We’ve been taught to believe change is good in the life of a fitness enthusiast, and sticking with something for too long in the bodybuilding world is like staying in an unhealthy relationship.
“Muscle confusion” is the term that’s become inexorably linked training effectively, this idea that by frequently changing our approach to training, we’re somehow “keeping the body guessing” and away from the dreaded plateau effect.
This is of course that state we sometimes enter where gains slow to a crawl and our progress flatlines, a period that can last the briefest of weeks to entire months at a time if we aren’t careful.
But how about this for a truth bomb: Muscle confusion isn’t a thing, and you would be far better off remaining consistent with your training methods rather than constantly trying to throw your body off balance.
And this all comes down to another training approach that’s more proven in effect: progressive overload.
Brett Bartholomew is director of performance at Los Angeles super gym Unbreakable, and he explained to NYMag.com that consistency is the issue for most people:
“All the crap you hear about your body needing a different stimulus each week or a new ‘workout of the day’ is garbage. The number-one reason people don’t get results is that they don’t have the attention span to stick with something.”
Those who abide by the principles of muscle confusion go through their workout weeks much like the hottest girl at the club, constantly changing their mind and never sticking with one choice for long.
The logic behind such practice seems solid to those who buy into it: Refresh your training so often that the body is constantly being hit in new, unexpected ways, but it’s just no effective.
On the other hand, practising the progressive overload is more proven to yield positive results in weight training, and it’s a lot easier to keep track of the progress.
Who might have thought the Hodge Twins would be the best people to listen to when it comes to explaining the principles of the progressive overload and why it’s optimal for training:
It’s simple really: Go to the gym and perform an exercise. The next time you go to the gym, try to perform the same exercise at the same weight for longer and master that weight before moving up.
So, with a method as easy and well laid-out as the progressive overload, why would we ever choose to divert away from the tried-and-tested route?
The answer: because we’re humans, and we get bored very easily.
As long as fitness has been around, there has always been people willing to experiment and go against the grain, even when it may seem counterintuitive, just to cure their own curiosity and become “pioneers” of the field.
Bartholomew touched upon this notion earlier. We as a society are so fixated on seeing quick results that even if we were to acknowledge progress in the mirror, many of us would still deviate from the path in the belief something better is out there. Something faster.
Author Nicholas Carr is also quoted by NYMag.com and spoke on this necessity for fast results:
“As our technologies increase the intensity of stimulation and the flow of new things, we adapt to that pace. We become less patient. When moments without stimulation arise, we start to feel panicked and don’t know what to do with them, because we’ve trained ourselves to expect this stimulation.”
Muscle confusion is the fad of the 21st century. It’s the one thing many of us have grown up believing to be true, meanwhile our friend has stuck with his bench press every week for the last four years straight, and he’s on the brink of winning major competitions.
Stick with what’s known to work, and if you want to become truly elite at something, train it for however long you darn well please.