According to Merriam Webster online, confusion is defined as:
: a situation in which people are uncertain about what to do or are unable to understand something clearly
: the feeling that you have when you do not understand what is happening, what is expected, etc.
: a state or situation in which many things are happening in a way that is not controlled or orderly
Muscle Confusion is a popular buzz term in the world of fitness these days. So much so that I recently saw the idea featured in an interview on the local morning news. The term itself seems to be quite vague. After a little bit of google searching it’s clear that a bunch of random people, since this term is in no way scientific, would broadly define it as; changing up your workouts frequently so your body and muscles never know what’s coming. The fitness expert in the news broadcast suggested that soreness, likely due to some new exercises in your workout, is a good indicator of muscle confusion. She also stated, to her credit, that often times people get comfortable with doing the same workouts over and over to the point that results and continuous improvement are not happening. However, she then when on to say, (and we disagree on this point) that muscle confusion training would solve that problem.
Now, considering the definition of the word confusion at the top the page, when it comes to training, I want to stay as far away from confusion as possible. This may only make as much sense as the term muscle confusion itself, but I’d prefer that my muscles have a clear understanding of what is happening and what is expected in all situations. I’ll call it movement mastery. That’s what you’re workouts really need.
Perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned in training the last several years is, in each and every situation ask yourself, what’s the goal? Does doing X bring me closer? It is conceivable that constantly changing your training will help you to lose fat if that is your goal. Anything works in the beginning. It’s the first step. Even sticking to a plan, no matter how terrible will work initially. However, all of that is far less likely to make you stronger, more powerful, more efficient and a better master of your own movement. If your goal is to do more pull ups, then you should practice doing more pull ups. If you want to be a better athlete, odds are you need to squat. So do just that. Build the skill. Don’t change it up because you did some squats last week. Being barely competent in a lot of movements will ensure that your results represent that. Get really good at a few fundamentals and it will obvious to others in a number of ways as well as bring you closer to the goal.
To tie all of these ideas together, it is important to use some variety in your training as well as keep it fun. However, let’s not lose site of the goal. Sorry, but soreness simply doesn’t equal progress. Speaking of progress, it is far more important to have progression in your training. That can mean a few things: adding weight to the bar (aka progressive overload, something that has actually been studied), which should mean you’re getting better, do more reps or sets than in the past, or due to proficiency perform a more difficult version of that exercise. More on that HERE.
Finally, to settle this problem once and for all I have devised the mind boggling, brain incinerating, muscle confusion training protocol. Let’s say you are currently training movement A in any of the groups listed below. Well, choose B or C or vice versa to really change things up. Take a look.
A. Back Squat
B. Front Squat
C. Zercher Squat
A. Pull Up
B. Chin Up
C. Fat Grip Pull Up
B. Sumo Deadlift
C. 1-Arm Deadlift
A. 1-Arm Press
B. Bottom Up KB Press
C. Press/B.U. Press from 1/2 Kneeling
– Mike Baltren