Confusion isn't typically something we strive for. But when it comes to muscle confusion, sign us up!
What is Muscle Confusion?
Doing the same workout every day leads to the same results and can cause a plateau in your efforts. That’s where variety comes in. Changing up your workouts challenges different muscles and improves your fitness, which in turn works to change your body—and your fitness level.
Your muscles aren't literally confused. Muscle confusion is just the name for the training concept that emphasizes the positive effects of activating muscles in different ways.
Here are five ways to start.
1. Work Out at a Playground
Gym machines are great, but swapping them out for different workout structures from time to time will help you work your muscles in new ways.
“Playgrounds are the perfect place to train for many obstacles on a Spartan course,” says Pete McCall, a San Diego-based trainer who spends many an afternoon at playgrounds with his young daughters. “I climb up the playground equipment in different ways and swing on the monkey bars.”
Variety is a key part of every good workout routine—and a building block to serious strength. Muscle confusion improves strength and your ability to adapt to different types of climbing equipment, McCall says. You’ll need both on the Spartan course.
Related: The Playground Workout for Adults
2. Do Your Exercises Backward
You don’t need to throw your existing exercises out the window. Just do them differently. “Do walking lunges backward, do ‘sit backs’ for abs, and jump rope in reverse,” suggests Michele Olson, Ph.D., a professor of exercise science at Auburn University Montgomery.
Changing the direction of your key exercises switches off your natural autopilot, forces you to focus more, and, as Olson says, “shakes up and wake up your muscles, fitness, and metabolism.”
3. Focus on the Down
“On a biceps barbell curl, curl up for two counts and lower for six slow counts,” suggests Olson. “Do the same on lunges, squats, bench presses, and overhead presses.”
Slowing down on the eccentric muscle contractions causes more muscular micro-tears, which is key to growth, she explains.
“As they heal, the muscles will adapt to the new challenge by laying down extra protein filaments in each fiber,” Olson says. “You’ll get stronger and develop denser muscles and better fitness faster.”
4. Train Unilaterally
Think about the exercises where you typically use both sides of your body. Start doing them one side at a time, suggests Olson. On a leg press machine, adjust the load and do one leg at a time. Do the same for the hamstring curl machine.
“We all have one side that is more efficient and stronger, typically our dominant side,” says Olson. “So if you work unilaterally, the stronger side cannot take up the slack for the less dominant side. This will help you to develop equal strength and will optimize your performance.”
5. Work in These Two Exercises
These two exercises not only cause muscle confusion, but they will improve your fitness and build Spartan-specific strength and balance.
- Crawling to Pull-ups Bear crawl (on hands and feet with hips and shoulders at the same height) for approximately 20 to 30 feet to a pull-up bar. At the end of the crawl do as many pull-ups as possible. Repeat 3 to 5 times. "To maximize the muscle confusion, do different types of crawling patterns: army crawling on belly, rolling, lateral, or sideways crawling,” suggests McCall.
- Kettlebell Farmer’s Walk Hold one heavy kettlebell in each hand (as heavy as you can hold with proper form). Walk for 30 to 50 feet and return to start. Repeat 2 to 3 times or until arms fatigue. “The purpose is to develop grip strength and core strength,” says McCall. To maximize the muscle confusion, change between kettlebells, dumbbells, and weight plates.