Muscle Confusion 101: Why Muscle Confusion (And P90x) Is Bullsh*t!

by Caleb Lee on October 7, 2010

If you’ve ever heard of the term muscle confusion … or if you’re wondering about the effectiveness of P90x (or similar systems) … then read this, so you save yourself a lot of wasted time and effort when it comes to getting the results you want.

A commenter asked this question:

“I like the idea of a full body workout. I have also have read that one key factor to getting ripped is muscle confusion. After a few weeks, wont your body get used to those 8 excerise you have listed which will then have no affect anymore? Are there more full body excerise i can add in later or a more advanced strength training in order to cut more fat and gain muscle? These are questions i was just curious on, i like all your articles i have read thanks for the help.”

Here’s the (admittedly) long-winded answer …

The Theory Of Muscle Confusion

The idea behind “Muscle Confusion” is this:

“Your muscles and your muscle building/fat loss/strength will stop progressing if you continue using the same exercises in your workout programs”

This sounds correct … and … there is a sliver of truth to this because your muscles do adapt to the demands you put on them … but … it aint quite right.

First off …

Strength Does NOT Like Muscle Confusion

First off, if you’re trying to get stronger — you don’t want to “confuse” your muscles.

The commenter asked this:

“Are there more full body excerise i can add in later or a more advanced strength training in order to cut more fat and gain muscle?”

Specifically, if you want to progress in strength on a certain exercise, the best thing you can do is that same exercise — a LOT!

The formula for strength in any one exercise is this:

  • Specific Exercise — like a bench press, squat or deadlift
  • Done As Often As Possible — 3, 5, even 6 times per week
  • As High Tension/Resistance as possible — at 75% of your one rep max in the exercise or above
  • While staying as fresh as possible – meaning you don’t want to get fatigued. So low volume training (low reps/sets each workout), but done frequently

So if you’re wanting to get stronger in any one exercise (or in general), you definitely want to NOT confuse your muscles.

What Your Muscles Do Adapt To

The problem with the muscle confusion myth is that P90x and other systems claim you need to always change up your exercise selections and workout routines.

That’s not actually true …

Your muscles WILL adapt, but only to the “volume/load” of your exercises. You could do the same 3 exercises all the time (such as bench press, deadlift, and squats) and just vary the load (how much weight), how many reps/sets, etc … and … you would never really stop gaining strength or muscle.

That’s a fact jack. Powerlifters do it all the time.

Granted there are different systems out there for building strength, even within powerlifting, there are ones that make use of many different “accessory” exercises (Westside for example) … but … a large majority of a LOT of people have always stuck wit the basic “bread n butter” exercises and varied the load/volume over time to keep seeing gains.

Here’s the other thing …

Getting Ripped Has Nothing To Do With Muscle Confusion

The commenter asked this:

“I have also have read that one key factor to getting ripped is muscle confusion. After a few weeks, wont your body get used to those 8 excerise you have listed which will then have no affect anymore?”

Getting ripped comes down to

  1. Building some strength, which increases “residual muscle tone”
  2. And eating less calories than you burn.
  3. Or burning more calories than you eat.

Of numbers 2 and 3, number 3 — trying to burn more calories than you’re eating is actually the HARDEST way to get ripped.

It’s much easier to NOT eat an extra 500 calories than it is to try and “work off” or “burn off” those 500 calories in the gym.

So the premise of using a system like p90x is kind of flawed from the beginning …

The idea is that the workouts are so metabolically demanding (because they change all the time, never giving your body time to adapt) that you burn more fat.

Basically trying to “out work” the dinner table.

That’s fine and all, but there are easier ways (just eat less).

Here’s a big point most people don’t realize …

Why P90x And Other “Muscle Confusion” Routines Work

Whenever the topic of P90x or some other workout routine comes up that’s sold through infomercials or to the mass market, I hear people say …

“Yeah, that works! I know this guy … “

Umm duh. EVERYTHING works.

All you have to do is work it.

Here’ s the thing: you take someone who normally eats like crap, sits on the couch all day and watches movies and you get him to whip out his credit card and buy P90x. Then when it arrives, if he buys a pullup bar, dumbbells and all the other equipment he needs, then gets off his butt and does the program 6 DAYS A WEEK and follows the nutrition guide, it’s GONNA WORK!

Because you’re doing SOMETHING. That’s the key. You’re no longer just getting fatter — you’re working out 6 days a week and eating better than before.

Makes sense don’t it?

