We’ve all heard the term “muscle confusion.” It will supposedly solve our workout slump woes. Running for a year and not losing weight? Consider muscle confusion. Lifting weights alone not getting it done for you? Consider muscle confusion.
But what exactly is muscle confusion? Amié Burnham at Lexington Athletic Club joked that “muscles do not have brains,” and aren’t left “guessing” what to do next when you change up a workout. Burnham sees a lot of people who have hit a slump in their workout and need a dose of so-called muscle confusion to help get them fired up again.
Though she sees the necessity for muscle confusion (constantly changing up workouts so you are not doing the same thing over and over), she thinks the phrase is misunderstood. And while acknowledging that “variety is the spice of life,” she sees also a lot of value in repetition in workouts for the sake of proper form, developing speed, increasing resistance and improving overall performance in an activity. On the flip side, if you don’t challenge yourself in a particular workout, you probably need to think about intensifying a certain aspect of your regimen.
I’ve been struggling with this in particular lately since my time at the gym is extremely limited these days. I’ve had to force myself to actually jog with the jogging stroller rather than power walk. And I have made a conscious effort to increase the weight of my dumbbells when doing my bicep curls. Instead of thinking about “confusing” my muscles, I am trying to think about doing similar groups and patterns of exercises — and just doing them in a more challenging way.
“You want your body to become efficient, because we squat 100 times a day in everyday life,” Burnham explained. “So our body needs to learn how to become efficient in that movement pattern, so it is important to train and repeat movement patterns and learn correct technique and become efficient. But what so many people don’t do is progression and improvement.”
Ways to challenge yourself, she said, include changing up the tempo and tweaking the amount of repetitions and weight.
Aside from laziness or lack of information, gender stereotypes also play a huge role in adding variety (a.k.a. confusion) to workouts. “I find women are too afraid to lift weights, they don’t want to move past that 10 pound dumbbell for whatever reason,” she said, stressing that for basic health and the sake of weight loss and looking good, women need to step up their game in resistance training.
Men, on the other hand, need to back off on the resistance training and stop neglecting their cardiovascular training, Burnham said, generally speaking. “And they really don’t want to lift with their legs,” she added.
Also, there is a group out there that works out too much and doesn’t build in enough rest and recovery time to allow their bodies to work more efficiently.
On the opposite spectrum, most people do not do enough. Burnham said that to maintain overall health and general fitness, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends that everyone get at least two to three days of resistance training with eight to 10 exercises, and at the very least 30 minutes most days a week of intense cardio training.
My guess is that most of us need to strive to reach the bare minimum, never mind trying to train to get stronger, faster and fitter. I know that needs to be my goal at the moment as I yearn for the days of freedom to workout six days a week. I think my muscles don’t need “confusion” as much as they need a good consistent butt-kicking on a regular basis.