Are you plateauing on your lifts? Maybe muscle confusion is the answer.
Yes, muscle confusion...but not quite what you think it is. This term was popularized by P90x and the trainer, Tony. Tony described it as constantly changing your exercises in order to have your body respond differently. Of course, you may see changes because any new exercise program will cause an initial large response from the body, but it's not optimal and it won't get you the results you want. You can keep the exercises, but change the sets, reps, and intensity.
We don't like to use the word muscle confusion. We like to call it variability, and variability can be obtained through periodization. Here's some basics on phases during periodization.
This is the primary reason people will see strength gains when starting a new workout. There are nerves connected to muscle fibers, but perhaps not all of them are being activated. For example, imagine there are four tiny fibers, but only two are getting signals. The physical demands of a new stimulus require all four to activate with a signal creating a strength gain, but not a large size gain, which brings us to...
Hypertrophy is the increase of size in muscle cells and fibers. Now imagine those four innervated muscle fibers. They still remain at four, but they now grow to a larger size. This will also increase strength due to increased cross-section of the muscle. Of course the size has its limit, so if you begin to plateau, you may want to ingest more calories or move on to...
This refers to the increase in number of muscle cells. Muscle cells are unique because they have more than one nucleus. Because of this, they are able to multiply. Going back to the image of the four larger innervated muscle cells, imagine that they all split to eight smaller muscle fibers (not saying they double every time; just an example). Now you have eight muscle cells that were similar to the size during neuromuscular adaptation. The problem is only four of them are innervated, so what do you do? You go back to neuromuscular adaptation phase of course! It's all a beautiful cycle (called a mesocycle in fact).
In trained athletes, neuromuscular adaptation can be achieved even if you skip a "basic foundation" phase during periodization. If you're fairly new to these concepts, it's okay to return to basic foundation sets and reps.
Next up, we go over how to hit these phases during your workout. Stay tuned, and thanks for reading!
Baechle, T. R. & Earle, R.W. (2008). Essentials of strength training and conditioning 3rd Edition. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
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