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The Buzz about Muscle Confusion

A close friend recently faithfully completed all 13 weeks of the popular home fitness program P90X. P90X, produced by the company Beachbody, is a series of 13 different workout videos which focus on total body strength training, cardiovascular fitness and stretching exercises. When doing the program, one is supposed to complete one or two different workouts six or seven days a week for 13 weeks.

When I asked her if she liked the program, she responded that it was a hard program, she enjoyed it, and that it worked because of muscle confusion. Such a simplistic statement about why the program works, however, required a little more investigation into the term ‘muscle confusion’ . Here is what I found out about Muscle Confusion (the term is capitalized and trademarked on the P90X website) and the efficacy of P90X .

Although new term Muscle Confusion has become a buzzword in the fitness world, the concept of changing a fitness routine regularly to avoid the infamous plateau is not new. Muscle confusion is simply ‘confusing’ the muscle by regularly changing up a fitness routine. The well established and studied training principle, the ‘Principle of Adaptation’, aptly explains muscle confusion. This training principle describes how the body adapts to the imposed training demands. It explains why a certain exercise becomes easier the more often you do it. For example, you may be very sore after starting a new exercise routine, but after repeating the program several times, you have very little muscle soreness. The program becomes easier as the body becomes more efficient, and less energy is expended to complete the exercise. As a result, your body stops changing and your fitness level plateaus. By varying a workout, you will continue to progress. You can vary the number of sets and reps, the order of exercises, and the type of exercise. For example, one week you can do 15 regular push-ups followed by 10 chest presses, and the next week you can work the same muscles by doing 12 cable pushes and 20 decline push-ups. For cardio, you can run one day, then do a hard hike on another day.

If you are wondering if P90X works, it does. Committing to any other intense workout for three months also works. If you do a hard strength workout three times per week, and if you get push your cardio fitness level with interval training or plyometrics, you will see results. Whether you follow a workout video in your living room or hit the weights at the gym, you will be successful. The key is that you exercise often, you push yourself hard, and you don’t do the same workout everyday. P90X is not a scam, but neither is it a revolutionary workout. It is a combination of tried and tested exercises put together in new packaging. The training principles it is based on have been well studied for decades. However, if you are having trouble finding the motivation to do as many push-ups as you can, and then some more, or to do squat jumps in your living room until your quads burn, a workout plan such as P90X will help push you a little bit more.

In short, the concepts of what works in fitness have been around for a long time. P90X popularized the term ‘muscle confusion’, reminding us to regularly change up our fitness routines. Workout hard, workout often, and vary your workouts to keep seeing results.