with new versions, additional load, a slower tempo, heavy negatives, more repetitions, etc. to keep your body adjusting and working hard.

Here are a few simple ideas to get you started varying some of the most popular exercises:

  1. Squat – with a barbell, dumbbells or a kettlebell; moving laterally; lowering slowly for 3 counts and lifting up for one; on one leg; pulsing down low; adding a jump; etc.
  2. Lunge – With a barbell, dumbbells, kettlebells; or a medicine ball; side lunges; rear lunges; forward lunges; curtsy lunges; with the front or back leg elevated, etc.
  3. Chest press – With a barbell, dumbbells or cable and pulley machine; on an incline, decline or flat surface; with slow eccentric motion; etc.
  4. Plank – On the hands or elbows; side planks; with alternating leg lifts; with knee drops; incorporating hip rotation; adding hip lifts (dolphin in yoga); with rotating crunches; in reverse position with chest and hips facing ceiling; etc.

To benefit from muscle confusion, simply use your imagination with exercises, take classes, consult a trainer or check out a wealth of exercise options online or via streaming workouts. Here’s to progress!