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“Muscle Confusion Scam”: Let’s get to the bottom of this

Those who do an internet search on the words “muscle confusion scam” are usually confronted with two contrasting opinions. One opinion is that the notion of muscle confusion is a scam. This view is often expressed by those who’ve tried fitness programs such as ‘P90X’ or ‘Supreme 90 Day’ and allege to have not achieved the proclaimed benefits after following the respective program to a tee.  The counter opinion to this “muscle confusion scam” claim is that muscle confusion really “works” (whatever that means) and that the individuals labeling it a scam are just undedicated buffoons who didn’t give the workouts enough time or commitment. This view is typically expressed by affiliate marketers who are selling the fitness program and have about as much objectivity as a mother judging the performance of her kid’s first music recital. They have too much “skin in the game” to provide a really honest review.

Why “Muscle Confusion” is such a draw

Using a pseudo-scientific buzzword like muscle confusion is appealing to both marketer and prospect of a fitness product like P90X. The marketer has a catchy label to which he can attach success of his product’s use in the prospect’s mind. The prospect has a simple, one-word reason to believe. If the product then “works” by the prospects/customers definition of that word, an anchor has been set; there’s a mysterious and esoteric reason for its working; “It must be the muscle confusion.”

But therein is the first level of ambiguity that feeds the ‘muscle confusion scam’: What does it mean for a fitness product to “work?” Does the product help a person to lose fat? If so, how much better is it for that purpose than the thousands of other ways those pounds could be shed? Moreover, what’s the reason for so many people in our society to use such a vague question as “does it work” in so many circumstances? Think about where you hear it:

“Does that business opportunity work?”

“Does trying to meet someone in a place like that really work?”

“Does that diet work?”

“Does P90X work?”

This is often the uttered pattern-of-thought of those who’ve absolved themselves of personal responsibility: Either the circumstance outside oneself “works” or it “doesn’t work” – having little to do with discipline or commitment-to-action from the individual who says it. This mentality just might appear most prevalently among those susceptible to influence by the latest buzzword that not only has no scientific bearing – it has no semblance of common sense; muscle is simply tissue – it cannot be baffled, perplexed, or confused.


Front Dumbbell Raise_Standing Dumbell Curls1.jpg 
“Muscle Confusion?” No… the idea of changing your workouts to “shock” your muscles is a farse . But overloading your muscles with heavier challenges is desirable

  

But let’s acknowledge those who do take responsibility for their lot in life and might merely ask if a workout program “works” with the intent of determining if positive results will be commensurate with expended effort. I’ve noticed that these people are less likely to fall for the muscle confusion scam; they just want to know if a program like P90X will be effective.

‘Muscle Confusion Scam’: Anything works when “works” is defined loosely

If a person goes from spending most of the day in front of the television soaking up excess calories – to suddenly spending one hour of the day dancing around in front of the television – that person will begin shedding body fat if they consistently keep up the new activity without consuming additional calories. If weight resistance is added to the mix, they’ll begin feeling soreness and tightness in the muscles.

At this point, the P90X zealot/affiliate marketer insists the program’s “working”… via “muscle confusion” no less.

The skeptic will point out that it’s doing nothing that any additional intense activity wouldn’t do for the body. If “working” is defined by how suddenly sore and tired an otherwise sedentary person would be after beginning an activity, a day of rearranging furniture and running up and down a flight of stairs will “work.”

Since many people define fitness progress so loosely, I’ll simply interject this: Any program that increases activity while reducing or keeping calorie intake constant will “work” for losing body fat. Yet the question of whether that program can build a perceptible degree of muscle is a different topic entirely.

“It’s the ‘Muscle Overload’… Silly”: When “muscle confusion” becomes a scam

Muscles make progress in increased strength and size through a process of

  1. Work
  2. Adequate recuperation (with compensatory strength/size increase)
  3. Greater Work (Volume Overload)
  4. Adequate recuperation for the ‘overload’
  5. Etc… etc…

Pretty simple; there’s no confusion involved. We don’t attempt to keep our muscles “guessing” – we make progress by keeping them intermittently overloaded and recuperated.  

So why are some DVD marketers and personal trainers perpetuating the ‘muscle confusion scam?’

My opinion: ‘Perpetual esotericism!’

What do I mean by that?

I mean that a trainer can attach ongoing mystique to any routine he or she conjures up using the justification of “muscle confusion.” Let’s say I’m your trainer and I tell you that today I need you to do sets of push-ups with dumbbells in your hands. Between each pushup repetition, I want you to pull each dumbbell toward your body in a ‘rowing motion.’ (Never mind the ridiculousness of this exercise – in the name of muscle confusion, I can almost have you dong a circus act.) Tomorrow, I could tell you to do the same exercise while changing the reps and bringing each dumbbell up to your sternum in a curling motion. I could tell you that this is all in the name of “shocking your muscles.” If you’re a neophyte, you just might buy it; after all – I’m an “expert.”

