So called fusion workouts are making a splash in gyms across the country, leading some to label them just another fitness fad. But there is sound research that shows mixing up your workout routine can pay big dividends.
Many of the group fitness classes offered at typical gyms combine elements of different disciplines. For example, Piloxing incorporates elements of Pilates, boxing, and dance; Tread and Orange Theory combine weight lifting and cardio (Orange Theory also adds indoor rowing); and it’s not hard to find classes that combine yoga with kickboxing, core strengthening, and plyometric (explosive) exercises.
The main draw of these classes is they are efficient, and if you attend regularly, effective. Typically lasting just an hour, you can get your cardio and strength training all in one class. For many people, there’s also an appeal to group workouts, which provide comradery, accountability, and a little competition to help you stay motivated — and they’re fun!
The inspiration for these newer fusion workouts may have been sparked in part by an old idea — muscle confusion. The theory behind muscle confusion is not new. The idea can be traced back to Joe Weider, the father of modern bodybuilding. Weider was a bodybuilder, but he was also a magazine publisher. He spent countless hours in the gym observing and documenting techniques and movements that were effective for bodybuilders. By the 1950s, Weider had compiled 12 years’ worth of observations. From these he developed nearly 30 workout philosophies, dubbed the Weider Training Principles, which include muscle confusion:
“Constant muscle growth can only be achieved if the body is not given the chance to really settle into and get used to a particular training program. The muscles should never get too ‘comfortable.’ Muscle growth requires a constant increase in physical stress. The exercises, sets, number of reps, and exercise angle should be constantly varied so that the muscles do not get used to and adapt to certain types of stress.”
You may not be interested in bodybuilding, but whatever your exercise of choice, training plateaus are real. Incorporating variety into your exercise routine can help you break through. The way you use training variety will depend on your goals. Are you an aspiring bodybuilder and want to add a lot of muscle? Are you a runner looking to round out your fitness routine and minimize injury risk with some resistance training? Or are you Jill average just looking for a way to bring something new to your workouts?
The overlapping philosophies of fusion workouts and muscle confusion can address all of those goals. If you’re wanting to add muscle but are a beginner with weights, it’s not necessarily a good idea to constantly change your workout. Spend the first several weeks — even a couple of months — building up your muscular foundation. Stick to a basic routine with a few variations until you gain some confidence and familiarity with the equipment before you start to really change things up.
Even if you’re a serious bodybuilder, you’ll want to be careful not to do a completely different routine each time. Most bodybuilders focus on specific, complimentary muscle groups on different days. For example, day one focuses on your back and biceps. Day two is chest, shoulders, and triceps. Day three is all legs, and every day includes some core work.
Within that basic structure you can vary the specific exercises targeting that day’s muscle group. With free weights there are many different moves that will target the same muscle. You can also mix it up with more weight, higher reps, or both. Gains in building muscle and strength happen because the stress you’re subjecting your muscles to is getting progressively harder, but you also want to make sure your muscles aren’t getting used to doing the same thing over and over.
If you’re one of the few people meeting the recommended minimum 150 minutes a week of moderate cardio and 2 or more days a week of strength training targeting major muscle groups, you’re ahead of the curve and already have some variety in your routine. If you want to up the ante, there are many ways to mix up your workouts.
Most gyms offer lots of group exercise classes that focus on cardio, strength, flexibility, or a mixture of two or more disciplines. Consider switching out one or two days of your regular routine with a class. If you don’t belong to a gym but want to try something different you can find countless workouts online as videos or easy to follow, step-by-step instructions. There are even apps you can download to your phone that will coach you through a workout. Many inexpensive subscription services offer yoga, Pilates, and bodyweight routines that you can tap into anytime it’s convenient. Spend a little time poking around on the Internet and you’re bound to find something of interest.
Do you have a bike you haven’t ridden in years? Get it out, get it serviced, and get on it! Biking is a wonderful addition to a walking or running routine, gives you a different way of getting your cardio, and offers a new perspective on your surroundings.
If you’re interested in learning about weights, hiring a personal trainer can be a great way to get started. He or she can show you the basics and instruct you in proper form, which is really important to maximize effectiveness and avoid injury.
If you’re new to exercise, be sure to talk to your doctor before beginning a regular workout routine. Then, the sky’s the limit in terms of the variety you can bring to your fitness program. You’re more likely to stick with working out it if you see results and don’t get bored. To increase your odds of success, mix it up and make it fun!
August 13, 2015
Janet O’Dell, RN