Taking the Confusion Out of Muscle Confusion

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There’s a notion in bodybuilding that you can confuse your muscles into growing. It’s based on the belief that if you don’t change exercises every so often, you’ll plateau and stop making progress. I’d like to take some of the confusion out of this idea. Doing so should help you get the most out of your efforts to manage your training. 

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For a well-conditioned muscle, any effective change of exercise must present a stronger or unaccustomed stimulus to the tissue. There are a limited number of stimuli that make muscles grow, and thus a limited number of things you can change that would make a difference.

One way to increase the growth stimulus is to increase the total reps. Another way is to increase the weight. An often-overlooked way to increase the stimulus is to decrease the rest between sets, thus upping the metabolic stress. Finally, the degree of stretch the muscle experiences certainly affects the stress imposed on the muscle. If the new exercise you’re thinking of swapping out for the one you’ve been using doesn’t accomplish any of these things, it won’t be more effective than the original exercise.

Let’s look at these growth options one at a time and see if a new exercise can be used to accomplish it. 

The total number of reps is not dependent on what exercise you’re doing, unless it’s a bodyweight exercise and you’re unable to lighten the load. So no benefit to changing exercises there. A new exercise might just allow more weight to be used. Keep in mind, when I say weight I’m talking about the actual strain the muscle experiences during a set, not how many plates you add to the bar. Because of differences in stability, oftentimes the muscle is exposed to a higher load on  some exercises than others.  So a new exercise might work here. The rest between sets isn’t tied to any specific exercise, so no benefit to changing exercises there. The degree of stretch, however, does relate to what exercise you’re doing—so changing it strategically certainly may work. Here are some specifc examples of how to strategically change exercises. - FLEX

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