Are Random Workouts Better than a Planned Program?
Muscle confusion is a phrase that's been thrown around by fitness professionals for years. It came to most people's attention around 2005, with a workout program called P90X or Power 90 Extreme.
The marketing pitch was simple. Keep changing your workout program so your muscles don't know what's coming. By keeping muscles "confused", they won't have time to adapt. If you challenge muscles differently every workout, growth continues. P90X offered a wide variety of workout programs to keep things sufficiently “confusing.”
One of the most successful fitness phenomenons of the last decade, Crossfit is built around the idea of constantly changing workouts. Every morning millions of people get the WOD or Workout Of the Day. The sets, reps and exercises change every workout, with the goal of keeping things challenging and interesting.
It's quite a radical idea. Instead of designing a program around a person's specific abilities and goals, throw out a generic program that every single one of your customers follows.
Each program is put out without regard to what's happened in the past, or what's coming in the future. It's brilliant! Doing that would save good trainers a couple of hours work every week. But is it better than a traditional program?
Unfortunately... no. But before I explain why, you first need to know how traditional training is done.
The classic workout program involves increasing weights. You start working out with lighter weights, then slowly increase the weight as you get stronger. Sometimes you increase the number of reps as you get stronger. Once you stop seeing gains, the program is changed. (This type of program is called Linear Periodization.)
A variation of that is by changing the number of sets and reps each workout. One day you might be lifting heavy weights with low reps, the next day, light weights with a high number of reps. (This type of program is called Undulating Periodization.)
The Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport decided to compare linear and undulating periodization programs. They wanted to see if one provided a benefit over the other. The results were surprising. Both groups made gains and researchers concluded that subjects would see "similar... responses regardless of the loading scheme employed."
Now we need to compare daily random workouts that use “muscle confusion” to a classical training program.
In Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, a study was published titled "A Meta-Analysis of Periodized versus Nonperiodized Strength and Power Training Programs." After reviewing the results of both types of programs, they said, "...it is concluded that Periodization training is more effective than Non-Periodization training for men and women, individuals of varying training backgrounds, and for all age groups."
In other words, traditional programs where you increase sets and reps as you grow stronger, are more effective than random workouts.
But that's not all that researchers found. There's something you can do to make traditional programs even more effective. The answer is three little words. SET A GOAL.
Workout programs that are designed around specific goals of power, size or strength are even more effective than traditional periodization programs. And periodization programs are more effective than random workouts of the day, or programs that constantly change to offer “muscle confusion.”
You see, it's not easy to confuse a muscle. When you randomly change things every day, you aren't building on your previous progress.
Designing a good workout program takes time. It's a lot easier for a trainer or a company to produce one workout every day, that everyone simply copies. But that program isn't going to give YOU optimal results.
Make your workouts count. Set a goal and design a four to eight-week program around what YOU want to accomplish. If you're unsure of what to do, hire a professional that will design your custom program and push it out to your smartphone. If you're going to the trouble of working out, make sure it's a program that will provide the best results for YOU.
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