The vast majority of ‘misinformation’ out there claims that in order to achieve a great body you must change your workouts often. This info, while partially true, has been greatly misinterpreted. Where and when did this misunderstanding occur? Well, we have to look to the 1960s to find our answer.
The idea of muscle confusion is based on studies conducted by Dr. Tudor Bompa in the 1960s and later popularized by Joe Weider, publisher for Muscle and Fitness Magazine. Dr. Bompa was an Olympic rower and has produced 11 Olympic medalists and 2 World Champions. Dr. Bompa conducted studies on strength training in SEVENTEEN sports in Soviet Russia. In those days Russia had absolute, complete dominance over its citizens. If they told you to become an Olympic lifter you did it, no questions asked. Because of this rigid culture Dr. Bompa was able to experiment with a myriad of training variables: training frequency, volume, tempo, reps, and so on. The Russians began dominating Olympic weightlifting events, among other events, and that dominance has been attributed to Dr. Bompa’s research. This training method came to be called periodization.
Periodization is based on using optimal loads (usually very heavy loads) to stimulate muscle growth. From there the program seeks to change several training variables: weight used, number of sets/reps in a workout, rest period, recovery days, and rep tempo. Keep in mind these variables being adjusted each and every workout is based on using few exercises, not many exercises. In addition, periodization seeks to find weaknesses in an athlete and only add the necessary exercises needed to correct those deficiencies. Let’s say you want to increase your bench press but you lift your butt off the bench every time you lift the bar. The periodization method would look at you and say, “You have weak lower back muscles and glutes. Let’s add deadlifting to your training program to make those muscles stronger.” Make sense?
Joe Weider took note of what Dr. Bompa and the Russians were doing and sought to make it known to the rest of the world. After all, his business was promoting lifting and strength training. Being the head of a major muscle magazine at the time helped. Weider was so revered by the fitness industry that as long as he put his name on something it became gold. The periodization training method blew up. As time passed the truth behind periodization became misconstrued into what is todays ‘muscle confusion’ trend.
Time has a way of altering what was original into something new. Periodization was no different. By the early-to-mid 2000s periodization became muscle confusion with the gradual growth of HIIT workouts such as P90X® and Insanity®. The new periodization method meant changing everything in your workout every time, most notably the exercises themselves. The last 10 years have only progressed this train of thinking for the worst. Now, everyone thinks doing different workouts every day will prevent them from hitting a plateau. Will different workouts performed multiple times a week help you yield results? Yes, but only for a while.
Any, I repeat, ANY fitness program, be it Yoga, spin, barre, or crossfit®, will decrease body fat and increase lean muscle IF you’re starting from scratch. Your body likes to adapt to change and this will last for a few months. The worse shape you’re in the longer it will take to plateau (probably no more than 3-4 months before you stop making progress). If you’re already fit or have plateaued then you need to adjust your program accordingly: training frequency, load, tempo, sets, reps, rest, and recovery. These are the same variables that Dr. Bompa discovered over 50 years ago.
I might be biased because I love weight training and gymnastics but if you’re looking to see more improvement in your performance or appearance then ask yourself if your current program is following Dr. Bompa’s methods. If not, then you’re probably not going to see much change. Love yoga but need to lose more weight? You might need some sprint intervals or HIIT circuits 1-2x a week. Are you really strong but not very mobile? You might need to add Yoga to your training schedule. Stuck in a rut? Adjust some of the variables previously mentioned (weight, tempo, reps, etc.). Don’t go overboard. Just make subtle adjustments. My advice is to find a good program with good trainers who know what they’re doing. Remember, professional athletes and Olympians have trainers and they follow periodization training. Last time I checked, they looked really good.