It’s been a fitness trend that plans like P90X have built their programs around: muscle confusion. The theory goes that greater strength and muscle development happens when we mix up our workouts and confuse our muscles. But conventional wisdom contends that muscle confusion would supposedly help us avoid plateauing in our training thereby increasing our gains.
The theory sounds plausible but had never been scrutinized through scientific research—until recently.
Does Muscle Confusion Work?
A new study by researchers interested in the impact of resistance training looked into whether muscle confusion led to bigger gains in strength and muscle development.
The study consisted of young men, broken out into two groups. One group would do the same weight training routine, in the same order, increasing weight as needed but otherwise not altering from the training plan. Another group did the same workout, but varied the order each day.
After eight weeks, the participants muscles were measured for size and strength gains as well as a survey on their motivation for working out.
Muscle or Motivation
The researchers compared the results from both groups and found that muscles don’t confuse easily. Essentially, muscle confusion doesn’t lead to marked gains in size and strength. However, the researchers found substantial differences in motivational scores between the groups. The group with a varied routine day to day reported higher motivation to exercise.
The study, although small (19 male participants), short-lived, and comprising of fit males in a gym environment, gives some insight in how we should think about our exercising. Mixing up exercise routines may not lead to greater muscle size and strength, but it may help motivate you to keep going to the gym.
Source: New York Times
Sonja Stilp M.D. is a doctor and founder of RISE. She is a board-certified physical medicine and rehabilitation physician with fellowship training in interventional spine and sports medicine. She mixes up her workout schedule every week. Schedule an appointment to meet with Dr. Stilp at RISE in Boulder, Colorado to get motivated to confuse and strengthen your muscles.