November 9, 2009 posted by

Muscle Confusion Explained

I finished cleaning, bolting, and doing the moves on a route in the Wasatch this weekend. I can do it in sections but linking them is going to take improvement. With winter around the corner I don’t have much time to improve as well as peak. It’s time for a short cycle.

One of the concepts that seems the hardest to impart to our P90X athletes is how (or why) to peak. Even though Xers tend not to consider themselves athletes because they lack a performance-oriented goal, it’s important to understand that all training at this level adheres to athletic principles. The entire theory of “muscle confusion,” as we call it, is based on periodization, or training in targeted cycles that keep your body adapting and growing, while minimizing the plateaus that happen in between.

All periodized programs are structured around some sort of peak. This is why most of our customers get the best results during the latter phases of our programs. It’s by design. In a less intense program, customized for less conditioned clients (like Power 90), the structure is less rigid because the adaption takes longer. The fitter you are the quicker your body reacts to training.

Most science shows that a three week on, one off, cycle of training is about as short as you can go to maximize the adaptive and growth phase so that’s what we’ve used in P90X (though we often recommend that certain individuals lengthen the training blocks). The idea is the halt the growth phase before a plateau happens, recover, then re-shuffle and add intensity in the subsequent training block. In X, the final block adds a week of high intensity, at which point we recommend a break before taking your final fitness test. This is where we’ve designed your peak to happen, about a week or more after your final hard workout.

The longer you have to meet your goal the more effective your training can be because you can focus entire training cycles (the 12 weeks of P90X is one cycle) on your weak areas and still have time to blend this new strength into your body’s system for performance (integration training). This is why athletes make their biggest changes in the off-season.

But none of this helps me. I’ve got a few weeks, tops, to train (foundation, adapt, growth phases) and peak (integration and recovery phases). This requires a whole different mindset about training, which I’ll explain tomorrow.


  • Superb article steve! so what you are explaining is p90x can actually help an individual train or get better for a sport?SO you can actually improve climbing performance with the X? I never viewed the X with this point of view. Might try another round of it after this hybrid!

  • Winter sucks, yo. I really wish I enjoyed some winter sports, 'cause I live near some great areas. But then, I'd have to be rich to enjoy that, so nevermind.

  • You can't improve climbing with X per se. What you can do is improve your base fitness and, hence, your capacity for hard climbinig training with X. So it does serve a purpose if you know how to incorporate it.

  • I dunno about winter. Being forced inside to train has its merits. I think it was Dave Graham who said the best thing about New England was the weather because otherwise he'd never have spent so much time in the gym getting strong.

  • So is Muscle Confusion a science like it is pitched on your infomercials, or is it a theory like you write about in this article?

  • Everything we claim on the infomercial is accurate under the name of muscle confusion, which is a catch all slogan that sounds a lot better than describing the individual physiological processes the program is working on.

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