“Muscle Confusion“…You may have heard of the term lately. Though it’s the latest buzz phrase in the fitness industry, the phrase has been around for a while. The goal is to “confuse” your muscles so you can avoid plateaus and keep getting results.
Here’s How Muscle Confusion Works:
Amazingly, your body can adapt pretty quickly and when it does, it essentially becomes more efficient. Efficiency means your body works smarter and can more easily accomplish a movement, thereby conserving energy. The idea of muscle confusion is to constantly change things up so that your body doesn’t have time to adapt. This forces the body to have to work harder, thereby burning more calories and building more lean muscle.
To create “confusion”, you can change the speed at which you perform the exercise or slightly change the technique of exercise itself. It’s amazing how much your body responds by changing even just a little bit.
Here’s an example of Muscle Confusion:
Taking simple body weight exercises like push-ups and body weight squats, there are easy ways to incorporate muscle confusion. There are countless ways to throw in a little variety to keep things fresh and so you can keep making progress.
Here are a few examples of push-up and squat variations you can do:
- Regular Push-Ups
- Fast Push-Ups
- Plyo (Explosive) Push-Ups
- Wide Stance Push-Ups
Body Weight Squats
- Regular Squats
- Fast Squats
- Squat Jumps (Explosive)
- Wide Stance Squats
First of all, make sure that all exercises and movements are done with full range of motion. If you’re not using full range of motion you’re not maximizing all of the muscle fibers that can be recruited. If you can’t do full range of motion, than you need to practice and get stronger by doing the exercises. You don’t need to worry about variety until you’re able to perform the exercises with full range of motion. This is a great example of when you need adaptation. You’re body needs to adapt to develop the proper strength necessary to perform the exercises correctly.
Variety. There are many ways to change things up, but the key variables we want to focus on are speed and technique. I’m choosing not to include load here for the sake of simplicity and time. I don’t want to bore you to death with all the different load progressions and sequences etc. So let’s stick with simple things you can incorporate into your workouts today at home or at the gym.
Speed. This is such a great variable that’s so often overlooked and underutilized. Try changing up the speed of the exercise you’re used to doing. Most people are used to doing controlled movements using specific tempos like 2 – 0 – 1, which means 2 seconds down (eccentrically lowering load) with zero pause the the bottom followed by a one second lift (concentrically lifting load). Now, throw that out the window and perform an exercise as fast as possible using full range of motion. This is best done with exercises using lighter weights or body weight exercises like push ups and air squats.
Try this sample mini workout to create muscle confusion:
Give yourself 30 seconds and perform as many push ups in 30 seconds as possible. Rest for 15 seconds and then perform squats as quickly as possible using full range of motion (that’s thighs parallel to floor) for 30 seconds followed by a 15 second rest and repeat the entire set 5 times.
Performing quick repetition changes the neural firing pattern and recruits different muscle fibers compared to doing push ups and squats at normal speeds. This change in neural firing is even more evident when performing exercises with “explosive” speeds like plyo push ups (explosive push ups that allow you to bring your hands off the floor each time you push up) and squat jumps.
Explosive speeds require recruitment of large, powerful, fast-twitch muscle fibers compared to doing exercises with controlled slower movements, which only require smaller, weaker slow-twitch muscle fibers to be recruited. The only other way to recruit these large powerful muscle fibers is by lifting very heavy loads.
For a challenging explosive body weight workout give this one a try:
Perform 10 plyo push ups followed immediately by 10 squats jumps (jump high each rep), rest for 30 seconds and repeat the entire set 5 to 10 times.
This workout requires explosive strength and power. Stop the set as soon as you feel that you aren’t able to perform the exercises as explosively as possible due to fatigue. Fatigue will set in quicker because it’s much more demanding on your nervous system, than doing the exercises with normal speed.
Another way to switch things up is by changing up your technique. The change doesn’t have to be major for your body to notice a difference. For example, try putting your hands further apart when doing push-ups or bring your hands closer together. You’ll immediately notice a difference even though you’re technically still doing push-ups. You can do the same with squats as well. Try taking a wider stance, with your feet flared out. Make sure that your knees still track out along the big toes and your thighs should still come parallel to the floor when squatting. Applying these simple changes in technique cause your body to stimulate different muscles.
These are just a couple of simple concepts that you can start applying today. Try these workouts and see how it feels to perform exercises differently. Remember, there are countless ways to add variety to your workouts. Change things up often to keep your body slightly off kilter, thereby forcing your body to stimulate different muscles, recruit different muscle fibers and change the neural firing pattern. This prevents your body from plateauing, so you can keep making progress to get leaner and stronger. This in essence is muscle confusion.
Are you changing your workouts often enough or have you hit a plateau? Be sure to leave your comments below…