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HomeFitnessThe Worst Training Advice I've Been Given (The Muscle Confusion Myth)

The Worst Training Advice I’ve Been Given (The Muscle Confusion Myth)

Muscle Confusion, The Worst Training Advice I’ve Been Given

There’s a ton of bad workout advice out there, from rep ranges, exercise selection, rest periods, workout frequency and volume – you name it, there’s conflicting advice everywhere.

That said there’s ONE particular piece of advice I hear and see every single day – whether it be talking to another gym-goer, on a YouTube video, in a magazine or being preached by a personal trainer.

It goes something along the lines of

“You should never do the same workout twice…”

The justification for throwing a curve ball every time you enter the gym is to shock and confuse your muscles into new growth, as our muscles are smarter than we think and quickly ‘adapt’ to an exercise or workout, meaning your progress will grind to a halt.

If you’ve been training for a while I’m sure you’ll see straight through this one, but newcomers to the gym who are bombarded with information, conflicting styles of training, dieting and supplements whose names they can’t even pronounce the entire process of transforming your body is made out to be far more difficult than it actually is.

Before I debunk the muscle confusion myth let’s look a bit further into where this bad information is actually coming from…

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The Culprits…

But where does this advice come from and why is the whole ‘muscle confusion’ thing being spread around?

Personal Trainers

When I first joined the gym I hired a personal trainer for a couple of sessions, they got me set up with a basic 3 day split consisting of chest/triceps, back/biceps and shoulders/legs.
I don’t recall exactly what each workout comprised of however the memory that sticks with me the most about my brief stint with a personal trainer is how much they stressed I needed to book another session every fortnight for a program review so they could alter the order of my exercises, the rep ranges and the day on which I performed each body part in order to keep my body guessing.

Think about it, if you only saw a personal trainer once or twice in order to get a legitimate program set-up for you and another session to check and improve your form on each exercise they’d be out of business.

It is, without a doubt in the personal trainer’s best interest to keep you dependant on them for frequent changes and reviews of your program – how else would they book sessions and make a living? However, with a well structured workout regime and the knowledge of how to apply progressive overload you’re fine without them.

Fitness Magazines

Just like Women’s Weekly and all other magazines in existence, fitness and bodybuilding magazines have a publishing schedule – they’ve got to deliver X number of articles, workout tips and supplement advertisements each and every month.

This is where many misconceptions such as the ‘changing your workout routine every 3 – 6 weeks to shock the body into new growth’ and the ‘you need to consume many different sources of protein otherwise your body will stop processing it’ come from.

There’s only so much to say about performing the major compound movements such as the squat, bench press, deadlift and overhead press.

Beginner routines such as StrongLifts 5×5 or BLS are calculated, precise routines that do not require weekly or monthly alternations of exercises… that’s why fitness and bodybuilding magazines won’t discuss them.

They want to give you the new routine that X actor used in Y movie, they want to play on your lethargic nature and give you a fat blasting routine to have chiselled abs by the time the sun sets tomorrow evening.

If they told you all you needed to do was perform basic compound movements several times a week and count their calories to build an exceptional physique they’d be out of business! The reader wouldn’t come back the following month wanting and demanding more, hoping to learn that ‘new trick’ that’ll give them the edge over the other suckers in the gym.

At the end of the day simplicity won’t line the pockets of anyone who’s prescribing workout regimes in the fitness industry…

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Here’s why changing workouts every single time is a bad idea

The following 4 reasons are exactly why you should not rush out and change every single exercise, every single workout.

It’s near impossible to track progress

I’m a big believer in logging your workouts.
How can you tell if your triceps are getting stronger if each and every session you’re mixing up the rep ranges and exercises you’re performing for your triceps?
You simply can’t.

Muscle Confusion Myth

If one week you’re performing 20kg weighted dips, the following you start your workout with light weight, high rep close grip bench press and the following 3 weeks you base your triceps workout on different variations of rope and straight bar pull-downs it’s damn near impossible to know if your triceps are actually progressing at all.

We track progress to ensure we’re getting better. If you’re changing what your doing every damn day it’s anyone’s guess.

You can’t apply progressive overload

As I said in the article I dedicated to progressive overload

“The term progressive overload simply means to constantly ensure your muscles fibers are being subject to a larger load or an increase in tension on the muscle, essentially placing more stress on the muscle resulting in an increase in both muscular size and strength.”

“You should be applying progressive overload in every single workout you’re performing.”

I apply progressive overload in my workouts by…

Increasing the weight

The most basic method of applying progressive overload to your muscles for size and strength gains is to increase the weight you’re lifting. As an example, if you’re aiming for the 4- 6 rep range for 3 sets and you’ve been consistently hitting 6, 6, 5 for your last 3 sets increasing the weight, even though you’re reps will more than likely drop down to 5, 5, 4 is a sufficient form of progressive overload to keep your strength and size on the rise.

