I’ve heard it time and time again, from basic gym bros and experienced strength coaches alike. Muscle confusion. Confuse the body. It’s the only way to get your body to adapt to training and grow. If you at any point allow your body to get used to what you’re doing, you’ve already lost. Mix it up, every single training session, or you’re wasting your time. Sound familiar?
Let’s delve a little deeper into why people choose to train this way and instruct others to do so. More often than not, they overvalue the presence of delayed onset muscle soreness. Ever notice how if you do an exercise you’ve never done or haven’t done for a while you almost always feel sore? Even if you didn’t move a whole lot of weight? That’s because your muscles aren’t used to that particular movement. They’ve never moved and contracted in that particular way before. So it makes sense that throwing your body curve balls every single training session would result in more gains, right? Well, not quite.
Research has yet to prove a concrete cause and effect correlation between DOMS and muscle hypertrophy (building muscle). Think about it: your chest might feel more sore from a set of cable flyes than it does from a heavy set of bench press; does that mean you’re building more muscle doing the cable flyes than the bench press, one of the most effective compound movements for improving upper body strength and size? Just because a muscle is sore does not necessarily mean it’s growing, or at least growing more than it would be from a movement your body is more used to performing.
Your body improves through repetition. Set after set, rep after rep, day after day. It takes a lot of time under the bar to go from squatting 200lbs to 500lbs, and it will probably take much longer if you’re not even squatting every week because you want to “confuse” your leg muscles.The key to achieving muscle hypertrophy is progressive overload (being able to increase resistance in small increments over time) and getting sufficient nutrition.
Not to mention, despite what some people will tell you, you can’t actually “confuse” your muscles. Your muscles don’t have brains; they aren’t capable of conscious thought. They can’t get confused by your inconsistent, off the wall training program. They can, however, get used to a certain amount of training stress and intensity and the exercises themselves. But that’s a good thing! That’s a sign that your body is adapting and getting stronger.
That said, there is certainly something to be said for providing each muscle group with a variety of exercises to stimulate maximal amount of muscle. Or switching up rep ranges and intensity levels over the course of several weeks. Those types of variables are good for muscle stimulus and progression. What you want to avoid is falling in the trap of overcomplicating the foundation of your program. Stick to the basics that have been proven to be effective; everything else is supplemental.
And stop stressing about how sore you are. Are you getting stronger? Are you getting bigger? Let the answers to those questions be the indication of your progress, not whether or not the long head of your left bicep is as sore as it was last week. Get on a good program, stick to it for at least 6 weeks, and make sure you’re getting it done in the kitchen. Do those things. and you’re going to be just fine.