There is No Such Thing as Muscle Confusion
Muscle Confusion, as with so many other fallacies in the personal fitness industry, if enough people say it as though its true, it will start being repeated as Gospel truth. That’s what I see happening with the concept of ‘muscle confusion’.
What is Muscle Memory?
You may have heard the tip to change up your workout routine often to ‘confuse’ your muscles and make your workout more effective. The idea is that you need to create muscle confusion to prevent your natural muscle memory from making your workout too easy. It’s also a complete fallacy. That’s because your muscles can’t remember anything—your brain does.
When you pick up a pen, your arm doesn’t fly up and hit you in the face because your brain remembers how much a pen weighs, and knows how much force is needed to move it. The brain knows from past experiences how many muscle fibers need to fire to move the pen, and it tells your arm to generate only the force needed. (Our brains are lazy and want to conserve effort in everything we do.) THAT is what people call “muscle memory”. Your brain remembers what signals to send your muscles to get them to do complicated things with the least amount of effort, like balancing while riding a bike or writing your name with a pen. I’ve written previously on how muscle memory works here.
Why Muscle Confusion Doesn’t Work
When you constantly change up your workout routine to “trick” your muscles into working harder, what you’re actually doing is throwing yourself back into a learning curve. You’ll struggle for a short time at trying to do the new workout routine with the most effective form, but until then you won’t be putting out maximum effort, and your workouts will actually be less effective. Your muscles need to be put into an overload in order to change and grow stronger. Your muscles can’t effectively do that if you’re forcing your brain to constantly relearn what it’s trying to do.
Your muscles have no cognitive ability. They cannot remember, they cannot think, and they cannot make decisions or be confused. They are made up of thousands of individual muscle fibers, and each fiber can either fire at 100%, or not at all. We can generate different amounts of force by controlling how many of those muscle fibers we fire, and which muscles we involve, but we can’t trick a muscle to work harder by “confusing” it. You can read more about how your muscles work in my previous post here.
A Better Option
Instead of changing up your strength training routine, it’s much more effective to just develop a good routine with your personal trainer to begin with and adapt it as your muscles begin to change with higher reps and/or heavier weights. The most effective way to work out is to learn proper posture and technique to isolate the muscles that you’re targeting with each set, and gradually increasing the resistance to overload your muscles and affect change. No brain tricks, voodoo or blindfolds needed. So please, stop telling folks they need to trick their muscles to get results, and stop believing everything you hear about exercise. In fact, don’t believe most of what you hear.