It’s not exactly the “magic” of muscle confusion that’s getting your ripped in 90 days … it’s the “magic” of “getting off your ass and doing something productive” (which I’m sure confuses your atrophied gluteous muscles too!)

Here’s The Bottom Line On Muscle Confusion

  • Your body does adapt to certain exercises and become more efficient at doing certain motor patterns.
  • Instead of changing patterns/exercises, it’s easier to just change the volume/load/sets/reps/speed/etc of specific exercises (less injury chance because you can do those exercises with better technique, keeps your options down, no confusion about what to do, etc)
  • If you WANT to change exercises because you’re bored, that MAY be a good idea. It’s usually not. A LOT of people will change their routine so often that they never get ANY results. I say stick with a basic routine for continued progress and vary your “accessory” exercises or metabolic conditioning exercises (different types of interval training, etc).
  • The key to getting ripped is building muscle strength, a little size, and making sure you’re in a calorie deficit most of the time. You can do that by working out more or eating less. Eating less is MUCH easier.

Keep all this in mind the next time someone tells you that you need to “confuse” your muscles … do p90x … or something else to get ripped.

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Tips Fitnees yang tidak berguna: P90X | Berita dan Fakta Ilmiah Harian
March 31, 2011 at 12:18 pm

{ 46 comments… read them below or add one }

joshua October 8, 2010 at 5:01 am

Wow. Thanks caleb for answering my question in such depth. I was blown away with everything, I’m gonna to take ur advice and ran with it. Thanks again

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Caleb_Lee October 8, 2010 at 1:37 pm

You're welcome Joshua, glad I could help :)

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Lena October 8, 2010 at 12:51 pm

I guess this means you're not a P90X affiliate. :D Just kidding! Thanks for the objective post. I've always wondered whether the "muscle confusion" was legit or just hype. But you've got to admit that Tony Horton looks pretty darn good for a 50+ yr-old.

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Caleb_Lee October 8, 2010 at 1:39 pm

Yup, Tony looks good.

Bottom line for anything is: work hard, make a conscious effort to eat better and you'll see results …

And yeah, I've pretty much ruined all my chances of pitching p90x to you guys now–crap! Missed out on some easy money :)

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anonymoose&squirrel October 10, 2010 at 11:50 pm

and that is the proof in the pudding.

the fact is that the guy whipping you the credit card and making changes is not going to benefit from the second guessing that you're encouraging– he's already got enough strikes against him, adding doubt will only sabotage his efforts.

as to 'confusion' being BS?

tell that to the winners of the CrossFit game this year.

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Caleb_Lee October 11, 2010 at 9:11 pm

Hello Anonymous,

Yup, something is better than nothing.

As for crossfit being proof of muscle confusion working … that's another discussion for another day … but … the short answer is, it's not.

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Erik January 17, 2011 at 12:09 pm

What does T. Horton's body have to do with the promotion of p90x?????? Who said he is not fit????? It's bullshit advertising to further confuse people rather than teach them the fundamentals.

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Mr. Confused October 8, 2010 at 3:31 pm

I assume this holds true for the Insanity! workout, etc. that also have the CoNfUsIoN ;-o theory? I am confiused just thinking about it!

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Caleb_Lee October 8, 2010 at 3:43 pm

Yessir Mr. Confused :)

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Brad November 19, 2010 at 3:22 pm

I have that insanity program and i would not recommend it. It is not really muscle confusion either. The guy just has you donig high impact aerobics consisting of a handful of exercises every single day. I felt overtrained and joints hurt all the time. Although like Caleb says it is better than sitting on your butt eating cake.

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Caleb_Lee November 27, 2010 at 5:13 pm

Brad,

Thanks for the review! Nice site too, looks like you're putting a lot into it :)

Best,
CAleb

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Vera October 8, 2010 at 5:10 pm

The company that puts out P90X along with Tony Horton is the real deal. And like the post suggests doing anything is better than nothing. P90X is not a gimmick. If it an amazing system, and much more than you possibly realize. As for making easy money……. Owning my own 6 figure fitness biz and offering the amazing fitness products put out by this company is also no gimmick. Contact me if you want more info on both fronts….. getting in the best shape of your life and getting financially fit too. Vera [PHONE NUMBER REMOVED]

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Caleb_Lee October 8, 2010 at 6:08 pm

Cool! A "coach" from Beach Body (the company that puts out P90x).

