I have been waiting to address this question for a long time. You hear a lot about muscle confusion, particularly in TV ads for programs you can purchase on. You also see it in magazines and periodicals.

The theory is that your muscles become accustomed to any given workout and to keep progressing either in physical size or fitness you need to keep your muscles “confused” by changing the workout at regular interval.

Let’s answer this by starting out with a lesson in human physiology. When you begin a new routine of any kind, your body makes certain neuromuscular adjustments or adaptations. Your body does two things: it gets stronger by accommodating to the actual exercise movement or “groove”. You realize this when after two or three workouts you find the actual groove for the movement and  you can push a little bit more weight. This Relates to your body actually learning the  plane of motion. Secondly , your body adapts to heavier weight by increasing muscle size so the muscles can contract with greater force becoming stronger.

Here in lies the problem. The term muscle confusion is used as a reason that this or that program works. In reality, there’s really no truths to this.

 Let me explain. First, let’s look at what really improves your fitness level. Exercise intensity measured by heart rate and duration are the only two factors involved in improving internal or cardiovascular fitness. Simply changing what you do has almost nothing to do with it.

Now let’s look at muscular strength. In this case, if you measure muscular strength by any specific movement e.g bench press, the muscle confusion theory does not apply because when you change from a bench press to some other chest exercise, you lose the bodies focus on the exact bench press movement. For example; let’s say you do bench presses twice a week for four weeks increasing in strength each workout. Now you want to exercise this muscle confusion principal so you do cable crossovers and decline dumbbell presses for three weeks and then come back and try to measure your bench strength. You will inevitably find out that your strength level on the bench press is now less or at the very least, certainly not more.

The truth is, your body thrives on consistency in your workout for a time period of between three and six weeks depending on the type of work out you’re doing. When you plateau and you will, you need to change the workout and begin again at a lower work load and increasing over time

No Pain No Gain, is this Really True?

NO pain, NO gain

 

If you’ve been lifting weights for any length of time, certainly you have heard this statement. It is true that you have to work hard to get results. However, this pain gain axiom can be carried to the extreme and is not true in all cases all the time.

As an example, I am going to track a typical beginning weightlifter going through the first 4 years of training. We all know that when you first start working out with weights you can, for example increase your bench press by 5 pounds a week. After the second or third month of training for some reason to increase your bench press now by 5 pounds it takes two or three weeks. After the fourth or fifth month of training no matter what you do or how you train that same increase takes 4 to 5 weeks.

Can you see the pattern here? We all would like to increase 5 pounds per week, but we can’t. Let’s track it now. On the first day of working out you can bench press 150 pounds and for the next 52 weeks  you increased by 5 pounds per week. Doing some simple math 5×52 is a 260 pound increase in the first year. Now, your best bench is  260+150 or 410 pounds. Continuing for another year you would add another 260 pounds for a best bench of 670 pounds. If you add one more year to your tenure you would bench press 740 pounds. And finally, by the end of your 4th you would be able to bench press 1000 pounds. Of course no one can do that. The question is, why? Lots of people train way more than four years in a lifetime.

The answer lies in the fact that our bodies respond to resistance training a lot at first. We are designed to respond quickly to any given physical challenge as a survival mechanism.

So how does the no pain no gain statement come into play? The answer is sort of complicated, but here goes. Let’s say you’re in your fourth month of weight training. Your bench press has not increased in three weeks. What’s the first thing you do? You train harder, right? This is because you have been told to get bigger and stronger you need to work harder. This is where this axiom becomes less valid.

Working to failure and gains in strength and size go together. Yes, that’s true, but it changes as you go through years of training. The more time you put into training in terms of months or years the less often you should work out to the level of failure. This is a very hard concept to understand. It is, however, absolutely true.

The way to continue to increase  strength and size over time is to work to failure less often relative to number of years of training. If you don’t do this you will quickly see that you’re not getting stronger and bigger because you are overtraining. This is often the key determinant of longevity. Most weight trainers get to this point, and can’t process the logic here. Therefore, their gains cease, they give up and stop training.

This is a question that has plagued us for years and years. Here’s how this one works. The only reason that you would ever need a rest day in between workout days is because you need to recuperate and rest  enough to be ready for the next workout.

This is where the distinction comes into play. Let’s say you’re a beginner workout person. The first 30 days you are what I call walking around strong or at a  normal strength level. You can’t use enough weight or resistance to cause enough damage or fatigue to require a days rest. Let’s say you can bench press 100 pounds 10 times on day one. Doing 100 pounds 10 times at this point does not require a warm-up because your best shot at your highest weight for 10 repetitions is on your first set. This is your normal walking around strength level.

Now let’s look one year later. At this point you can bench press 300 pounds 10 times. This is an abnormal or unnatural amount of weight to do. At this level of resistance repair requires more resources and the load does more damage to cells, bones, joints and connective tissue than any normal daily physical activity would do. As a result this damage is deep enough to require a day or two or 3 to totally recover and repair. In addition you would never try to do 300 pounds for 10 repetitions without two or three warm-up sets.

The very fact that you have to do warm-up sets indicates that it is not normal for your body to be bench pressing 300 pounds.

There is another more scheduling related reason that alternate days are prescribed. It’s really for convenience. It just seems easier to work out alternate days. That way you have days in between free to follow other pursuits.

There are many exercise activities not resistance related that you can do every day. Some cardio exercise can be done every day as well as any other light conditioning exercises. The key is the resistance amount you’re working with.

As a rule of thumb if you’re training to increase strength and using weights that limit your repetitions to 10 or under and you are somewhat seasoned then probably you would need to rest between workouts a day or more. If you’re doing exercises that involve 15 or more repetitions (what I like to call conditioning) and you move quickly through your workout (1 min. or less between sets) then you probably can do these days in a row.