Confused About Your Strength Plateau? Your Muscles Aren't.

There is a concept floating around by gym bros, fraudulent commercial products, and the internet where a trainee must trick their muscles into getting stronger. A trainee will be in the gym doing whatever exercise they feel like at the time. They'll make progress for a few weeks and get a little stronger and then plateau (stop making progress). They'll talk to people at the gym and read internet articles trying to figure out how to break out of their plateau. If they're lucking or smart, they'll realize they've been training wrong, but if they're not lucky or smart, someone convince them to attempt muscle confusion. "You gotta confuse the muscles with different exercises to get different types of stress. You've been warming up squats at 135 and then doing 185 and then 225 for 2x8. Try starting at 225 for a set of 10 and then do 185 for a set of 20 and then 135 for a set of 30. Your legs will have no idea what's going on."

Muscles do not get confused. They certainly respond, but they are not confused. Muscles have predictable responses to stress. Muscles sense contractile potential. The brain says "lift the hand" and the biceps receive electrical impulses through the central nervous system which make myosin bind to actin in the sarcomeres of the muscles which pull and make the muscle as a whole contract and produce tension to  lift the hand.

When this stress is sufficient (but not excessive), the muscle responds. The body recovers with food and rest, and more myofibrils are formed than were in the muscle in the first place. The muscle can then exert more force. This is a brief example of the stress-adaptation model which is pervasive throughout all organisms, but is important in understanding why the human body responses the way it does to strength training.

Along with sufficient stress on the muscles, the trainee must practice the exercises they train to get strong. If someone learns how to squat, press, deadlift, biceps curl, triceps curl, clean and jerk, snatch, and so on with 20 other exercises and only does each exercise once every two weeks or once a month, they will likely not become proficient in these exercises. If a trainee is not proficient in the program exercises, they will not be as consistent in their movements and therefore will not exert optimal force and be optimally safe.

The key to getting strong is not to vary exercise selection or rep/set schemes arbitrarily to 'confuse' the muscles. The key to getting strong is to get good at a few methodically chosen, effective exercises and increase the weight reliably. Some say "but doing the same exercises again and again is boring" Do you know what's boring? Making no progress. Progress is not boring. Being strong is not boring.