Muscle confusion is a hot buzzword in the exercise industry. But is it an effective technique based on science, or a realistic-sounding gimmick that only serves to effectively promote exercise DVD sales?
“Muscle confusion” is a fitness theory based on the idea that when you do a single exercise repeatedly, your muscles get “used” to that exercise, and you have to expend more energy to get the same results — which can lead to a plateau in your fitness progress. However, if you constantly change up your routine, you can “confuse” your muscles and shock them into faster growth.
So, does it work? Yes and no, apparently.
Many fitness experts–particularly body builders—dismiss the idea of muscle confusion as a gimmick. They argue that there’s no way to perfect a physical skill or build specific muscles without constant, consistent repetition, and that the way to effective muscle-building is to alternate the amount of weight you use and your rest periods.
However, it appears that there is some truth to the idea that variety can be effective when it comes to your workout routine, even according to muscle confusion naysayers. They note that variety staves of boredom and makes workouts more enjoyable. It also gives some muscles a chance to rest while others are used. And proponents of the muscle confusion concept note that periodization, the term for a progressive cycling of different training techniques, has been used by serious athletes for decades. The real question seems to be how much variety is really beneficial, and whether variety in and of itself is essential for better results.
Much of the problem with the term “muscle confusion” may be in the wording. The fact is, you can’t “confuse” muscles. Muscles can’t think or act independently, and they don’t expect anything one way or another from your workout. You also can’t shock your muscles into growing. That’s just not how muscles work.
So the bottom line is, although it may be rooted in sound fitness theories, muscle confusion is far from a scientifically proven, surefire way to build lots of muscle or lose a ton of weight fast. So what about all of the success stories from those who have tried muscle confusion-based programs? The answer may be very simple. All fitness programs work, if you put in the effort. And these programs, particularly P90X, do provide a powerful cardio and resistance training program that’s motivating, highly challenging, and apparently, highly effective for some people. And in the end, whether or not muscle confusion is the reason a program works may not be as important as the fact that it works.