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Fitness & Health

08th Jul 2019

You can’t ‘confuse your muscles’, despite what bodybuilders might say

Many gym goers regularly change their training routine on the basis it 'confuses' muscles and promotes better growth. But this principle doesn't exist

Alex Roberts

Arnold Schwarzenegger helped popularise a lot of fitness principles, but not all of them are grounded in truth

Take muscle confusion, for instance. Many gym goers and bodybuilders switch up their training routines regularly, on the basis this ‘confuses’ muscles and therefore promotes greater growth.

But this principle doesn’t really exist.

A new study put the concept of muscle confusion to the test – and found it doesn’t work (or get better results than standard sets).

Scientists took a group of men, all of whom had experience in weightlifting. Their methods were a little strange, however.

The men trained one leg with four straight sets of 9-12 reps. A standard procedure. However, they trained their other leg using a mix of four different methods:

  1. The same workout as the first leg
  2. An eccentric-only exercise (the lowering phase of a lift)
  3. Six sets instead of four
  4. A higher rep version

This mix of training methods is what you’d normally see from someone seeking to ‘confuse’ their muscles.

But despite using all these different training variables, the second group didn’t experience more muscle growth when compared to the first group.

What is progressive overload?

You have a conscious brain, but your muscles don’t. You can’t actually ‘confuse’ them into growing bigger and stronger.

Progressive overload is what makes that vision a reality.

By making small, gradual increases in training volume, your muscles will respond favourably by growing to cope with the demands placed on them.

Volume doesn’t necessarily mean you have to keep upping the rep range. The end goal isn’t to perform 250 reps on one bench press set. You can increase the weight you lift on an exercise and / or the number of sets you perform.

Also, volume isn’t restricted to one single workout either. If you’re a natural lifter, your muscles need to be hit every two to three days. Over the course of a week, you might like to split the number of sets you perform on an exercise across two or three workouts.

Occasional tweaks to a training programme can bring about results, but mainly from a psychological perspective. In other words, if your current training plan has you feeling bored, adding some new methods into the mix could mean you’re more likely to stick to the plan.

And that’s what really gets results.

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