We have heard it all before.
The suggestion that constantly changing our exercise selection is good because it either;
1) ‘confuse the muscle into growing’
2) ‘keeps the muscle guessing’
The thought process behind this is that by constantly changing exercises, workloads, sets, reps etc. the body cannot ‘get used’ to a specific training stimulus. And , as a direct result, we see greater muscle growth, greater increases in strength, and a greater rate of fat loss.
Muscles don’t have the capacity to get ‘confused’ or make ‘guesses’. They are muscles.
They can contract, causing them to get shorter, which creates movement at a joint.
Ok so maybe not the absolute end.
There a couple of big issues that come with trying to 'confuse' our muscles through excessive variations:
1) It doesn’t allow the central nervous system (CNS) to adapt to movements. By allowing the CNS significant time to adapt, we become stronger at those movements, which results in greater improvement in strength and hypertrophy.
2) It doesn’t involve any specificity. We normally train towards a specific goal. Whether that goal is to improve athletic performance, increase lean mass, jump higher or bench press a Mack track, it doesn’t matter. Each goal is specific, and as such needs a specific, individualized exercise plan that leads us towards that goal. By changing exercises every week we lose that specific, goal orientated, aspect of training.
The real way to progress.
Fortunately, there is something that we can do to ensure consistent results from our training.
Unfortunately, it isn't new or sexy, it doesn't have cool catchy name like 'muscle confusion', and it will require ACTUAL effort.
But, on a positive note, it works.
In fact it is arguably the only thing that can cause legitimate, long term change.
Progressive overload is the gradual increase of stress placed on the body during exercise over time. This allows the body to gradually adapt to this increasing stress, growing bigger and stronger.
A great example of this:
step 1). Pick 1 big exercise (think deadlift) that you can perform twice per week.
Step 2). Find a weight you can lift 5 times.
Step 3). Do 5 sets of that weight.
Step 4). Once you can lift that weight for 5 sets of 5 reps, increase weight by 2.5kgs.
Step 5). Repeat step 3 and 4 again, and again, and again.
Now I realize this is a very simple example of progressive overload, and in regards to specificity, is probably only going to work towards someone’s goal of deadlifting a shit ton of weight (which is a pretty solid goal). But I can guarantee if you did this for 6 months (with the occasional deload programmed in) you would be bigger and stronger at the end of it than if you had changed exercises every week.
Now how would you apply this to a more complex goal? For example improving someone’s acceleration?
You might start using unloaded box jumps as a way to improve power, and split squats to improve single leg strength. Over time we can increase the external load added to these exercises to stimulate strength and hypertrophy (progressive overload). Once you feel the individual has ‘maxed out’ these exercises, you can then progress them to more complex exercises (for example, squat jumps and a reverse lunges). The external load used during these new exercises can be increased gradually ('progressively', even......) until we start to plateau, and then we repeat the process. Change the exercise SLIGHTLY and continue to add load.
This way we can progressively overload an exercise that is aimed at achieving a specific goal, and we only vary an exercise when progress stalls on that specific exercise. Additionally, the exercise variation should be small (for example a split squat to a reverse lunge). This allows continual and gradual progress, as the new exercise builds on the components of the exercise that came before it.
See, it shouldn’t be confusing. It should be simple and logical (and actually produce RESULTS).
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