Achieve your optimum health and fitness for a lifetime!


By John Litteral 12-8-22


Muscle confusion is an effective technique that can be used regularly or on occasions to break monotony of repetitive training routines, and to “shock” the muscles out of a stagnant adaptation. Muscle confusion happens when you change something in your routine. It can be a change in an exercise, such as the order of your exercises. For example, on chest day, instead of starting off with the flat bench press, you can start off with the incline bench press first, and then the flat bench press after. I do that a lot myself. What happens is, you will be able to use more weight on the incline bench press by doing it first because your muscles are fresher and not pre-exhausted from doing the flat bench press first. This will allow your upper chest to get stimulated more than usual, and it will usually begin to develop that section. A developed upper chest will make the chest look bigger. I like to go many consecutive training sessions by starting off with the incline bench press first in my chest routine so that my upper chest has an opportunity to catch up developmentally along the rest of my chest. The same type of muscle confusion can be applied to other body parts as well. Another example for this kind of muscle confusion would be starting off with a behind the neck shoulder press movement before or instead of the typical overhead shoulder press that is lowered down in the front of the head. Both movements are similar, but they do stimulate the shoulder muscles in a different enough way to be considered a different exercise.

Another technique for muscle confusion is the technique called pre-exhaustion. An example of pre-exhaustion is doing an isolation movement before a compound movement. For example, when you train chest, you can start off with a flye movement first, and then the flat bench press after. This will shock the muscles because it is out of the normal routine. Obviously, you will be able to use more weight on the flye movement because your muscles are fresher and not pre-exhausted, therefore, the stimulation that is unique to the flye movement will be much higher than what your muscles are used to moving. Obviously, you will not be able to use as much weight when you do the flat bench press during that training session, but it will not hurt your bench press overall by pre-exhausting the chest just as long as you only do it on occasions. I do not recommend doing isolation movements before compound movements for long periods of time because you will begin to lose overall strength and muscle mass. Another example of this type of pre-exhaustion is doing an isolation shoulder exercise before doing a compound shoulder exercise such as the overhead shoulder press. Perhaps do dumbbell side-lateral raises or front raises, or rear delt movements first. This is a great way to stimulate and develop a section of the delts and pre-exhaust your shoulders before the pressing movement. But again, I would only do this on occasions. This technique can be effective for all body parts. This not only helps to “shock” the muscles and your nervous system, but it is also effective in giving extra stimulation and growth to a lagging part of a muscle group. Just be careful to not over-emphasize those movements and neglect your basic compound movements.

Doing different variations of exercises is another way to break through plateaus and stagnant adaptations. For example, switching from barbells to dumbbells, or barbells to machines is very effective when done occasionally. Barbell training is the most effective means for gaining strength and muscle mass but doing those same movements such as a bench press or shoulder press in a different variation will stimulate the muscles a little differently. I am strong believer in training with the basic movements as the general rule, but I am also a strong believer in practicing muscle confusion techniques to keep the muscles and your central nervous system from getting too used to doing the same thing all the time. Changing variations of exercises can be done with nearly every single exercise for every body part, for compound and isolation exercises. You can do different variations with barbells, dumbbells, cables, and machines. I will go into more detail on this topic later in another article.  

Super-setting is another effective way to shock the muscles. Super-setting is when you do two or more exercises back-to-back to form a single set. There are many different ways this can be done. You can do two different exercises for two different body parts at once, or you can do two different exercises for the same body part at once. You can do more than two exercises back-to-back as well. But I do not recommend doing more than 3 different exercises back-to-back for a super-set, because the more fatigued that you get, the better chance of injury to occur because proper technique often gets compromised because of fatigue. Super-setting a chest exercise with a back exercise, such as bench press with pull ups, goes together very well. Overhead shoulder presses with pull ups go together well too. A triceps exercise with a bicep exercise works great! Those are examples of doing two different body parts back-to-back. One way to train shoulders via super-set is doing front raises, side-lateral raises, and rear delts as a tri-set. Super-setting is an excellent tool, but I do not recommend doing them all time, or using them to replace the basic single exercises.


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