Why ‘Confused’ Muscles Get Strong
With the popularity of P90X®, the term ‘Muscle Confusion’ is getting a lot of play in the media. And while many people credit it as the reason P90X is effective, not many people understand what it means, much less how it works. So let’s examine what “Muscle Confusion” is and why it’s so effective.
Peaking is when you feel your best – like when you’re at the “top of your game.” One thing I like about P90X is how it starts and ends with a fit test. Since the program is designed with phases that take a while to master, the fit test is a great way to grade where you are. As you are attempt to master each phase, confusion sets in, and your performance starts off feeling awkward. But when you put together all the various pieces that have been confusing your body, the result is a period of peak fitness.
Even if you’re only goal is to look good or feel better, every time you train, you should try and build around a peak period when you need your body to perform at its best. Following this template doesn’t just work for athletes – it works for anyone training at a high level.
The entire theory of muscle confusion is based on something called periodization, which is when you train in 4-5 week cycles which keep your body from getting used to a specific schedule. The goal of periodizational training is to eliminate performance plateaus so that you will continue to improve. Most periodized programs are structured with a progression of training blocks designed around a peak. This is why you typically will get your best results during the latter phases of most programs, especially with P90X.
Adapt, master, transition
The training blocks are laid out with a 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’s best to transition into something else.
Timing is everything
You don’t always want to be in a state of confusion, so it’s important to be aware of when your body should transition. This can be difficult, but with experience, you get better at it. Moderately intense programs like Power 90®, 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 is about as short as you can go to maximize the adaptive and growth phases, but this isn’t set in stone. Ultimately, what’s important is that you halt the growth phase before a plateau occurs and that you see the full cycle through to its end.
In short, you teach your muscles something new until they master it. Then, before they get happy, you launch into something else and force them to respond.