I Don’t Want “Confused” Muscles – Give Me Smart Muscles

The older (and hopefully wiser) I get, the more I appreciate a keep-it-simple approach to life. But “keep it simple” is not a message you will get from most of the media on most topics, including health and wellness. We seem to want to make everything complicated, including exercise routines.

Perhaps you’ve heard of the principle of “muscle confusion” which is the idea that, because muscles adapt to stress, for optimal results you should constantly vary your exercise routine. Proponents of this philosophy recommend adding new exercises and dropping old ones, or changing the resistance level and number of sets or repetitions performed, every 4-12 weeks or so. A whole industry seems to have developed to sell complex fitness routines and the specialty advice “needed” to be fit. I’m not buying it. Here’s why.

My aims are modest. I’m not looking to be a CrossFit instructor or an underwear model. I’m just trying to be reasonably fit and strong with the goals of feeling well, being able to enjoy an active lifestyle, and avoiding illness. If my muscles “fully adapt” to my workouts and my fitness “plateaus,” that’s fine with me. I don’t need continuous increases in strength, flexibility or endurance to achieve those goals.

Also, I value the simplicity and predictability of my exercise routines. My workouts are physically and mentally challenging, as they should be, and the knowledge that I’ve done this many times before is reassuring. I can do it again today, is a powerful thought. The force of habit helps me here as I wrote about in the  “Smart Feet” example. In trying something completely new, I lose that power.

Lastly, nothing is without risk and introducing new exercises or new versions of old ones increases the chance for injuries. I’m not getting any younger and I don’t bounce back from injury so easily. I have mild degenerative arthritis in my neck and some of my other joints are not quite 100% either. In the last couple of years, I’ve hurt my knee after modestly increasing my running distance and injured my neck after introducing two new upper body resistance exercises. Both injuries compromised my overall ability to exercise for months. The knee is still not completely better. Why risk injury from something new if I can achieve my goals with the current regimen that my body is tolerating?

So I stick with my basic routine, working out six days a week – resistance training (mostly bodyweight exercises) on Mondays and Thursdays; running on Tuesdays and Fridays; rowing on Wednesdays and Sundays. It simply works for me.

That’s not to say that I never change anything. Variety can be desirable, and from time to time I do make changes. Perhaps I get a little bored with the routine, or become interested in a new exercise. Then I may make a thoughtful and careful change in my routine, but I reject changing my workout just for change’s sake. It’s not necessary and potentially harmful.

I don’t want confused muscles. I want smart muscles, muscles that know exactly what they’re doing, and muscles that are capable of doing it time and time again. So far so good.


  1. very reassuring!!!

  2. Amen to the injury advice–it only takes one misstep to set you back, so that your regular dependable workout regimen then suffers as a result. I went to a yoga class several weeks ago (not something I usually do), and I’m still paying for it, likely tweaked by a spine extension posture. Leave the confusion tactics to the the millennials.

    • Peter Weiss says:

      I hope you get better soon. Even the young people can get injured, but I am also feeling my age.