Just like anything else, practice makes perfect—and working out is no exception. If you’re a veteran jogger, you can probably think back to the days when you could hardly run a mile without stopping. Now, you scoff at the idea. Or if you’re a regular gym buff, you can probably remember when you used to lift 25 lb. weights. Today, you’re topping 50.
And now that you’ve hit those fitness goals, you may notice your body no longer responds to changes in the same ways that it used to. Has your body “gotten used to” all the hard work you’ve been putting in? The answer: Maybe so.
The idea behind muscle confusion comes from the notion that doing the same workouts, day in and day out, results in the body adapting and not being challenged to change or progress.
Pete McCall, MSCS, senior exercise scientist and personal training expert with the American Council on Exercise, adds that the idea is based on “consumer-oriented” exercise programs that focus on alternating periods of intensity throughout a workout. “The concept of periodization was developed by Soviet Union sport scientists who recognized that periods of high-intensity exercise (high stress) should be followed by a period of low-intensity exercise (low stress) to let the body to fully recover from the workouts and allow the time for the physiological adaptations to occur,” he says.
Though the program sounds promising, the “confusion” part has not been proven. “Scientifically, it is actually referring to the body’s nervous, endocrine, muscular, cardiovascular, respiratory systems that are coming together to try to balance the effort that high-intensity training puts on the body as a whole,” clarifies Jacque Crockford, senior exercise physiologist with the American Council on Exercise. That means when the body is put under extra stress, it has to work extra hard to keep up with its usual functioning parts.
So, how do you implement this “extra stress”? “Including high-intensity intervals with short low-intensity rest intervals is the general pattern. The length of time of each interval as well as the exercises performed are dependent on the fitness level of the individual,” Crockford suggests, for muscle confusion workouts.
High intensity or not, it is important to switch up your workouts to challenge your body. In the same way that your cooking skills would not improve if you cooked the exact same thing every day for weeks on end, your body, too, requires difficulties to overcome in order to see results. “The body responds to the stress placed upon in,” Crockford says. “This is the principle of overload. If the system is no longer being challenged, it will cease to make progress or changes.” Get inspired by these gym hacks to make exercise less of a chore.