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Muscle Confusion – How to Structure Your Workouts to Gain Muscle Faster and Prevent Plateaus in Muscle Growth by Implementing Muscle Confusion Techniques

  May 12th, 2011
When I started my bodybuilding journey many years ago, the first several weeks of weight training produced results that seemed extremely promising. After just one month of working out I could see my muscles starting to grow larger and become more defined. I was even getting some compliments from my family and friends.

The ability to gain muscle quickly is actually fairly typical among beginner bodybuilders as their muscles “over-react” to the strains being placed on them that are unlike any they have experienced before. Unfortunately, this initial surge in muscle growth doesn’t last and I was disappointed to find that the results I achieved during the weeks following that first month of training were no where near as impressive.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could somehow maintain that initial rate of rapid muscle growth?

The truth is that no matter what we do, our ability to build muscle mass dwindles as our muscles grow larger and adapt to the stresses of weight training. The following graph will give you an idea of how muscle growth slows over time.
Muscle Building Graph
Looking at the graph above is actually very discouraging as we see that muscle gains for the average bodybuilder become almost non-existent after less than a year of weight training. But what if there was a way to continually shock our muscles with extreme levels of stress and prevent the dreaded plateaus in muscle growth that plague so many bodybuilders today?

After years of killing it in the gym and seeing little additional muscle mass added to my less than impressive physique, I began watching the guys in the gym who looked like I wanted to look to see what they might be doing that enabled them to build muscle so much faster than me. On a few occasions I even summoned the courage to ask them for some training advice.

While eating for muscle growth was obviously a high priority for all of the most cut and muscular guys at my gym, there were a few aspects to the way they trained that they swore by that seemed to have a significant impact on their ability to quickly pack on muscle mass. I don’t think the term muscle confusion was specifically used, but I eventually figured out that one of the main ways they were able to continually build muscle and prevent plateaus in muscle growth was by using muscle confusion techniques each and every time they trained.

What is Muscle Confusion?

Muscle confusion simply refers to the application of any number of methods that allow you to train your muscles beyond their current capacities and force them to adapt by growing larger. There are many different ways to incorporate muscle confusion into your workouts, but when it comes to building muscle as fast as possible, there are only a select few muscle confusion techniques that make the cut.

Does Muscle Confusion Work?

If you have tried to implement different muscle confusion techniques into your workouts in the past, with little or no results, you might be predisposed to thinking that muscle confusion doesn’t really work. In actuality, your lack of muscle building success while training with muscle confusion was likely due to someone providing you with less than effective instructions. You will find tons of so-called fitness experts online and in popular magazines telling you to do all kinds of crazy things to create muscle confusion.

Here are just a few of the ridiculous muscle confusion instructions I have found online:

  • Switch back and forth between free weights and machines during each workout

  • Alternate weeks of heavy weights for a low number of reps and light weights for a high number of reps

  • Weight train at different times of the day

On the surface, all of these tips seem like legitimate ways to expose your muscles to new forms of stress and keep them guessing, but in reality, the additional muscle building results that any of these techniques would produce are negligible at best. I know because I have tried them.

Man Training to Muscle FailureReal muscle confusion workouts are those that require you to exert every last drop of muscular energy and endurance you have – leaving no doubt that you have fully exhausted your muscles and have provided the overload required for real muscle growth.

I am not talking about the impotent instructions found on the thousands of wannabe fitness sites online today that are run by people who are looking to make a quick buck and have no interest in helping people actually reach their goals. I am talking about hard-core muscle confusion methods that get results!

These are the types of muscle confusion techniques that I use during every workout to continually pack on muscle and are exactly what I am going to share with you in the rest of this posting.

Muscle Confusion Training Techniques

Muscle confusion workouts are likely a little different than what you are accustomed to. Using the muscle confusion techniques that I am about to share with you will require some additional energy and intensity, but they are extremely simple to use and will start to come more naturally after just a few workouts.

Training to Full Muscle Failure

Training to full muscle failure is one of the most effective ways to overload your muscles with each and every set during your workouts. During my first several years of weight training, I would go into each set with a specific number of reps that I was going to perform, and would end my set as soon as I completed the exact number of reps I set out to complete – even if I could have pushed out several more.

Weight training in this manner severely hindered my ability to build muscle because I wasn’t applying a level of intensity that would push my muscles beyond their limits, strain them to their breaking point and force them to grow. Looking back, I can’t believe how naive I was to think that the way I was training would actually get me the muscular physique I wanted so badly. Thankfully, I eventually realized the error of my ways.

