‘You need to keep your muscles guessing. Confuse them and your body to avoid getting sucked into the same old same old if you want to see results.’ I bet you have heard of this phrase being passed around the fitness industry. The belief is that confusing your muscles with new workouts further challenges them and boosts your fitness. It is one of the most common sayings in muscle and fitness training programs. But is muscle confusion a thing? Join us to explore the popular beliefs about this approach and the muscle confusion science theory.
What Is Muscle Confusion?
The muscle confusion theory states that you ought to keep your body guessing to attain or progress towards your fitness goals (2). So how do you keep your muscles guessing? This is done by frequently changing your workouts.
But how often should you change your workouts? Most programs that follow this theory suggest switching up your activities weekly or after a few days. The belief is that when you introduce new workout programs, your body fights a fitness plateau.
A fitness plateau is a period of time when you do not report any changes despite following a fitness program (4). Most people equate this to the performance of old workouts that no longer challenge your body muscles.
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Is Muscle Confusion A Thing?
Depending on who you ask, muscle confusion is a thing. For instance, if you ask fitness gurus, the answer will be yes. That is because most of these experts link the attainment of fitness goals to muscle confusion.
Additionally, the belief is that muscle confusion fights a weight loss or fitness plateau, thereby helping you attain your goals. However, the same cannot be said from a science point of view. Most scientific studies rule out muscle confusion as a myth (2). Here is why:
The Science Behind Exercising
Yes, most people work out to lose weight, get shredded, or lean. However, you have to pick the correct exercises to help you attain the intended goal for this to happen. Studies show that exercising longer than a week or two helps your body get stronger and leaner (3). This differs from the running theory of muscle confusion, where the belief is in changing workouts weekly to avoid experiencing a fitness plateau.
The Reasons For A Fitness Plateau
The running theory is that muscle confusion helps prevent a weight loss or fitness plateau. But research shows a weight loss plateau happens after nearly 6 months, not weekly or monthly, as is the belief (4).
Additionally, performing the same workouts for an extended duration is not the cause of plateaus. Instead, Medical News Today states that doctors are still unsure of the primary cause of these plateaus (4).
Due to the lack of the leading cause of weight loss or fitness plateaus, several theories have been proposed about why fitness plateaus occur. Some of these include (4):
- The body adapts to weight loss and hence develops a defense mechanism against further weight loss
- Individuals quitting following a weight loss diet plan after a few months
- A lagged metabolism, especially if an individual loses weight quickly
None of these theories has been validated. More research is required to determine the exact causes of weight loss or fitness plateaus.
Lack Of Substantial Progress In Your Fitness Journey
Switching your workouts can be a good thing. However, changing them too much, especially weekly, can negatively impact your fitness journey. Evidence shows that although such a fitness approach challenges your muscles, it makes you exhausted and overwhelmed (3).
Additionally, you may not see substantial improvements in your fitness after tracking the changes for an extended duration. That is because muscle confusion does not emphasize effective progressive overload (3).
Progressive overload is believed to be the most effective approach for sustained results. That is because it systematically and consistently increases the stimulus on your body to keep adapting.
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Does Muscle Confusion Work For Weight Loss?
In light of the scientific findings above, it is clear that muscle confusion is not practical for any fitness goal. Yes, you will report some changes after switching up your workouts and performing them consistently. However these muscle contraction workouts are not good for the long-term (2).
For the long haul, science shows that a consistent program focusing on progressive overload is more effective for weight loss (3). Yes, you heard it right. A regime focusing on progressive overload is more effective than muscle contraction workout routines for weight loss.
But what does progressive overload entail? It may take the form of performing more reps, lifting heavier weights, trying a more challenging variation of the same movement, or running faster or longer. It all comes down to the type of exercise you are performing (3).
However, you can also progress your workouts by reducing your rest duration between sets or moving slowly through each exercise rep. Again, it would be best to talk to your trainer for better insight into incorporating progressive overload in your workouts.
Extra Tips About Weight Loss
Besides focusing on progressive overload for weight loss, you also need to do the following (1):
- Consume a low-calorie diet to help you create and sustain a calorie deficit for weight loss.
- Get enough rest because inadequate rest increases your appetite leading to overeating.
- Manage stress to avoid emotional or binge eating.
- Drink enough water.
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How To Get The Most Out Of Your Workouts?
You do not want to spend hours working out and seeing results years later. However, now that muscle contraction workouts are considered the least effective, you may be wondering how to move forward. Evidence shows that you get the most from your activities by doing the following:
This goes out to all individuals with resistance or weight lifting exercise programs. Many people often contract their muscles slowly but then release them more quickly. Unfortunately, this hinders their effectiveness. Instead of this, you are advised to lift slowly in both directions to maximize each lift (3). That said, lift then lower after a 5-second count in each direction.
Start With One Set
It is natural to want to perform many sets in the hopes that they will make you see the desired results faster. But unfortunately, this may not be the case. Quality is far more important than quantity in exercise.
So, instead of performing two or three sets, maximize the workout’s effectiveness by perfecting the one set. Additionally, use heavier weights to increase the intensity of your workout. This is one of the progressive overload approaches that can help maximize your results (3).
Practice Good Form
Form is fundamental in exercise. So yes, you want to incorporate weights because you have read or heard that it increases the intensity of your workout. But you may want to hold your horses and work on your exercise form first.
Form helps both with minimizing injury risk and getting the most from your workouts (1). So, never sacrifice form for heavier loads. It would be best to talk to your trainer to learn different exercises’ correct form and technique.
Limit Your Workout Sessions To 30-40 Minutes
Many people, especially those who want to “speed” their results, may design workout plans that last up to an hour or more. However, the truth is that such workout plans may not be as beneficial for several reasons.
One, it would mean lowering the intensity of your workout, for example, by using lighter weights. Secondly, it would lead to extreme fatigue and soreness, affecting your performance (1).
Instead of such a long workout, it would be best to consider one that lasts 30 to 40 minutes. Such a session is an example of a workout plan that lasts a shorter duration but demands a higher intensity.
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Incorporate Compound Exercises
Instead of only including exercises that target one muscle group, fitness gurus recommend doing moves that target many muscles at once. Examples of such activities are compound exercises like squats, deadlifts, lunges, and dips.
Compound exercises are linked to many benefits, such as improved strength, flexibility, muscle mass, and intramuscular coordination (3). So, with just a few compound moves, you could get a thorough full-body workout.
In addition to your workouts, it would also help if you performed a cardiovascular activity that you enjoy. It could be cycling, swimming, rowing, walking, or running (1). Whatever it is, this exercise comes in handy in helping you torch more calories. Luckily, you will have a blast doing this activity and hardly notice when you shed pounds.
The Bottom Line
There is growing attention on the muscle contraction theory. The belief is that frequently changing your workouts, perhaps in a week, helps you get the most from your regime. However, the approach is not supported by any scientific fitness study.
Instead, most of these studies praise workout programs that enact the principles of progressive overload. Some of them include using heavier weights, performing more reps, or trying challenging variations for the same move.
Science shows that progressive overload leads to sustainable and more effective results than muscle confusion workouts. Before changing your workout plan or implementing any progressive overload principle, please talk to your trainer.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- 10 Workout Secrets: Expert Exercise Tips (2008, medicinenet.com)
- The 5 most commonly believed fitness myths (that are holding you back) (2018, nbcnews.com)
- The effects of exercise variation in muscle thickness, maximal strength and motivation in resistance trained men (2019, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- What to do about a weight loss plateau (2019, medicalnewstoday.com)