"Muscle Confusion Myth": Don't let it hold back your bodybuilding progress

Published: 15th July 2009
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Why is it that so many myths and downright idiocies become commonplace acceptances within the bodybuilding and fitness industries? Does it stem from widespread use of anabolic steroids - resulting in general ignorance among those considered to be experts by mere exhibition of their overdeveloped musculatures? Is it perpetuated by fitness trainers who'd like nothing more than to convince their clients that there's more esotericism to working the body than one might originally suspect? These questions might be worth contemplating if you're one of the many people who are dissatisfied with their body improvement efforts.

Nothing could undermine those efforts more than any bodybuilding principle that holds the same level of erroneousness as the "muscle confusion myth." The attempts of some to make it a credible and scientific-sounding muscle building principle go back a long way - at least forty years. And yet anyone with an inkling of understanding about the mechanics of muscle anabolism would quickly surmise that 'muscle confusion' is a myth at best and a well-conceived farce at worst.

In my twenty-five years of natural bodybuilding, I've observed that a belief in the muscle confusion myth can severely hamper progress. I've also noticed that adherence to a principle that runs contrarian to 'muscle confusion' can send bodybuilding and fitness progress skyrocketing. More about that in a few moments.

The idea behind 'Muscle Confusion'

No doubt you've heard the 'muscle confusion myth' as the premise behind many common workout sayings:

"You've got to change your routine a lot or your muscles will get used to the same one and stop growing."

"You've got to 'trick' your muscles and keep them guessing."

"If muscle growth hits a plateau, you have to 'shock' the tissue in order to resume progress."

"Changing your workout routine often will give you a better 'pump', which leads to more muscle growth."

The sayings above might be completely laughable except for one thing: Like many myths and misconceptions, the 'muscle confusion myth' evolved out of a truism that obviously became distorted over time. Muscles CAN become "adaptive" to whatever you throw at them. However, what they become adaptive to that requires constant augmentation is the "volume load" - NOT the exercise selection or workout sequencing.So if the muscles are not 'volume overloaded' and adequately recuperated between those volume overload sessions (workouts), they simply stop making progress.

Key point: If only one of those two requirements is not optimal, muscle building will hit a plateau. In other words, if the muscles are hit with enough intensity during workouts yet recuperation between workouts is inadequate, muscle growth will come to a screeching halt. Conversely, if muscles aren't hit with sufficient intensity to stimulate 'volume overload', progress will likewise cease to exist.

Failure to understand this basic principle of bodybuilding and fitness has led many body improvement aspirants to buy into the tenets of 'the muscle confusion myth.' If their progress stops, they're told to simply "change their routine." Yet a simple change of routine typically yields little (if anything) for the following reason:

Muscles are Incapable of being "Confused"

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news (there's good news to follow), but muscles cannot be confused, baffled, perplexed, puzzled, or even "bewildered" in any way. That goes for the entire body (with the exception of the mind, of course) as well. Despite the claims of marketers who are looking to cash in on the rehashing of an old buzzword, we cannot "muscle confuse" our way to a better shape.

The reason: muscle is merely comprised of contractile tissue made of two proteins - actin and myosin. This makes it pretty simple stuff that's responsive to sound principles of "precision overload" and "optimized recuperation."

The 'Muscle Confusion Myth' can slow down progress

Some gym-goers and home workout enthusiasts are changing their routines on no less than a weekly basis. The rationale behind this is the chasing of that elusive evidence that their muscles are being adequately confused and that the resultant 'muscle pump' they perceive will be an assurance of bodybuilding progress. Sadly, they're often slowing down their progress and wasting valuable time that could have been spent doing something better - such as simply hitting the beach and enjoying the results of effective bodybuilding.

The muscle confusion myth can slow progress by creating what I've termed "feedback confusion." Whatever goals we have in our lives - whether that's building a better body or building a beautiful house in the country, etc... whatever - we need to become sensitive to feedback in our strategies. Excessive changing of a bodybuilding or fitness routine can make meaningful feedback nearly impossible to read and interpret.

Here's what Works better than trying to "Confuse" the Muscles

Let's take a look at a big secret I've discovered from over two decades of bodybuilding experience with average genetics and absolutely no steroid use. Here it is in a nutshell:

"The workout routine needs to be somewhat rigid (once optimized) and the recuperation time between workouts needs to be flexible (even while being close to optimal)."

Most bodybuilders and workout enthusiasts do the opposite and experience lackluster results. They "mix up" their workout routines (creating 'feedback confusion') and nearly go into a depression if they miss a workout because they think it will result in a setback. Their rest days between workouts are rigid - as if they've made a pact with their muscle tissue and the tissue has agreed to recuperate in the time that's been allotted. Evidence that this thinking is erroneous is presented every time a bodybuilder or fitness enthusiast says the following:

"I took two weeks off from my workouts and I thought I'd get weak and I came back stronger."

Could that be because it's the recuperation phase that's most susceptible to variables that can change its time requirement?

My advice: Use that as your clue to success and leave the "muscle confusion myth" to those who choose to be... well - "perpetually confused."


Scott Abbett is the author of HardBody Success: 28 Principles to Create Your Ultimate Body and Shape Your Mind for Incredible Success. To see his personal transformation, visit www.hardbodysuccess.com

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