The goal of each and every set that we perform should be to pump out as many reps as possible and push our muscles to the point where they are completely out of commission and will not be able to perform any part of the lift movement. The way to accomplish this goal is by performing as many full repetitions as possible of the lift you are performing, followed by as many partial repetitions as you can push out, until you can no longer move the weight from its starting position.

For instance, if you are performing the lat pull down exercise, you would start by doing as many full repetitions of pulling the bar from above your head to below your chin as possible. After you can no longer pull the bar all the way below your chin, you will continue performing as many partial reps as possible by pulling the bar downward as far as your muscles will allow.

You will continue with these partial reps by pulling the bar down as far as you can from its starting position until your muscles are exhausted to the point that you can’t even move the bar from the top of the movement. *

This technique of training to failure with partial reps can be used on just about every lift. Although, you should make sure that you have a spotter on lifts such as the bench press where there is the potential for you to become trapped under a heavy load.

Dead lifts and squats are two lifts that I never use partial reps on because these lifts are notorious for causing injuries to the lower back which will keep you out of the gym for months (or even years). While training to failure is an extremely effective muscle confusion technique for quickly building muscle, it should never be used at the expense of your personal safety.

Barbell Curl Drop Sets

Taking Muscle Confusion to the Next Level with Drop Sets

Training to failure is perfect for overloading the muscles and forcing them to grow, but I told you earlier that I am about hard-core muscle confusion techniques that get results. When we train to failure we are effectively exhausting our muscles to the point where they can no longer move whatever resistance we are using. However, this does not guarantee that our muscles are strained to their absolute limits.

This is where drop sets come in…

Drop sets provide us with a way to continue to overload our muscles even after we have reached full muscle failure with a certain resistance. Drop sets are performed immediately after completing your last set to failure of a lift.

As soon as you have finished your final set to failure, you will immediately reduce the resistance you were using by a small amount (usually 5 or 10lbs) and perform another set to full muscle failure with the reduced load. You will continue this process of reducing the resistance and immediately performing a set to failure with as many sets as necessary until you run out of weight, or the weight is extremely light and is effortless to move (even with your muscles being extremely exhausted).

After finishing your drop sets for a given lift your muscles will be extremely tight and you will likely feel a deep burn in the muscle group that was being trained. If this burn is too intense to move on to your next lift, don’t worry, after a couple of minutes the tightness will subside to the point where you will be able to move on with your workout.

Here is a short video of me performing standing bicep curls with an E-Z curl bar in my basement as an example of how to perform drop sets (sorry about the poor lighting and sound quality – I hope to have a better video up soon):

As I briefly explain in the video, when you know that you are going to be doing drop sets, it will help to prepare by using mostly smaller weight plates to make it easier and faster to remove small amounts of weight between drop sets. So, before starting your first drop set, you will want to load the bar with lots of small weights on the ends, instead of using one or two larger size weight plates on each side.

Training to full muscle failure and using drop sets after completing your last sets of each lift will give your weight training sessions a level of intensity that you have probably not experienced before.

These kinds of muscle confusion workouts will require you to exert a little more time, effort and energy, but the gains in muscle mass that will follow by using these instructions are well worth the sacrifice. These two muscle confusion techniques are all that you will ever need to use as part of your weight training regimen to prevent plateaus in muscle growth and sustain your muscle building progress for as long as you are committed to training.

Don’t Cheat Yourself Out of Muscle Growth

The two muscle confusion methods I have shared with you in this posting have helped me to consistently achieve gains in size and strength for over 3 years now. The instructions I have provided are some of the best tips to build muscle that I know and I hope that you don’t ignore them. If you do, you will be cheating yourself out of pounds of additional muscle mass.

The following graph will give you an idea about the kind of difference in overall muscle growth that adding muscle confusion to your workouts can provide.

Muscle Confusion Graph

I want to reiterate that if you are not using muscle confusion, you are cheating yourself out of serious muscle gains. If you don’t believe me, I challenge you to try the techniques I have shared in this posting for a month or two and see for yourself what kind of difference they can make.

For more helpful information on quickly building muscle mass, you need to check out my book, Ripped Out.

Do you have a muscle confusion technique that you would like to share? Use the comment box below to share your experience.

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