With the popularity of high intensity training (HIT) and high intensity interval training (HITT), the term "muscle confusion" is getting a lot of play in the media. And while many people credit it as the reason HIT and HIIT is effective, few people understand what it means, much less how it works.
Let's examine what intensity is and why muscle
confusion is so effective and popular…
The word "intensity" has been given many
meanings in the context of exercise. For example, some experts say the true
definition of intensity is load intensity or the total amount of weight
you lift, or the amount of weight you can lift relative to your one repetition
maximum. Other experts claim that effort intensity or the amount of
perceived momentary muscular effort you can exert during a set/round is the
optimum measure of intensity. Intensity can also be defined as anabolic
intensity or the amount of muscle building hormones released as a result of
a workout. Another way to look at it is relative intensity or the amount
of physical stress imposed on the body. Sports psychologists often use the term
mental intensity; focus, concentration and mental toughness. There is
another definition of intensity which few people ever consider, yet it is
equally important, and may be more important than any other form of intensity;
density training or "density intensity" (wow, nice rhyme!) is
the amount of muscular work you can perform in a specified period of time.
Peaking: Muscle Synergy...
The whole idea of muscle synergy is based on
creating a fitness peak to maximize performance benefits. These phases take a
while to master. As you are working on this mastery, confusion reigns, and your
performance may be mediocre at times. But when you put it all together, and the
various bits that have been confusing your body all come together, the result
is a period of peak fitness and synergy.
One of the concepts that seems the hardest to
convey to people is how (or why) to peak. Most "everyday" people
never consider themselves athletes because they lack performance-oriented
goals; they just want to look good and/or feel better. But it is important to
understand that all training protocols adhere to athletic principles inherently
(especially HIT and HIIT); athletic training always builds around a peak period
when you need your body to perform at its best. This idea works for every
person who works the program; it works for anyone serious about their training.
Keep in mind that "high intensity" can vary from person to person. In
other words, what is intense for one person might be easy for another person.
You should still lean towards HIT and HIIT for optimal results.
Periodization: Training in progressive and
The entire theory of muscle confusion is based on something called
periodization, which is basically training in targeted cycles that keep your
body from getting too used to your schedule. The goal of periodizational
training is to minimize performance plateaus and keep your improvements
happening for a specific amount of time. All periodized programs are structured
with a progression and regression of training blocks designed around a
This is why
most of RHF members get their best results during the latter phases of our
programs; most can begin to see real results in as little as 21 days. Keep in
mind it takes about 66 days on average to create a new habit research shows.
Adapt, master, transition...
The training blocks (weeks) are laid out with a general plan. Your body begins
each block faced with something new. This forces you to adapt to it. The stress
of this process leads to accelerated improvements. When your body is used to
the new regimen, it has a short period where it makes even greater
improvements, which is called a growth or mastery phase. Finally, you get so
used to the training that your results begin to plateau, at which time it is
best to transition into something else.
Timing is everything...
It is important to be aware of when your body should transition (you never
always want to be in a state of confusion). This can be difficult, but with
experience, you will get better at it. This is where a trainer can help you
immensely. Intensity can be varied and customized for clients who are out
of shape or have a structure that is less rigid because the adaptation period
takes longer. Conversely, the fitter you are, the quicker your body reacts to
training and the quicker it adapts. Most science shows that a 3-week-on,
1-week-off cycle of training (regression) is about as short as you can go to
maximize the adaptive and growth phases.
We use this philosophy in RHF
Burn30 Bootcamp (go hard for 3 weeks, tone it down 1 week). This philosophy
is a little flexible however. We do recommend that you work out to your own
schedule to keep this practical (with work and family). Ultimately, what is
important is that you halt the growth phase before a plateau occurs and that
you see the full cycle through to its end.