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Confused About Muscle Confusion?

Photo by Leslie Hassler

I kick off this new work week addressing a great question from Ally.  She asked about “muscle confusion,” a key concept in the workouts you see all over TV that promise to get you “ripped” in 90 days without going to the gym.

First, I have to admit due to space limitations in all the apartments I’ve lived in since getting out of college, I’ve always worked out at the gym. So, I’ve never bought or used any of these 90-day surpreme workout programs. However, I do know many people who use them and love them.

Second, from an exercise science perspective, muscles can’t technically get “confused.” What they can do is grow stronger through a process called volume overload. Another phrase you often hear when people describe their fitness goals is a desire to “tone up.” Again, this is technically an incorrect statement as sticking with an exercise program won’t “tone” muscle, but it can help you improve your overall muscle definition. Basically, whether you’re working out at the gym or in front of the TV, if you increase the workload placed on your body, you burn more calories than you store, which leads to a loss in body fat and an improvement in muscular definiton.

Ally also asked me how often I change my resistance training routine. What I learned through the National Academy of Sports Medicine is that whatever phase of training you’re in, you should stick with a current routine for a minimum of four weeks before moving on to the next level. This gives your body time to adapt to the stimuli you’re placing on it.  That doesn’t just mean changing the exercises you’re doing, but adding to the workload you’re demanding your body to perform. When it comes to resistance training, that workload increase comes in the form of reps x sets x weight.

Remember, change doesn’t have to be drastic. It can simply involve cutting back on the amount of rest between exercises to push caloric burn to the max.  Change can also involve filling your schedule with group boxing class on Monday, group body conditioning  on Wednesday and a solo weight machine circuit on Friday. Want another reason to mix up your routine?  It’s simple: too much of a good thing is never good.  Doing the same exercises every day is a surefire way to increase your risk of overuse injuries.  Which brings me to another important reminder: your body needs adequate rest to make adequate gains. So, be sure not to work the same muscle groups on consecutive days.

I want to wrap up with what could be most important: in a world filled with instant everything, you need to be patient when it comes to reaching your diet and exercise goals. Anything done in an extreme fashion may produce fast results, but these results are often unsustainable. Drastically restricting your calorie intake and working out for 90 minutes, seven days a week may get you into that dress for the reunion. Chances are once you go back to your normal lifestyle, the weight will come back and any gains you made will be lost.

In the end, the choice is yours.  Whether you try a 90-day DVD exercise program, join a gym or start taking tennis lessons with a friend, the key is to find what works for you so that you stick with it and don’t stray from the path to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

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