Thanks for the perspective …

(I'm allowing this post although I took out her contact info because it was kind of a promo for a first time comment, thanks)

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Erik January 17, 2011 at 12:13 pm

Vera…..you are an idiot. People are being given little white lies and it's ok?!!!!? Tony and BB are the real deal when it comes to making money, that part is true. This is a great article and it is the truth, which goes against p90x so you really can't agree about anything on this site. Get some education in anatomy and real Physiology!!!

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John February 28, 2011 at 11:52 am

I'm sorry the muscle confusion may be bullshit but P90X is a tough program and it works. If you can consistently follow the program especially beginning from P90 to P90M and then to P90X.
You don't need to call people idiots for that.

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Caleb_Lee March 6, 2011 at 6:59 pm

As you note in the article John, I said people doing ANYTHING is better than nothing :)

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Bruciesex October 8, 2010 at 7:06 pm

Ha! The real deal eh? Ive tried p90x and yes, it could work. Thing is, it’s not the end all be all that it’s advertised as. Superset any group of exercises and the same effect can be achieved. The reason p90x is so successful is because people can do it in the comfort of their own homes. Which I believe to be very counter intuitive. To truly achieve success in changing one’s physical state into a more desireable one, comfort should be the last thing one should be experiencing. But kudos to the people marketing p90x with appealing to the general public’s extreme laziness.

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Caleb_Lee October 8, 2010 at 6:41 pm

Always a treat to hear from the BrucieSex!

What sayeth everone'else'th?

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Joe October 8, 2010 at 7:48 pm

I admit to not watching a lot of infomercials lately. But from what I can see, P90X was the first as-seen-on-tv product that stated that it was actually necessary to do some work to see some results….as opposed to all the ‘easy’ ab-whatsits and other gimmicks. So Tony Horton deserves some credit for that.

Still, I have to admit that Horton’s ‘muscle confusion’ deal did crack me up. I thought Joe Weider had a copyright on that phrase :-)

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Caleb_Lee October 8, 2010 at 7:42 pm

No doubt Joe!

The Weider comment cracked me up :)

At least it's a real workout as opposed to the ab gadgets like you said!

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burton October 14, 2010 at 4:16 pm

ur awesome!!!! thanks for keeping it so real and easy !!!! and for all the excellent tips and secrets most make you buy for them. cant wait for the next blog

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Caleb_Lee November 3, 2010 at 7:21 pm

Burton,

Thanks for the kind words.

And yeah I give a lot of stuff away free, now buy some of my products!
:P

Later,
CAleb

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Liz November 6, 2010 at 9:01 pm

Hey everyone!

I had to post a comment. Yes, P90X definitely caused me to build strength b/c I did it religiously 6 days a week. But after 9 weeks of that, along with a very busy work schedule, I ended up with pneumonia and had to take almost 2 weeks off. I tell you this to prove how damn dedicated I was…but get this…I lost no fat.

Yup, you read that correctly. I LOST NO FAT. I stayed at 21% bodyfat level b/c I followed their stupid diet program, which is geared more towards men's strength results than women's fat loss results. If I knew that then, I would have not only been in shape but also looking more lean. I can't tell you how frustrating that was for me.

Now I'm only working out 3 days a week (doing a lot of your barbell workouts, actually) and have gone back to low-calorie and intermittent fasting. It's a slow, slow process, but the fat will come off. At least I don't buy into quick weight loss gimmicks.

Keep it real, everyone!

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Caleb_Lee November 12, 2010 at 8:04 pm

Good to hear Liz!

Yes, you must eat less – the "eat more to burn more" don't work that well … sells a lot of foodies and supplements though :)

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musclemakernow November 13, 2010 at 9:41 pm

This was super helpful. I have heard a lot about this system. I knew it involved a lot of high intensity workouts. I currently lift weights at the gym. I also run on the treadmill and do a stairmaster as well.

It is good to know that i can make little changes to the same routines to sit optimal effects. Thanks for this killer review:-)

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Chris November 14, 2010 at 9:57 pm

what up Caleb. No idea if you remember me or not, but I am the dude that talked to you about losing fat while maintaining strength. Been looking forward to your articles, glad you are back

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Caleb_Lee November 27, 2010 at 5:21 pm

Cool Chris! Thanks, Caleb

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Marc Perry November 28, 2010 at 8:34 pm

I just surprisingly came across your blog for the first time. You clearly have put a ton of time into writing quality articles, so congrats.

I was about to write a post on Progression vs. Muscle Confusion and why I believe progression is the name of the game, while muscle confusion is seriously overrated. Apparently, you beat the muscle confusion concept over the head pretty well. Nice work. I recently put up an intro post about progression here: http://bit.ly/bCCjcf.

