Have you ever heard the term muscle-confusion? This is commonly used in the marketing pieces of fitness centres to tell you how you’ll get better results by doing something different all the time.
The premise is that when you do the same activity repeatedly the body ‘learns’ what you’re doing and thus doesn’t spend as much energy in order to do. While there is some neuromuscular efficiency that occurs with training it doesn’t necessarily lead to the best results.
One thing is certain when you perform new movements all the time. You are really sore after doing the first of whatever sport activity you’re going to do.
Think of how your butt feels after the first long ride on a skinny bike seat.
Or how your legs feel after the first heavy powder ski day of the year.
Or how your forearms after the first time going rock climbing.
Yes it’s true. New sports and activity will induce soreness.
But I have yet to have one person come through the door of Okanagan Peak Performance Inc identifying soreness as their goal. Or to be sweaty. Or out of breath.
How do we know that muscle confusion doesn’t work? Because of the research.
Recently I was down to Spokane for a conference and had the opportunity to see James Krieger present. During his presentation he showed a study that compared training frequency on size and strength gains.
And there were a couple of interesting things about this study.
- James was the co-author of this study along with Brad Schoenfeld. For those that aren’t familiar with Mr. Schoenfeld he is known for producing a lot of great of research on strength training. He is also contracted by the New Jersey Devils. I believe James’s role in this paper was to handle the statistics. I haven’t met the third author D. Ogborn.
- This paper was a meta-analsysis which meant they were searching for the result from a number of studies looking at the same question. In this case the question was the effect of training frequency on size and strength gains.
This paper looked at 10 studies that lasted at least four weeks in duration. Subjects in the studies included both trained and un-trained participants. That’s important because the results achieved during training would be different for newbies versus experienced lifters.
So what did they find?
The meta-analysis showed 3 days was better than 1 day per week of training for size and strength gains.
But, you may be thinking, I train 3 days per week, so I’m good right?
To get the benefits, as suggested by the meta-analysis, you would need to train specific muscle groups 3 times per week and not simply resistance train 3 days per week.
In other words, if you really want to see a certain lift get better, i.e. your squat, you need to train this exercise more frequently to reap the rewards.
Don’t mistake this as meaning you should do the exact same training session (e.g. the same exercise, the same load, same reps, same sets, same tempo etc). For the best results you would want to vary these acute variables on each of the three training sessions.
Schoenfeld BJ, Ogborn D, Krieger JW. 2016. Effects of Resistance Training Frequency on Measures of Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Sports Medicine. 46(11):1689-1697.