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The Muscle Confusion Principle….Who Is Really Confused?

It’s a little sad that such a great tool like the internet can also be the worst thing that ever happened to people trying to train intelligently. The pooling of ignorance is astounding at times, even by those who come forth as “professionals” in the field. And stay away from the forums. Woo-wee, there are some “creative ideas” on those things.

Unfortunately, we are quick to believe anything we see on TV, and we follow suit on the web. We also can’t stand doing the same thing for more than a week, so we are constantly in search of the next best thing and never become great at anything. So no wonder folks like Tony Horton and Sean T are making boat loads on their one off training programs that just so happen to have genius marketing behind them. If I am not mistaken, Tony’s P90X program coined the term “muscle confusion” and everyone else jumped on the bandwagon after the success of the program’s SALES, and not necessarily the program’s SUCCESS.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not hating on Tony or P90X. The man created something huge and I respect that. But the infomercials even state (if you read the tiny print at the bottom) that the people featured have had abnormal results. It’s not the shear fact that they are doing tons of varying high intensity workouts that makes those people have great results. The best results come from people who were already kind of fit so they could immediately handle the rigorous workouts. Then they followed the supplemental meal plan on top of the workout schedule to the T. They workout frequently, do tons of reps, burn a bunch of calories, and then eat a low calorie diet. That’s pretty much a winning formula for any general fitness program to succeed.

There are a lot of programs out there (not naming any names, but if Jesus invented a fitness program it would be called…) that go to the extent of basically doing a workout and not repeating it for several months or more. The problem with this is that the athlete rarely gets to see accurate progress. You can go months without ever knowing you are really improving unless you do some sort of assessment every few weeks. The problem with doing constant assessments is that they generally entail all out efforts that can hurt the quality of the next 2-3 days of training. If you  are trying to make the most out of every session, doing test sets or intervals within a recurring workout is a more efficient use of your valuable and limited training time.

The term “muscle confusion” itself is a contradiction. Muscles can’t be confused. Their job is pretty straight forward. Contract or relax. Fire a lot of muscle fibers or just a few. Contract fast, or contract slow. Pretty simple. Creating an adaptation within the muscles (which includes the brain and heart) does not hinge on hitting it with 18 different exercises at 14 different intensities. The fact is, a muscle will adapt to any stimuli that stresses it beyond its normal workload limit. Squeeze out 1 more rep or one more interval at the same weight or intensity than ever before and BOOM! The body senses the stress overload and goes to work adapting to that amount of stress. As far as the type of adaption you are looking to illicit, that is certainly determined by the volume and intensity of your exercises. But if you are constantly throwing your body a plethora of different volumes and intensities, my question is what exactly are you trying to achieve? What type of adaption are you going for? Do you even know? Or are you just training blindly with no goals in mind?

But I have plateaued. Don’t I just need to shock the system with something new? Perhaps. But again, that is more a motivational necessity than anything else.  The dreaded plateau has nothing to do with the muscles being bored of what you are doing. Again, it’s usually the individual who is bored. Plateauing has everything to do with the fact that the person has failed to continue to stress the body past it’s workload threshold. Simple as that. Have you hit a plateau in your training? What have you been doing the last 30 days? The same amount of training at the exact same intensities? The same weight? Heck yeah you are going to plateau. Your body has already adapted to that level of training stress. If you want to kick things back into gear, feel free to do the same exercises, or the same running or riding routes, just increase your volume and/or intensity a touch and you’ll be back on track making progress. But again, the type of progress you are looking to make will determine which factor you increase. And just to really confuse that big muscle in your skull, don’t forget to factor rest in there. Sometimes you don’t need more volume or intensity, you just need to rest so the body can have time to rebuild and adapt to the training stress you have been serving it.


If you are interested in having BPC help you break your plateau and get back to an efficient use of your training time, feel free to contact us any time.

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