Consistency plays a fundamental and integral part in garnering any type of gains in this sport. Each and every day you have to be spot on with your training, your nutrition, your supplementation and your rest. Without those key ingredients in place you will eventually just start spinning your wheels and going nowhere in the growth department. Utilizing a training log has long been considered a useful tool to keep track of what you have been doing in all facets of your training and daily life. Each week you can look back upon what you previously did to know what you have to do the same or better for the upcoming week. Often times you’ll see people in the gym recording their sets and reps, what weights were used and possibly even the duration of their sets and rest times. Then, if you adhere to the “beat the book” mentality, each successive workout that passes you try your best to out lift your previous week’s numbers. If you are successful in doing so, then you can clearly see that gains were achieved. If not you know you need to do something else so that failing at beating the book never happens again.
So then, if you take this very basic yet highly effective approach to your training, where then does the idea of muscle confusion come into play?
The idea of muscle confusion has stemmed from the theory that your body will quickly become accustomed to the stimuli you are providing it with and will see no need to have to adapt by growing and getting stronger because it is used to how the resistance is being delivered. By consistently performing the same exercises week after week, you are essentially providing your body with a great opportunity to fail at progressing; even if you constantly try to better each week’s lifts. So instead, what you do is constantly switch up your exercises on a regular basis so that your body never really knows what to expect, has no time to adapt to a specific stimulus, is constantly bombarded with new angles, new exercises and new rep ranges therefore creating a hypertrophic scenario with no real plateau or ending point for gains in size and strength in sight.
Sounds perfect right? Well, in this humble scribe’s opinion, I can clearly see merit in both approaches; let’s take a look.
Everyone has to start somewhere in their training and the weights used at the beginning of a new program are really irrelevant in the bigger picture. What really matters is that you consistently get stronger with each week that passes on the lifts you have decided to incorporate in your program. You will only know this by recording everything you do during your training session and then revisiting those notes each new training week. For example, if during week one of a mass gaining phase you benched 315lbs for a solid six reps on your working set and then the next week you did the same exercise with the same weight but got eight reps, you clearly made progress. Or instead of six reps at 315lbs you got six reps at 325lbs; again progress was clearly demonstrated. If by the end of your allotted time frame for a particular program, all of your lifts were much higher than the initial weights you used, you have successfully completed a program that yielded results. I once had lunch with a multiple Mr. Olympia champion, and he told me his workouts were as predictable as the rise and setting of the sun. The only thing that changed was the weights being used; pretty hard to argue with a guy holding six Sandows!
Now we all know that it’s in our human nature to eventually get tired and bored of the same old thing. There’s really nothing too exciting about heading off to the gym to perform the same exercises you have always done unless you are experiencing incredible gains by doing so. If this happens, what should you do? Well, it may just be time to give your body a whole new set of stimuli to initiate growth. Let’s be honest here, there are a ton of exercises you can perform for every body part you have, and the temptation to try some of those can be very strong and hard to ignore. You may also find that something you have never tried before feels that much better than anything else you have ever experienced and you can feel your muscles working more effectively. Our body has the ability to adapt and respond positively to any type of training stimulus and because of the complexity of our muscle groups, different angles, different planes of motion, small tweaks to exercises, going heavy or light to moderate and a whole host of other variables all could contribute to new growth. And let’s face it; any time you get a new training program full of a list of new exercises you feel the excitement of the new challenge and elevate your lifting game just a little by virtue of the unknown.
Herein lies the training conundrum; do I stick with the exercises I do all the time and just work away at trying to get stronger or do I constantly switch it up until I find something that really works? Let’s look at the positives and negatives for beating the book. By recording all of your workouts, you will clearly be able to determine if progress was made as each week passes. However, you could easily become bored of the same program after a while and lose interest and significantly decrease intensity levels. If you found the right exercises for you and your body type, you won’t be wasting valuable gym time going through the hundreds of exercises that exist hoping one stands out from the rest. But if you don’t consciously approach each workout like it will be a failure if you don’t beat the book, you may just end up going through the motions and wasting an opportunity to improve. Now let’s take a look at the idea of switching it up. You will always have a level of excitement present because each workout will be like a whole new journey never really knowing what to expect. On the other hand, by doing this you will never have anything to compare your results to week after week because nothing will ever be the same. By switching it up there will never be a lack of new stimuli for the body to respond to but at the same time you will never have an opportunity to allow for an exercise to fully work to it’s potential by giving it time to do what it is supposed to do for you physique and strength wise.
Now that I have said all of that, what’s the answer? Simply put, whatever approach works best for you is the best approach.
If constantly pounding away at the same exercises week after week is yielding the results you desire, then why mess with the formula when the formula is working? If always having something new to do in the gym keeps you motivated with intensity levels soaring through the roof, stick with that approach. If you want to do a mixture of both, think about your training as periodical cycling. Put together a program and stick with it for X amount of time, long enough to actually see the benefits of those chosen exercises, pay attention to what’s happening to your body and when gains cease to exist, switch it up, put together a whole new batch of exercises and start all over again. It’s pretty simple in nature as long as you are paying close attention to how you are responding to the program you are following.
When it comes to muscle confusion and the idea of keeping your body guessing, I believe both of the aforementioned methods can apply. You can either keep your body guessing with different exercises and confusing it by never sticking with a movement it is expecting or you can confuse your muscles by always trying to go heavier and heavier on same exercises week after week. However you go about it, just don’t get too confused yourself and lose sight of the reason you got involved in this game in the first place. Confused yet? Yeah, me too!
Author: Dana Bushell
AST Sports Science sponsored athlete/writer, ENDEVR Brand Ambassador, SKECHERS Brand Ambassador, Sponsored by Schiek Sports Inc.
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