Muscle Confusion? Legit or Nonsense Term?

The p90x system has popularized the phrase “muscle confusion” with claims, within the infomercial, referring to the “training science of muscle confusion.” My question is this: Is “muscle confusion” based in “training science?” Oh, and, what the heck is “training science?”

Here is a portion of the p90x pitch:

Alright, muscle confusion… sounds good. Let’s see what a search of scientific research journals pulls up for me:

Only 10 results – hmmmm – that’s not usually a good sign…

  1. Serotonin Syndrome – Muscle Rigidity and Confusion in the Older Adult.
  2. Renal failure in a patient with…
  3. Confusion between physicians & dentists about muscle-type pain…
  4. Preventing falls and fall-related injuries in hospitals.

Nothing related so, I’ll stop there and spare you the rest of the list.

Sadly, “muscle confusion” doesn’t seem to be based anywhere in science.

Well, let’s go ahead and see what kind of research supports “training science:”

  1. Basic science research and education: a priority for training…
  2. Training and career development in clinical and translational science: an opportunity for rehabilitation scientists.
  3. Science in Mental Health Training and Practice…
  4. Eating for Performance: Bringing Science to the Training Table.

Not quite what I was looking for, but the list goes on and on.

Perhaps most perplexing is that a comprehensive research journal search with the phrases “muscle confusion” and “training science” yield absolutely no results! Tony Horton, have you lied to us all?!?

In fact, there are only two papers that come up relating to p90x – one is from Men’s Fitness (let’s throw that one out). And the other is from FireRescue Magazine, more detailed than Men’s Fitness, yes, but a far cry from the “training science” research I was hoping to find!

Okay, let’s give Tony Horton one more chance and find out what papers he has authored:

Another head-scratcher, neither “Tony Horton” nor “Anthony Horton” returned any results.

Oh well, I guess I’ll have to answer my own question from the top of this post.

So, what does “the training science of muscle confusion” mean?

My take is that it is essentially a nonsense term/phrase used for marketing to laypeople.

“Training science” can probably best be relabeled as exercise science (now this is a real phrase… in fact entire bachelor's degrees are labeled as such). Personally, I think exercise science is as easy to understand as “training science,” so I don’t know why they wouldn’t market it correctly in this way.

“Muscle confusion” seems to be very much a dummy term. From the marketing, it seems like the p90x folks are alluding to their programming and the manipulation of variables (sets, reps, mode, method, etc.). The actual term is “periodization” and this can take on a variety of shapes and sizes to elicit the result you’re looking for.

Perhaps the marketing magic-makers think the layperson is not capable of learning new words like “periodization?”

The bottom line?

  1. I’ve watched the p90x DVDs and I think the creativity of exercises and simple exercise progressions are quite good.
  2. Personally, I know at least 50 people (all happen to be current or former high-level athletes) who have tried p90x. None of them have completed the program.
  3. I think it is shameful the way the fitness industry allows itself to market to people’s egos, fears, and insecurities. This product is no different.

If you want to try it, go for it! It’s way better than sitting on the couch and a gigantic step-up from Jane Fonda tapes or going to a commercial gym to mindlessly wander around. But, I must say it is an extremely aggressive way to start a training program and, much like CrossFit, you may be best served to begin a training program that is moderately paced and conservatively planned to get you prepared for the full regimen.

Remember, in the world of strength, conditioning, and fitness, it is NEVER an all or none proposition. Any system that makes you feel that way, guarantees results, or sets a time limit on your progress should likely be avoided.

SAPT Blog Gems of 2011

With it being the Friday before the New Year, I thought this would make a good time to share some of the most popular blog posts I wrote during 2011. I thought it would make a great way for some of our newer readership to catch some things they may have missed, give our "veteran" followers some reminders of things they may have read a while ago, and hey, not gonna lie, it makes for an easy day of blog content on my end! 2011 saw substantial growth for SAPTstrength, and I honestly cannot thank you all enough for your support. This was also the first year I made a effort to write consistently, totaling roughly 150 blog posts (along with a few additional articles for websites).

It amazes me to see the readership of this site growing weekly, and it really does humble me to know that many of you out there enjoy the coaches+writers of this site (Sarah, Chris, and myself), and think that we, to put it scientifically: don't suck.

That being said, let's get to the list. Happy New Year everyone, and we look forward to 2012 with you all!

Warrior, The Resistance, Mobility, and Happy Birthday Baggins

You know, it's so funny, sometimes the posts I put together last-minute, on a whim, and in a "holycrapIcan'tthinkofanythingtowritesoletmediscussLordoftheRings" mindset, are the ones that receive the most traffic. This one topped the list, and it wasn't even really about training! Geeze people, comon'! Stop being so hard to please.

I don't know if it's because I talked about Lord of the Rings or discussed the epicness of Tom Hardy's traps, but apparently this one hit home with you all.

26 Things I've Learned: Training Edition

Okay, now for some that are actually training related. Here I recap - via 26 short bullet points - several "ah ha" moments I've had since entering the strength and conditioning industry. This one trimmed the fat and gave the "quick and dirty" for anything ranging from improving one's results in the gym to program design.

A Few Things I've Learned: "Life" Edition

It honestly surprised me how much traffic this one received, as I wasn't anticipating this post being that big of a hit. Here I put on my sage hat (at least as much as possible for me to do so) and give some quick bullet points on anything from behavior economics to yellow traffic lights.

CrossFit: Friend or Foe?

You know what they say about discussions with in-laws at the dinner table: Avoid the topics of politics, religion, and......CrossFit. Just kidding (kinda), but it does seem that people tend to fall on vastly different ends of the spectrum when it comes to CrossFit. It's as if it's an either-or and white, if you will: Either it's so evil worse than Satan himself, or it's so good it has saved you from congestive heart failure.

In this post, I do my best to look at it from an objective point of view. Is it for elite athletes? General fitness enthusiasts? Are ALL affiliates awful facilities that (quote) "do nothing but injure people?" Click the link to see for yourself.

To Overhead Press or Not to Overhead Press

The overhead press is a hot topic of debate among doctors and strength coaches alike. See this Q & A for a quick run down on if the overhead press is the right exercise for you.

And now, here are two great ones from Sarah and Chris:

A Little Bit About Knee Injuries - Sarah Walls

Here Sarah does a great job breaking down the what, why, and how-to-prevent of knee injuries. Notice that one of her main points is to "get those glutes firing!" I can't tell you how many times I'm working with a female with a knee injury/pain and have her doing glute work when she looks at me, and (*cue sassy voice*):

"Um, I don't want my BUTT to get any bigger...."

Well, do you want your knee pain to increase in magnitude, too?? Get those glutes workin' girl! Your butt circumference won't increase in an unfavorable way, I promise.

Our Take on "Sport Specific" - Chris Romanow

Last, but certainly not least, is an excellent short blurb by Chris on sport specific training. I can't tell you how many times I'm asked by a well-intentioned parent on why I'm not having their child perform X exercise since it is "sport specific." Should you do band-resisted running if you're a sprinter? Is it really necessary to have a soccer player squat, since it doesn't look like a very "sport specific" drill? See his points on the link above.

**That's all for now. Feel free to chime in below for any topics you'd like to see covered in 2012!**