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Caleb_Lee December 1, 2010 at 3:05 pm

nice article Marc!

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Phil January 7, 2011 at 10:38 am

Caleb , you talk a lot of common sense mate and give good advice I,ve studied and practiced weight trainin g , weight loss etc for a while now and the bottom line is as you say , train hard and eat less it aint rocket science. I look forward to visiting Vegas (again) next week and showing all those beautiful vegas girls how ripped the boys from /england are LOL Keep up the good work mate

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Caleb_Lee January 11, 2011 at 8:42 pm

Vegas! You go Phil.

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Paul From Harrisburg March 30, 2011 at 5:21 am

Caleb – Some of your information is true. Some of your information is false. Personally, I don't do P90X. But, it is a very effective way to get into shape. It's very challenging so it's not for an average (overweight) American. It sounds like you are making this judgement based off of the commercials. Try P90X before you downplay it's effectiveness. You obviously haven't.

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Caleb_Lee July 9, 2011 at 3:57 pm

Again anything works if you work it.

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Andrew April 6, 2011 at 7:01 pm

P90X is successful (in the financial sense) not due to 'muscle confusion' but due to people confusion.
The phrase 'if you can't dazzle them with brilliance, then baffle them with bullshit' comes to mind.
The whole fitness industry needs to get back to basics and stop this muscle confusion, bosu ball, core stability, vibration plate nonsense.
The basic are and will remain as essential at contributing 80%-90% of the positive results you will receive from exercise, all this esoteric mumbo jumbo just clouds the water and confuses people with it's style over substance, pseudo scientific clap trap.

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Caleb_Lee April 9, 2011 at 3:39 pm

Word. Pretty much :)

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tremelj April 10, 2011 at 11:18 pm

Most real fitness people know that progression works but here's the thing. People get bored easy!! Thats why most people like the muscle confusion because you don't do the same thing over and over again. Also consider the fact that maybe some people do not care about being really good at one exercise some people just want to get into shape. I personally don't care I can get really good at squats or bench presses.

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Caleb_Lee April 25, 2011 at 1:43 pm

Yup to each his own, why I said "doing something is better than nothing"

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ahmed July 16, 2011 at 4:52 pm

this is like stronglift

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Caleb_Lee August 14, 2011 at 3:57 am

Yup. And it's like Rippetoe. And it's like Bill Starr. And it's like Pavel.

Just learn something.

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N8ZBTZGR8 July 30, 2011 at 7:15 pm

Man! I love the fact Im a genius, when it comes to common sense, apparently so are u Mr.C great article, how do those px90 idiots think people have been getting ripped, gaining muscle losing fat long before the introduction of px90 (poor xcuses,90 of them) give me one of those infomercial victims, ill take him/her to the gym with me, they’ll leave confused alright

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kick09 August 10, 2011 at 9:14 pm

II ran a kickboxing Class in my community and after a few months I decided to challenge some of the students in the class to commit to doing P90X. It works and it built helped build endurance, muscle, strength and flexibility. Actually after just 60 days I was already having great results. We stuck to the plan and kept track of everyone’s growth. Muscle confusion might sound like BS to some but it worked for me and our group. I think it’s important to mention High School teams all over the country are using P90X to help develop the strength endurance and flexibility in there players. Anyone looking for some motivation should ignore the overall tone of this article. I would suggest if you are going to do P90X or Insanity to go the extra mile and try and get a group to do it in a school or church gym. It’s not something I would recommend doing in the living room for 90 days. Many people do it that way but I don’t know of any..

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Caleb_Lee August 14, 2011 at 3:49 am

Football players would be WAY better off with a program like bigger faster stronger or 5×5 like bill starr's program … but whatever.

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KJC September 28, 2011 at 7:11 pm

I can't imagine any High School football coach suggesting p90x as a strength program. It would certainly work as a summer pre-season conditioning program to get in shape for the season when COMBINED with practice becuase you can't reall do heavy lifting during that time, but if you put your team through p90x cycles during the off-season where I live you should be prepared to lose.

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Caleb_Lee September 29, 2011 at 2:56 am

Yup. Maybe Bigger Faster Stronger? Bill Starr's 5×5 (only the strong shall survive — created for football), starting strength, etc … SIGGHHHHHHHHH

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guest September 4, 2011 at 7:25 pm

Don't know why p90x is so hated here. It's working for me and I was in shape going in to it.

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Robbie September 10, 2011 at 1:11 pm

I just start doing what you suggest and I think its working better:) you posts are hilarious and very informal THNX

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