Why "Muscle Confusion" Is Costing You Gains - StrongLife

Why “Muscle Confusion” Is Costing You Gains


“You need to keep the muscle guessing” was an old mantra tossed around gyms.

It was the belief that in order to grow muscle, you had to confuse your body.

It was determined that by doing so, you would force your body to grow more.

However, is that really the best practice for hypertrophy and physical development?

And is there a good reason to stick to a more structured long-term training style?

Let’s have a look at some points.

The Case For Exercise Proficiency

When it comes to hypertrophy, it is not as effectively gained when you’re training movements that you are not familiar with.

In order to grow muscle, we must effectively overload it.

And the best way to sufficiently overload a movement is, well, to be good at that movement!

The best way to become efficient with a movement is to do it repeatedly.

So a program where you wing it and pick random exercises each session isn’t giving you the best opportunity to grow.

The movements are too random and therefore you’re not becoming proficient with them to the point where you can really overload them.

Instead, pick movements that best suit you as an individual in order to grow muscle and then train those over a number of training cycles.

By becoming an expert with those movement patterns and techniques, you can consistently work on overloading them in order to cause muscle to grow.

The good news is that you don’t need to specialise like a powerlifter, but you should keep core exercises for each muscle group for a few training cycles.

As you train those movements, you will see the weight used increasing over time, which ensures overload that will contribute to muscle gain.

But how do you avoid variety?

Keeping Variety In Your Training Plan

Okay, so your training won’t need to be super rigid.

There is room for variety.

But firstly, variety is important for growing muscle, but let’s not confuse that with “muscle confusion”.

The main thing you want to avoid is having a large range of exercises in your plan.

Nor should you keep changing things up too frequently.

But, we also don’t want to be super rigid to avoid boredom.

Because let’s face it, if you’re dreading each session then you’ll likely put less effort into it.

Your compound barbell movements will be the core of your training.

Squats, Bench press, Overhead press, Rows, Deadlifts are the main ones to be a master of.

Not only that, but from training cycle to cycle, you will be looking to increase the weight used for desired rep ranges, therefore ensuring overload while also showing strength gains.

The stronger you are, the more weight you will be able to lift for reps.

Outside of the compound movements, we can then look to other exercises to add in to create not only a balance plan, but a well rounded physique.

Compound movements will have certain limitations depending on the individual.

So by adding in accessory/isolation movements, we can train for more balance muscle growth.

Take the Barbell Bench Press, you could use an Incline Dumbell Press as an accessory movement to add volume and also hit the pecs a bit more.

Keep compound movements as the core of your training and you can use the accessory exercises as a means of variety, possibly switching them ever 1-2 training cycles.

Again, don’t go switching exercises so frequently that you lose proficiency at the movements.

And use your compound movements to assess progress while using the accessory/isolation exercises to keep things interesting.

Recommendations For Muscle Gain

There’s a very simple and straight forward recommendation for muscle growth.

Compound Movements – 1 – 2 exercises per major muscle group

Isolation Exercises – 1 – 3 exercises per muscle group.

Volume – Aim for 10-20 sets per muscle group, per week. Ideally hitting each muscle group 2x per week.


If you current volume is low, then start with 10 sets per muscle group, per week, and work upwards.

Keep the compound movements in, then maybe every 8-12 week training cycle you can switch the isolation exercises up.

Focus on increasing the weight used on the compound lifts over the year of training and use your accessory/isolation exercises to build that well rounded physique.

Happy Lifting!


Colm Duignan

Colm Duignan

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