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Trainers agree: The term “muscle confusion” is actually a complete myth

Rachel Lapidos

Rachel LapidosJuly 20, 2019

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Photo: Getty Images/Jay Yuno

Whenever I’ve overheard trainers saying that you’ve gotta “confuse your muscles,” I thought it was odd. My brain is confused enough throughout the day—when I workout, I just want to sweat it all out (which is hard enough as it is). I’d rather not give my body the physical equivalent of an algebra problem.

Confusing your muscles, though, is a long-held idea that in order to get stronger, you’ve got to do completely different things to your muscles… which means switching up your workouts and the exercises that you do. “Muscle confusion is a phrase that has become popular as a solution to hitting a plateau in an exercise routine,” explains Judine Saint-Gerard, a head coach at Tone House, adding that it basically means that continuously changing your workout routine will prevent this plateau. “Although the general concept—the idea that your body will eventually adapt to repeating the same workout over a period of time—is correct, the specific terminology isn’t,” she says.

Other trainers I spoke with agreed: Muscle confusion is actually a myth. “Muscles really serve to stabilize our skeleton, move our body, or aid in life processes like breathing,” says Chris Hudson, an instructor at Barry’s Bootcamp.  “To say that one is trying to confuse the muscles doesn’t really make sense—a better description of the concept would be varying your workouts in order to avoid hitting results plateaus.”

So rather than “muscle confusion,” it’s actually the workout switch-ups concept that’s important to know about, because muscle adaptation (which leads to a plateau) does happen. “Once you introduce a new stimulus, such as a new workout, a different rep scheme, heavier weights, etc., the body will be challenged to adapt again, which should pull you out of the plateau,” says Saint-Gerard.

“The general population does this with doing strictly classes, because you’re training to keep busy and be active,” adds Chase Weber, a celebrity fitness trainer in LA, who says that the idea of “muscle confusion” gets lost in the fluff of training in a detailed, robust regimen. Hudson notes that this is the whole concept of Barry’s, since you’re never doing the same workout twice. “By prioritizing efficiency and flow, our trainers deliver workouts that constantly challenge the body and mind,” he says, which is the true key to a good fitness routine.

To continue to switch up your workouts, the best things to keep in mind, according to Saint-Gerard, are:

  1. Change your rep scheme—increase or decrease the number of reps, or try a specific scheme such as pyramid or drop setting.
  2. If you mainly do cardio, try adding strength or resistance training (and vice versa).
  3. Instead of counting reps, do timed sets.
  4. Vary time under tension.
  5. Use a heavier load or a lighter load.

Sticking to these factors—or simply switching your workouts up every now and then—will keep your muscles guessing (and strong).

BTW, here’s what a fitness trainer says about doing cardio or strength training first. And this is the truth about the 10,000 step workout: Is it cardio or not? 

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