If you ARE a neophyte, let me warn you: What I just described is absolute poppycock (as they say in the U.K.). It won’t “shock your muscles.” It won’t “build your core.” It’ll do so little in helping you build a stronger and more attractive body that the imperceptibility of its effects will be almost laughable.

In fact, if a personal trainer or DVD program has you doing this or any unfocused, multi-movement exercise even resembling this – and… especially if it’s all in the name of “muscle confusion”, you’ll have your most salient indication that you’re being duped by…

… the “muscle confusion scam.”

I suggest putting a damper on any preconceived notions and apply rational thinking… immediately.

Even acknowledging that “confusion” in the sense that it’s used to market fitness products means “regular change” rather than literal confusion, I still side with the opinion that muscle confusion is a scam.

Comments

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Scott

Hi 'Burn the Fat',

Your comment is a bit off topic. Could that be because you've simply stopped by to link to your Tom Venuto book?

Anyway, since you've mentioned spinach, I have a question (assuming you'll come back and see it): What do you think about the high quantity of iron in spinach? We know women need extra iron until they reach menopause. However, there's a theory that we men just build excesses of it in our bodies and its oxidative properties contribute to heart disease. This theory is bolstered by statistics showing women being more prone to heart disease after reaching menopause; they stop losing the iron on a regular basis.

I love spinach and it can't be denied that the fiber it contains is terrific. I'm just wondering about its high iron content. I have read, however, that the form of iron it contains is better than others.

Anybody have some thoughts on this?

Scott

Burn The Fat Feed The Muscle Review

Spinach. One of the more alkaline foods. Spinach prevents loss of muscle and bone, but also cancer and heart disease because of its nutrient profile. Try a spinach recipes I shared a while back.

Somanabolic Muscle Maximizer

If you eat a well balanced diet, it will help you get the proper nutrients to help with building muscle.

Scott

Hey Somabolic Muscle Maximizer Reviewer,

Obviously, in order to use my blog to plug the book you're marketing, you've just added an absolutely useless comment that only echos the idiotic and tired-out rhetoric that's been repeated endlessly on the topic of "muscle confusion."

In response, I contend that the body doesn't stop growing because "it gets used to the workout" and thus "needs a change to start growing again." Instead, it stops growing because the bodybuilder has missed the mark in terms of providing the correct ratio between muscle tissue tear-down and recuperation.

I've seen countless lost souls in the gym who change their workouts endlessly. Yet their bodies never improve... endlessly. In contrast, I've gotten ongoing gains without changing my exercises or exercise sequences for very long periods of time. The key was in keeping my muscle stimulation (tear-down)/recperation ratio optimized.

Please explain, in a logical manner, how muscle tissue gets confused and how THAT promotes gains.

Scott

Somanabolic muscle maximizer review

muscle confusion is an answer to plateauing during a workout. plateauing is when your body gets used to a workout and stops being challenged by it so your muscles dont get bigger. muscle confusion is a system by which you change the workouts often so your body doesn't get used to the workout. it is most often associated with the program P90X which i have heard good things about. it should be good as long as you are getting up and exercising.

Scott

Hi Rob,

Thanks for reading and providing your comments. You've made an excellent point about workout form.

It seems that an almost completely overlooked and nearly never mentioned factor of success is added rest days between workouts. We make progress by building some strength and muscle tissue. Once this happens to a certain degree, there's more material that needs adequate recuperation between workouts. This necessitates more rest days in order to add further muscle. Not recognizing this and adjusting for it is a major cause of plateaus (not to mention wasted time).

You don't read about THAT in the magazines.

Scott

Rob

I must say this really is a great blog on fitness and I appreciate an open view on the whole "muscle confusion" hype/scam.

I've been 'fit' my entire life but when I was younger I worked out often with an average physique. I'm now in my 30's and after reading and learning that 1) proper form is absolutely key to an effective workout, and 2) results occur (or accelerated) by pushing your workout above a comfortable pace.

I've gone from about 4+ hours per day at gym (not including the time to/from) to a reasonable 1-3 hours at home (pending cardio).

I've always been a big proponent to single-activity exercise. Anything that distracts you from concentrating on form or speed will likely cost you in the end...or you have to work harder to get the same results.

With that said I understand the plateau dilemma and say if you want to get 'higher' then you've got to do something better. If you haven't paid a lot of attention to your form in the past this might be a very easy way to get your workout to the next level. I was curling 60 lbs the wrong way and when I started improving my technique I had to go down to 50 lbs. Like everything the devil's in the details and it's time for an exorcism!

Again, this was a really great blog post!

Scott

Hi Alexxeah,

Thank you for reading and posting your comments.

If I showed you the really strict and proper way to do rowes, I'd be willing to bet you'd have to reduce your workout weight AND you'd get better results. I've noticed that about 99.9% of people doing any kind of rowes are not even using their back muscles. When I see people doing 'renegade rowes' (cool name), that number goes right to 100%.

