Muscles Don’t Have Brains

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Abby Laub

We’ve all heard the term “muscle confusion.” It will supposedly solve our workout slump woes. Running for a year and not losing weight? Consider muscle confusion. Lifting weights alone not getting it done for you? Consider muscle confusion.

But what exactly is muscle confusion? Amié Burnham at Lexington Athletic Club joked that “muscles do not have brains,” and aren’t left “guessing” what to do next when you change up a workout. Burnham sees a lot of people who have hit a slump in their workout and need a dose of so-called muscle confusion to help get them fired up again.

Though she sees the necessity for muscle confusion (constantly changing up workouts so you are not doing the same thing over and over), she thinks the phrase is misunderstood. And while acknowledging that “variety is the spice of life,” she sees also a lot of value in repetition in workouts for the sake of proper form, developing speed, increasing resistance and improving overall performance in an activity. On the flip side, if you don’t challenge yourself in a particular workout, you probably need to think about intensifying a certain aspect of your regimen.

I’ve been struggling with this in particular lately since my time at the gym is extremely limited these days. I’ve had to force myself to actually jog with the jogging stroller rather than power walk. And I have made a conscious effort to increase the weight of my dumbbells when doing my bicep curls. Instead of thinking about “confusing” my muscles, I am trying to think about doing similar groups and patterns of exercises — and just doing them in a more challenging way.

“You want your body to become efficient, because we squat 100 times a day in everyday life,” Burnham explained. “So our body needs to learn how to become efficient in that movement pattern, so it is important to train and repeat movement patterns and learn correct technique and become efficient. But what so many people don’t do is progression and improvement.”

Ways to challenge yourself, she said, include changing up the tempo and tweaking the amount of repetitions and weight.

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