Confusion Principle – Change Workouts for Muscle Growth


One of the most basic, and most important of the training principles, is the muscle confusion training principle. This principle is all about ensuring you have a variety in your workouts. This will be a variety of sets, reps, exercises, rest periods, etc. It is also important to train the muscle from the most efficient position, in which it has the greatest mechanical advantage and stress.

It remains critically important to supplement those exercises with others utilizing various angles for certain exercises. Muscles should never be allowed to accommodate to an exercise to the point where the exercise is ineffective and doesn’t result in hypertrophy or the goal you were looking for. This variety will improve your motivation, keep you mentally fresh, and keep your muscles growing.

A training principle that states that muscles accommodate to a specific type of stress (habituate or plateau, also called homeostasis) when the same stress is continually applied to the muscles over time, then one must constantly vary exercises, sets, reps and weight to avoid accommodation.

The body should never be allowed to accommodate to an exercise to the point where the exercise is ineffective and results are no longer seen. Integrating variety also improves motivation, keeps one mentally fresh, and allows muscles to continually adapt. Muscle confusion works best for general physical preparedness programs or for breaking out of a plateau during conventional periodization-based programs.

With traditional programs that are planned around specific cycles, overloads, etc., it is possible to change a workout too frequently to experience optimal performance. In cases where the goal is hypertrophy or absolute strength, it is recommended to only use muscle confusion when the body habituates.

confusion-principle-1To reduce body fat, inevitably you need to take in fewer calories than you expend. The timeless energy expenditure factor dictates that the less you eat, the more you lose. No one is saying this is the only factor, but the fact is, it is a factor. This is one essential obvious rule of thumb to burning away that layer of subcutaneous fat. It is a simple fact that if you were to consume too many calories, then your body has no need to dip into its emergency reserves of fat for energy.

Dropping your calorie intake below what your body needs on a daily basis will result in fat loss, as there is too little energy coming in, so your body needs to take energy from somewhere to function, and that is all your fat really is, i.e., stored energy.

Your body will adapt over time, and the only way to get a further reduction in body fat will be to reduce calories again. Eventually, you reduce calories so much that energy levels suffer, training quality decreases and muscle loss increases. And this is, of course, disastrous. You end up wasting away and become primed to achieve the exact opposite of what you set out to achieve. This means that as soon as calories increase you increase in all the ways you don’t want to by becoming fatter and fatter and fatter than before. All of the diets you read about on this website are aimed to counteract this effect. The method described below is one very successful method to trick the body out of this adaptive response.

Adaptation to Environmental Stimulus
What follows is the adaptation process your body follows to protect its fat reserves in an attempt to maintain the status quo. However, this program is designed to limit the body’s ability to adapt to a new regular, and typically low on a standard fat loss diet, by confusing it. Rather than reducing calories constantly, it’s based on a rotating level of calories, so that your body is never left in a constant state of calorie reduction.

It is only when you expose your body to a lack of calories for an extended time period that it rebels against your efforts to shed fat, and adapts. Why does it do this and how?

Of course, your body wants to retain as much fat as possible, since this is the essential emergency energy that it has for survival. If you were ever placed into a state or environment of famine, this would make sense. But, don’t forget people used to live in a world, where food was scarcer and it had to be hunted and foraged. Man was never able to be gluttonous or greedy on hamburgers and apple pie in the wild, and man was far more active than watching TV, surfing the net or standing on the sidelines of life.

So this is actually what your body is primed and programmed for; periods of feeding and periods of famine. During famine periods your body is primed to excel at the function of retaining fat, and getting fatter as soon as more food arrived, to survive the next famine period. You, as a body builder or athlete, want to get as far from this scenario as possible, except the ‘being active’ part.

Now we know your body adapts. It can only trigger an adaptive response like this, specifically when it is exposed to the necessary stimulus over a certain period of time. We also know that under eating burns off excess body fat. Now the cyclic principle of this diet can be incorporated into any of the other fat loss programs to further enhance its effect.

Putting It Together
confusion-principle-2More specifically, this program takes three different calorie levels that average out a little below maintenance level. By using a different calorie level each day your body never gets into a position where it adapts to being under fed, consequently you can make consistent body fat loss over a longer period of time.

What Can I Expect To See?
From this particular type of diet you will notice sustained and long-term fat loss, without any energy dips or mood swings. Your body should be primed for regular weight loss on the scales of around 1 – 2 pounds per week.

Doing the same routine week after week results in familiarity, which equates to physiologic boredom. You then reach a training plateau. You know you’ve plateaued when you’re no longer excited about going to the gym; you’re no longer excited about doing a certain set of exercises, and you may even feel slow and sluggish in general. For all intents and purposes, you’ve plateaued.

In the worst case scenario you will experience minor injuries, including strains and sprains that may result from continuing to do the same exercise routine once you’ve reached a plateau.

The best case scenario is that you notice you’re starting to get bored and you introduce a new set of routines. You’re using the Muscle Confusion Principle. The immediate result is renewed interest and excitement; your whole body wakes up and you start enjoying the process once again as you start to make new strength gains.

A powerful approach is to design a weekly strength training routine that includes three or four radically different days. With such an approach, you’re entire week is one giant set of Muscle Confusion activities. You could easily maintain such a schedule for your entire 12-week strength training cycle.

After 12 weeks you move onto a completely different 12-week cycle, focusing on an entirely different form of training. This is true Muscle Confusion. Of course, the principle applies to all fitness activities, including aerobic exercise and core exercises.

By cycling or changing your training program every four weeks, your muscles cannot become used to the exercises. This forces your muscles to grow quicker than with any other training method. That is why the confusion principle is such an exciting training concept.

One way to use the confusion principle is to vary the exercises. For example, if you were doing a barbell incline chest press, you could use a hammer strength incline machine one week and then the following week you could do a dumbbell incline press. While you’re still working the upper chest muscles, you’re hitting them from a different angle and this will stimulate new muscle growth.

By actively implementing the confusion principle you’re guaranteeing yourself consistent results in your fitness and resistance training workout.

Here are three tips to help you in using the muscle confusion principle:

  • confusion-principle-3Change your exercises every four weeks.
  • Use free weights, cables or resistance bands
  • Vary the repetitions and the number of sets you use.

By following these three tips you will get the Maximum Results from your strength training workouts. Use the muscle confusion principle in your training program and remember the three most important components of gaining muscle size:

  • Proper rest
  • Proper nutrition
  • Hard training

Make sure you include these three components in your muscle building goals. In doing so you will guarantee fast muscle growth and the body that you are really attempting to achieve.

Regardless of whether you want to gain maximum muscle size or lose body fat or both, the correct exercise equipment, training routine and nutritional program are essential.

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About Author

Dr. Richard A. DiCenso

Published author, international speaker, and complementary care expert, Dr. Richard A. DiCenso has over 30 years experience in treating the chronic symptoms of Vicious Cycle disorders (VCD). With his extensive experience in "Whole Person Therapy", he is the leading authority in Biological Fluid Analysis. See my profile page for more information!

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