The High Performance Handbook

Muscle Confusion – Can you “Shock” your Muscles?

Pick up any bodybuilding or fitness magazine and you’ll normally find a section containing ‘The Ultimate Workout!’ or the ‘Secret Weapon’ used by the pro’s. These workouts are often claimed to ‘shock the muscle’ into growth or, in other words, cause muscle confusion.

These workouts can contain anything from supersets, tri-sets, giant-sets, negatives, forced reps, partial reps…you name it!

The idea being that if you’ve reached a plateau, these intense workouts will trick your body into growth.

I’m not a subscriber to the idea that you can cause ‘muscle confusion’ or ‘shock the muscles’ and here are a few reasons why :

Most of these workouts are only designed to be used as a one-off workout to break through a plateau. How can you measure increases in strength/reps/muscle gain etc if you’re not using the same workout for at least a number of weeks? You’re certainly not going to see results in one workout, whatever workout you’re using!

The whole theory behind muscle building is that you are constantly giving your body reasons to grow using progressive overload anyway. How is changing your workout for one week going to spark new growth? It might do if you followed the program for at least 4 weeks, however, most of these plateau busting workouts are so intense that you’d probably never recover quickly enough and therefore see no muscular growth.

Due to the workout being so new and different, you’re likely to spend most of your time and energy figuring out which weights to use for the correct intensity. Once you’ve established what weight is suitable you’d have probably wasted some of your energy and will not work to your maximum intensity. A wasted workout.

I’m not saying that any of the training protocols are useless. I know plenty of people who use supersets and many of the others I mentioned to great effect but doing one workout of anything certainly isn’t worth the effort.

Finally, the majority of these workouts designed to cause muscle confusion are far too intense to be carried out on a regular basis. They require many days to recover from and therefore aren’t a viable option.

The best example was a workout I read claiming that it could add an inch to my arms in one workout (Be nice, I was young and dumb..). It required me being in the gym for 6 hours that day. Doing a set of Bicep Curls/Tricep Dips every 20 minutes. By the second hour I couldn’t even feel my arms. Not in a painful way..but almost like I’d gained some kind of immunity to the weights.

When I finished this workout to cause muscle confusion, I’d put on a grand total of…huh? Minus 1/8 inch?? Yup, I’d lost size. It came back the next day but my point is that it certainly didn’t put an inch on my arms and if it sounds too good to be true – it is! That’ll teach me!

If you’ve stopped progressing in your current workout routine then it’s time for a change of plan. Change either your exercises, training or even your training phase (Change to a strength, endurance or stability phase). Whatever change you make, make sure that it is for at least 4 weeks so that you can track your progress and measure some improvement.

Quit trying to cause muscle confusion – Your muscles won’t like you for it!

About Donald Bryant

Donald Bryant didn’t start out wanting to write. He stumbled upon it as a career after he was asked to contribute to his high school magazine by way of a short bio. At the time, Don was a passably good athlete and for reasons known only to the mag’s editors, they thought he’d make an interesting topic. As it turns out, they were right. Or at least Don was able to write his bio in such a way that it made him sound a lot more interesting than he actually was. Combine a love of athletics with an interest in health and a talent for the written word and just like that, Don’s future path in life was mapped out.