Please explain the benefits of this huge rest/pause between each pushup... and this huge rest/pause between each rowe. I'd love an explanation because that's essentially what you're creating by combining the two exercises.

Also, please explain how this is working your "core." I'd think you'd do better for that by... well... doing a core exercise. In fact, if you'd do a an exercise that maximally hit your core, then a movement that STRICTLY hit your lats, followed by some really focused pushups - I think you'll be even stronger in the event that you ever have to "save the day."

Sorry - you haven't changed my opinion of that ridiculous exercise. I won't deny that you've gotten stronger in doing it. I'll even allow you to believe it works each of the used muscles optimally. However, people were making themselves strong enough to "save the day, save themselves, save someone else"... (all that) before "renegade rowes" were... uh... invented?

Would love to get your reply to my inquiry for more specificity of the benefits of "renegagde rowes" (who named that?) over focused isolation of each muscle.

Scott

Alexxeah

I'll tell you what "shock" is: Reading that you think that renegade rows are crap and poppycock.

I'm a woman who does one set of renegade rows a week with heavy dumbbells. I do NOT do this in the name of muscle confusion. But I'd be lying if I said that the thrill of getting attention from men wasn't part of it -- they can't believe a woman can do these with such heavy dumbbells.

Anyways, this attacks the entire body at once, which keeps me prepared in the event of a real-life crisis where I must physically exert many muscle groups at once to save the day, save myself, someone else, etc.

If you're trying to fight a person who's grabbing you, the motion is similar to renegade rows. There's pushing, pulling, lots of core work, leg work (isometrically).

To develop the ability to do heavy renegades means I've dramatically improved my strength as a whole, rather than isolated body part.

Don't knock renegade rows!!!

HCG Diet

I am reading your blog for the first time and I must say your approach is different. What sets bloggers apart is how they connect to their readers; you really connected with me. Great post!

No Nonsense Muscle Building Review

Can someone enlighten me on muscle confusion? I heard about it from the Insanity and P90X infomercials. Can someone explain the science behind it and tell me how I can to it properly? Does it really work or is it a scam?

Ryan

This works very well with swimming.

If you ask me to swim a length across a pool, I will hop in and swim it almost effortless. You ask a long distance runner with no competitive swimming training with the same body mass as me, I would bet money it will cost him far more Kcals, to swim the same speed across the pool. Just like some running style are more efficient then others. Swimming takes that to an extreme.

I think one of the ideas behind "muscle confusion" is that some time an athlete will get to a point where it becomes hard to overload a muscle. Then some level of cross training is required to work at that joint from a different angle. In the case of body building, maybe a secondary muscle is too weak to allow the prime mover to be overloaded.

But the Idea that you can confuse your muscles is bunk.

You can't confuse your metabolism, but you do have to constantly change the calorie in calories burned equation to maximize fat loss. Your body does a very good job slowing down your BMR when placed into situations that mimic starvation.

scott

Hi Ryan,

Thank you for the comment.

Based on your analogy wih the swimmer - "bad form" helps a person burn more calories? I don't get your reasoning: If taken to its logical conclusion - we'd all get the benefit of a leaner body by doing exercises and sports activities in a sloppy manner.

Scott

Ryan

I do agree, muscle confusion is just a buzzword. However many people have reached plateau in their workouts, and changing the workout and/or cross training is a good tool to get pass those bumps.

One of the major reason I think something like "muscle confusion" can help burn more calories is the idea that the person exercising never is able to fall into a rhythm with the movement. Take a beginning swimmer for instance. If allowed to swim nothing but front crawl his form will gradually improve and he will start burning fewer and fewer Kcals per min. But if you force him to constantly change strokes, it will take a lot longer for him to settle into a rhythm or to get comfortable. Now I know the muscle aren’t confused, but a comfort level with the movement won’t be achieved. This like most "Fads" doesn't apply to people who are not beginners to the movement.

But this is a good read for sure.

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Sammy

While I know a few people who have benefited from P90X, I do not personally believe it was "muscle confusion" that caused their weight loss or general increase in fitness. I believe it was because they just worked out hard for a few weeks.

The reason I think muscle confusion is mostly a bunk marketing term is my personal analysis of biceps exercises (as an example). There is really only one movement that will build or work a biceps muscle. I can't imagine you could "confuse" the muscle with different (but really the same, no?) exercises.

Full disclosure: I am a satisfied owner of Scott's book (which I purchased, btw). It totally changed the way I looked at my workouts. I was in great shape, but had experienced a plateau, and Scott's book offered simple, effective methods.

I now have people constantly asking what I'm writing in my notebook, and why I keep a log. I have people asking about my between-sets rests and exercise choices. And I NO LONGER worry about how much I'm lifting (relative to others in the gym).

This endorsement was not requested by Scott; I'm just a really satisfied customer.

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