Honestly, this is a fitness buzz word I thought actually died out a bit ago, I hadn’t heard a trainer use it in several years until recently I started seeing it pop up again all over! So let’s start with describing what it is, and then of course we have to ask the all important question: is it correct?
So the base concept of “muscle confusion” was coined to describe the phenomenon that our bodies actually become highly specialized and adapted to training styles and routines, and the more often we do the same thing the more efficient our body becomes at doing that thing. This is, of course, the purpose of training, but that efficiency can actually lead to plateaus in gains made at times. You see, you can actually be too efficient, to the point where you can find it very hard to challenge yourself with an activity, but this means that you can’t grow as fast either because our body responds specifically to being challenged!
Enter the idea of muscle confusion: what if I drastically change my training routine every day so that my body cannot over specialize and lose this level of challenge? We might be able to prevent plateaus and allow the body to continue to grow at the accelerated rate we see when we first start a new style of program!
It’s a pretty neat idea actually, and was definitely one worth testing! So we did! The results, like the idea, were very intuitive. It turns out, that the base idea is very accurate: if I spend one day on max load lifting, and the next on Yoga, and the next on body weights conditioning, each of these things will stay challenging for a longer period of weeks before I hit a plateau. This is not, however, because my muscle got confused, but actually seems to be because I’m not spending enough days per week on any given activity to allow the rapid adaptation we normally would see from regular practice. For example, if I do three days a week of high intensity intervals, I’m going to see way more gains in anaerobic turnover and oxygen carrying than if I only did it one. So if I only do one day a week of this, it will of course take me much longer to reach my peak potential in this area of health, so it will seem like I’m avoiding a plateau for longer. It doesn’t mean that I’m getting more benefit from the “confused” program though, I’m just changing the pace.