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How to Do a Muscle Confusion Workout

written by: Dr. Kristie Leong • edited by: Angela Atkinson • updated: 11/8/2010

Are you looking for a way to boost your strength gains and reduce boredom? A muscle confusion workout could be just what you need. Here's what it is and how to do one.

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    Do you do the same set of strength-training exercises every time you go to the gym? Many people do - and wonder why they aren’t seeing results. Muscles adapt to doing the same movements all the time, and after a while, even increasing the resistance no longer boosts muscle growth. That’s where a muscle confusion workout has the advantage. Doing a muscle confusion workout keeps your muscles from adapting and reaching a “plateau" - so you keep making gains.

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    What is a Muscle Confusion Workout?

    A muscle confusion workout is a strength-training program popularized by Tony Horton’s P90X system. A muscle confusion workout emphasizes change and variability. Instead of doing the same strength-training exercises every time you go the gym, you constantly change the exercises you do, how rapidly you do them, your rest intervals, the amount of resistance and the number of repetitions. This keeps the muscles “guessing" and prevents the natural adaptation process that occurs when you consistently do the same workout.

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    How Do You Do a Muscle Confusion Workout?

    The key is to a good muscle confusion workout is to work each group of muscles in a different way each time. For example, when you work your shoulders, instead of doing overhead presses, lateral raises, and upright rows every session, alternate these exercises with a pull-ups and push-ups that target the shoulders.

    Alternate cable machines with free weights and resistance bands. Do the exercises slowly with fewer repetitions one day and the next time more rapidly with a higher number of reps. For lower body strengthening, alternate machines with barbells and throw in some plyometric exercises that involve jumping to “shock" the leg muscles and keep them growing.

    To make a muscle confusion workout effective, it’s important to use the principle of progressive resistance. Even though you’re varying the type of exercises you do, you still need to increase the resistance over time to see significant gains. The principle of overload still applies even with a muscle confusion workout.

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    The Benefits of a Muscle Confusion Workout

    Not only does muscle confusion prevent the dreaded “plateau", it also reduces boredom since the types of exercises you do are constantly changing. Time goes by quickly when you do a different set of exercises each session. You don’t even need a gym to do a muscle confusion workout. As the P90X program illustrates, you can get a good workout with only a pull-up bar, some free weights or resistance bands, and enough space to do push-ups and plyometrics. No gym required.

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    The Bottom Line?

    A muscle confusion workout offers variety and a way to get an effective strength-training workout that keeps on working. Whether you’ve reached a plateau or simply eager to take on a new fitness challenge, a muscle confusion workout may be just what you’re seeking.

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    Beach Body website.

    Exercise Physiology. Theory and Application to Fitness and Performance. McGraw Hill. 2009.