IF YOU TRAIN regularly, you’ve probably heard someone in the gym explain the values of “muscle confusionThis technique basically involves throwing a whole series of stimulus forms at your body to keep you from becoming acclimated to any one of them. But if you’re not a beginner, you’re probably well aware that the Achieving your fitness goals can be a daily challenge even using normal protocols – so why would anyone want to add extra “confusion” to their routine?
To date, there is little to no scientific evidence to support the effectiveness of muscle confusion. And yet that asshole myth still floats around in some gym circles – you’ve seen guys jump from station to station with no discernible strategy, amped up to start their workouts and then, inevitably, wiped out before to end.
If you know anyone who might want to test the idea that wild workouts and creative social media programs can replace the tried and true method of progressive overload, then be a friend and keep him away from that overrated waste of time at the gym. Both men’s health fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, CSCSand trainer Mathew Forzaglia, NFPT, CPTfounder of Forzag Fitness, agrees: muscle confusion training just isn’t worth your time.
“If it looks really flashy, turn the other way,” advises Forzaglia. “Because nine times out of 10 the benefit won’t be there.”
3 reasons why you should avoid muscle confusion training
Muscle confusion training limits movement control
In order to get stronger, more muscular, and even more athletic, you’ll need to master the movements needed to achieve any of these goals. It takes repetition. Think about it: If you deadlift only once every 30 days, you’re not going to strengthen the movement pattern. Think about how much better and stronger you will become at the deadlift if you make it a priority.
“If you’re constantly switching up your workout and doing all these unheard of moves, then all of a sudden you’re not hitting the basics,” says Samuel. “You don’t bench press, you don’t row, you don’t deadlift. If you exercise once a month, that’s 12 times a year! It’s not enough to really help you get better.
Muscle confusion limits progressive overload
The muscles will eventually adapt to the same movements over time, which is why it’s important to keep challenging the muscles. But the path to growth isn’t through changing exercises, rather you’ll want to increase the challenge over time, through load, volume or whatever. Through progressive overload, defined as a systematic increase in training frequency, volume, and intensity over time, you ultimately build more strength and muscle.
To achieve this again, you must master the movement mechanics of exercises such as deadlifts, squats, and bench presses. Consistent work, maybe even twice a week, should lead to gains over time. It’s the challenge your muscles need to make gains.
Muscle Confusion Means You Probably Have No Plan
Going into a workout without having a clear idea of the sets, reps, or even exercises you want to perform is a recipe for unnecessary chaos, not gains. Constantly scouring social media for the latest, trendiest (and often weirdest) exercises can lead you in the opposite direction when it comes to getting bigger, better, or stronger.
Having a basic plan for your workouts—exercises, sets, reps, and even rest times—is the right approach for consistent progress and growth.
“You want to think about keeping it simple,” Samuel said. “You want to think about repeating the basics and know that you don’t have to stray from those basics and fundamentals.”
3 alternative training methods to avoid muscle confusion
Choose 3 exercises and work on them
Whatever your goal (stronger upper body, bigger arms, bigger legs), select three exercises and practice them consistently three times a week. Do this for a month or two; practice the technique, then continue to gradually increase the load, volume or intensity. The better you train this trio of exercises, the quality of the gains will come to you, much faster than if you were to keep mixing things up randomly.
Stick to the schedule
Whatever you choose to focus on, resist any urge to change it after just a week or two. This should double if you’re bored or think you’re not seeing results fast enough. The gains will come—support the program.
However, a good idea to help avoid any kind of boredom is to not change the movements, but to shift the center of the movements a bit. Press your glutes more when working on your bench presses or pay attention to the placement of your shoulder blades during certain exercises. A few workout tweaks like these will also help improve technique and achieve better results.
Try the ‘2 and 2’ method
If you absolutely can’t keep up with the boredom of repetitive workouts, there is a combination of compromises you can try. It’s the “two and two” method, and all you’re going to do is select a pair of core exercises, like a squat and a deadlift, and perform them each of your three weekly workouts. Don’t turn them off!
From there, feel free to add a selection of secondary exercises to your workout. But before jumping on the latest and craziest type of TikTok movement you could be looking for, your best bet is to stick to some standard picks that have been covered in Men’s Health or even recommended by legit trainers. You now have the best of both training worlds – the consistency of hitting fundamental movements hard and often with the variety of additional exercises. Let the winnings begin.
Jeff Tomko is a freelance fitness writer who has written for Muscle and Fitness, Men’s Fitness, and Men’s Health.