Altering the rep range

The thing I repeat the most on Ignore Limits is without a doubt the importance of training in the lower rep ranges. If you’ve been spending day after day performing 10 repetitions by default on each and all of your sets then you’re going to be doing your muscles a massive favour by decreasing your rep range down to 4 – 6. Lifting a suitable weight for 4 – 6 repetitions (which should be 80 – 85%) of your 1 rep maximum will blast your strength and size to new levels.

Altering set volume

Several years ago when I hit a plateau on my shoulder press I tried everything I could think of to get past it, it seemed as if I’d never get past the 55lb mark on those dumbbells.
The solution? Because I didn’t have a spotter I couldn’t lift any heavier so I opted to increase my volume my reducing the rep range slightly while increasing the number of sets (resulting in an increased number of heavy reps per workout).

Example:

3 sets of 8 reps was adjusted to 5 sets of 6 reps.

You won’t master the form of exercises

The staple exercises to build an impressive physique have, and always will be the bench press, the squat, the overhead press and the deadlift.
Regardless of all the different variants, isolation exercises and kipping CrossFit movements that come in and out of fashion these 4 exercises have stood the test of time.

Unlike performing a basic biceps curl the squat and deadlift in particular take time to get right.
High bar squats have and always will be the opening exercise of my leg day, and because I’ve been performing them once or twice a week for the past five years I’ve learnt extremely strict form with a deep range of motion. Especially as a newcomer to the gym, before starting to apply progressive overload or anything else for that matter it’s imperative you learn correct form.

You can’t learn and practise good form if you’re switching your exercises and workouts every single week.  

There’s only so much that works

Cut the bullshit, join the grind...
Cut the bullshit, join the grind…

Focus on compounds

The squat, the deadlift, the bench press and the overhead press will transform your physique.
Mastering the form of these 4 exercises, along with a few accessory basic arm and core exercises are you need to build a well proportioned, strong and functional physique.

Kettlebell one-legged deadlifts and resistance band overhead squats are examples of convoluted exercises spun off the original basic lifts that quite frankly aren’t worth your time if your primary goal is to build muscle and strength.

Focus on progressive overload

Strength and muscle mass are both a result of ongoing progressive overload.

The term progressive overload simply means to constantly ensure your muscles fibers are being subject to a larger load or an increase in tension on the muscle, essentially placing more stress on the muscle resulting in an increase in both muscular size and strength.

The most basic method of applying progressive overload to your muscles for size and strength gains is to increase the weight you’re lifting. As an example, if you’re aiming for the 4- 6 rep range for 3 sets and you’ve been consistently hitting 6, 6, 5 for your last 3 sets increasing the weight, even though you’re reps will more than likely drop down to 5, 5, 4 is a sufficient form of progressive overload to keep your strength and size on the rise.

The thing I repeat the most on Ignore Limits is without a doubt the importance of training in the lower rep ranges. If you’ve been spending day after day performing 10 repetitions by default on each and all of your sets then you’re going to be doing your muscles a massive favour by decreasing your rep range down to 4 – 6. Lifting a suitable weight for 4 – 6 repetitions (which should be 80 – 85%) of your 1 rep maximum will blast your strength and size to new levels.

Several years ago when I hit a plateau on my shoulder press I tried everything I could think of to get past it, it seemed as if I’d never get past the 55lb mark on those dumbbells.

The solution? Because I didn’t have a spotter I couldn’t lift any heavier so I opted to increase my volume my reducing the rep range slightly while increasing the number of sets (resulting in an increased number of heavy reps per workout).

There’s no structure

Muscle Confusion

In business, in fitness, in self-improvement in general if you want to succeed (progress) you need structure, a plan of what you’re doing.
For me, the key compound exercises along with a journal containing the sets/reps I performed in the previous session gives me structure.

Constantly changing workouts to induce the mystical muscle confusion while running from one piece of gym equipment to the other is the polar opposite, and along with this lack of structure comes paralysis by analysis. You’re out of ideas and you don’t know what to do so you do nothing.

I did rope pull-downs last week, so are straight bar push-downs different enough to shock my muscles this week?

You don’t know so you don’t do them, infact you skip your workout because you’re stressing over what you should be doing.

This is why from my personal experience, having a plan and having structure are vital to success… if progress isn’t being made I reassess what I’m doing and pivot as necessary but until then it’s full speed ahead.

What’s your take on the muscle confusion myth and changing workout routines? Let me know in the comments below!

Scott J.
Scott J.https://ignorelimits.com
I’m SJ. I’m a fitness enthusiast and published author. I transformed my body from a skinny fat 135lbs with 18% body fat to a solid 192lbs at 8% body fat. I became qualified in a field I was passionate about. I founded several online businesses that allow me to pursue ideas and projects in my life that I am passionate about without having to constantly worry about money. I published several eBooks explaining the training and dieting techniques I used to achieve the body I have today. I learnt a plethora of new information on dieting and fitness by reading and applying what I read, to find out what does work and what doesn’t work, because as I’m sure you’ve noticed the health and fitness industry is full of non-sense claims and BS. I found out what was true and what worked for me and applied that knowledge. And you bet I had fun during the whole process.

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