Don’t get confused.
The name is not ideal. A better name would be the Weider Maximum Variety Principle. Nevertheless, there is a certain logic behind the term muscle confusion. If you picture your muscles as thinking entities, as cartoon characters with faces, you want those faces to be frozen in “WTF” expressions. You want your muscles to continuously wonder what just hit them, because that questioning is what induces them to grow stronger and bigger to fend off future surprise attacks. Shock and grow is the essence of muscle confusion, a training tenet for generating perpetual gains.
The Weider Muscle Confusion Principle
The CliffsNotes for this principle would read: “Be different.” Make each bodypart workout substantially different than the previous workout for that bodypart. This continuously altered stress is designed to continuously spark growth. There are numerous variables that you can change from workout to workout. These are the major ones:
■ NUMBER OF REPS PER SET Eight to 12 is the ideal rep range for muscle growth, but breaking out of that range for sets of as few as one and as many as 100 reps can be just the shock your muscles need.
■ EXERCISE CHOICE Altering exercises from workout to workout is an essential tool of muscle confusion.
■ EXERCISE ORDER Switching the order of exercises is another confusion essential, and it’s especially useful when you have a limited number of exercises, as in our sample hamstrings routines.
■ WORKOUT VOLUME Here’s another factor that rarely gets changed, but try adding exercises and/or sets to your workouts on occasion, boosting your volume by 30%–100%.
■ REP SPEED Doing reps very fast or very slow can make even the same exercise and number of sets/reps feel completely different. You can also pause at contractions to greatly increase the time under tension.
■ REST PERIOD LENGTHS Decrease or virtually eliminate the time between sets by doing drop sets or supersets, trisets or giant sets. Conversely, if you usually rest 90 seconds or less, lengthen rest periods to keep your strength up from set to set.
■ INTENSITY TECHNIQUES There are other Weider principles that you can deploy to extend sets beyond full-rep failure, including forced reps, negatives and rest-pause. We’ll address these in future months.
Here are four sample hamstring workouts to illustrate how muscle confusion is applied to your training. We chose hams to demonstrate that even with minimal exercise variety, there are many ways to dramatically alter your workout each time you hit the same bodypart.
We covered the fact that randomness can lead to loss of focus on progressive over-load and prioritization. Walking into the gym and asking yourself What can I do that’s different today? is not the ideal strategy for most bodybuilders. A better one for you may be to preplan your variety by doing similar types of workouts for every bodypart, but changing each week the types of workouts you do.
For example, you may do all low- to moderate-rep sets one week, all moderate- to high-rep sets the next week, and all high-rep and high-intensity (drop set and superset) barrages the third week. In the fourth week, you return to the low- to moderate-rep sets of week one, trying to do more reps or use more weight than you did that week. Neil Hill’s Y3T system follows this formula (see “Total Carnage” in the June (2011) issue of FLEX for a description). There are other ways of doing it: for example, you can do four different weeks in rotation, or you can focus on completely different exercises each week but repeat them the next time you go through the cycle. Sticking to a preplanned system that never does the same workout for a bodypart twice in a row is a great way to stay focused on short-term goals while employing muscle confusion.
THERE ARE TWO POTENTIAL PITFALLS:
■ When each workout is markedly different from the one before, it’s harder to focus on Weider Training Principle number four: progressive overload (covered in the April issue of FLEX). Each time you do an exercise, you need to strive to do stronger sets (more reps/same weight or more weight/same reps) than you did the previous time you worked that exercise. Muscle confusion can make it difficult to keep track of progressive overload goals. At worst, it can degenerate into chaos, a random workout wandering. See this month’s “Fresh Take” for a means of bringing order to muscle confusion.
■ Similarly, maximum exercise variety can lead you astray of Weider Training Principle number six: prioritization (as described in the June issue). Focusing on your weaknesses must be your principal goal; adjust your other workout factors accordingly. For example, if your upper chest is lagging, make certain you do extra incline work in your pec workouts, even as you alter exercises and other variables.
IN FAVOR OF MUSCLE CONFUSION:
■ It infuses variety into every workout, thus continuously altering muscle stimulation.
■ By changing exercises and exercise order, you can better stimulate all areas of large and complex bodyparts, especially your back. Similarly, by altering your rep range and speed, you can boost strength (lower reps), power (faster reps) and endurance (higher reps) in addition to growth.
■ Never doing similar back-to-back workouts wards off boredom and boosts your enthusiasm, intensity and focus.