Stop Treating Weightlifting As A Mathematical Exam


Challenging But Simple

I think we can all agree on one thing: if there is one thing that the fitness industry is well known for, that is it’s ability to cause complete, utter confusion. Or should I say: total brain meltdown.

Currently,there doesn’t seem to be a reversal in this trend. In fact, it seems the fitness gurus keep moving us further away from what works and deeper into what I like to call: the unknown. My question is: why? It seems that everytime I type ‘weightlifting’ into Google; I come across some new method, system or person trying to change the entire face of the fitness industry. It always seems that many people are trying so hard to fix something that doesn’t need to be fixed. In the end, we just succeed in ruining a system that was, well, pretty much perfect.

Adaptation: Don’t Overlook Simplicity

Weightlifting nowadays reminds me of those times when I had a difficult piece of mathematics homework to complete. I remember these times well! Have you ever tried to solve a mathematical problem to end up never finding the answer? You have sat for hours trying to solve it; but after lots of nail biting, intense hair pulling, hundreds of sheets of paper and ink used, every corner of your brain exhausted and every method under the sun employed, you are still stuck at the starting line. I know this scenario all too well! It’s frustrating because when you find out the solution to the problem, it turns out to be so simple. In most of these cases the answer actually was simple, but for some reason I always ended up over complicating and overthinking the problem. I thought I was always able to solve a problem by using long and sophisticated formulas. Turns out by making it more complicated, I was simply just drawing myself further from the solution.

“Ever tried to solve a mathematical problem to end up never finding the answer?”

Weightlifting has become a lot like trying to solve a mathematical problem. The answer to enabling progress and success in weightlifting is simple, but many people have insisted on making it more complex than it actually needs to be. The result being that many people today easily overlook the absolute driver of weightlifting progress: adaptation through progressive improvement. Today, it seems that this fundamental necessity for progress has been replaced by this need for muscle confusion. Simply put, muscle confusion has been used as a term to embody the many different training principles that have guided the training of bodybuilders for the last 50 years. Unfortunately many of these training methods are completely insane, far-fetched and well, outlandish. Honestly, the only thing they serve to achieve is to represent just how unnecessarily complex and inefficient training has become.

Nowadays, the concept of muscle confusion has been very well exploited to change people’s ideas on weightlifting. As a result, the weightlifting landscape is completely different. Today, weightlifting has been drawn away from being about progressive improvement to becoming a pursuit governed by complete randomness. In the hopes of getting stronger and bigger, it’s not uncommon to see many new weightlifters performing all these different styles of training with crazy names: retro-gravity training, flushing-training principle and, triple-split training are just a few that spring to mind. But not only this, you have these many different training styles such as P90X (who invents these names!) that are commonly marketed as new ingenious proven ways of getting you stronger and bigger.

The problem is, all these populist ideas of muscle confusion, complete randomness and non-specific conditioning workouts ignore the very fundamental principle of what makes you stronger and bigger over time: specific, consistent, incremental overload. Without it, these highly marketed ways of weightlifting do nothing more than to simply get you moving more, burning more calories and to sweat. Which is great for fat loss and cardiovascular fitness! But, it has nothing to do with your long-term size and strength goals.


  • This graph shows my interpretation of what happens with weightlifting today: it is become too complex and random. Complexity and randomness means: muscle confusion. As a result, people fall into the trap of utilising all sorts of muscle confusion principles and cardio-type workouts as a way of trying to gain size and strength. The problem is, this ‘complexity and randomness’ reduces the specificity of the program. In other words, your weightlifting program becomes less effective at inducing adaptation.
  • The less complex and random your program is, the more specific your weightlifting becomes at inducing adaptation (size and strength gains).
  • “A” represents the area most people should be in for long-term size and strength gains. There needs to be some ‘complexity and variation’ in your program as you get more advanced. But not too much that your training starts to loose the benefits of specificity. Let’s call “A” the safe area.

Specific, Consistent, And Incremental Overload

If you want to consistently gain size and strength over the long-term then your goal is to make sure you force your body to continually adapt. By doing more work over time, you are pushing your body to its absolute limits. The only way your body is going to be able to withstand and to survive this extra work is to adapt by becoming bigger and stronger. But, it’s not just about doing more work over time; it’s about doing more specific work. In other words, you don’t swim or play tennis to get bigger and stronger or perform cardio type workouts such as P90X with weights. These activities all serve a purpose, but because they lack specificity to YOUR goal, they will not allow you to get stronger and bigger over the long-term. It’s also worth mentioning that the increased work over time has to be manageable. In other words, you should be doing more work each session that is more challenging than the last, but not so that it impacts your recovery or your body can’t handle it full stop.

Complexity, Simplicity And Specificity

The feeling I get is that people today are convinced that weightlifting needs to be complex, and there needs to be a high degree of training randomness or variation in order for them to gain long-term size and strength. Today, weightlifting is built around and guided by the appeal of all these cardio-type conditioning and muscle confusion programs have all been heavily marketed as the ultimate keys to your size and strength kingdom. The fact is, this increased complexity, randomness and muscle confusion has only lead to one thing: lack of training specificity. Weightlifting no longer focuses on progressive overload but now on progressive confusion. In other words, weightlifting is no longer about you doing more work over time (lifting more weight), it’s about exposing your muscles to something completely new everytime you do train. As a result, weightlifting nowadays completely neglects the specificity needed to successfully induce adaptation. Without it, you simply stall before you even start!

“Increased complexity, randomness and muscle confusion has only lead to one thing: lack of training specificity.”

If you are looking for optimal size and strength gains over the long-term, then you need to make sure that you are doing more work over time. Whether this happens everytime you train or not will depend on what stage of weightlifting you are at. But for progress it must happen. Weightlifting is hard work and as you progress, it get’s harder. It’s true that, as you progress your weightlifting routine will get more involved and variation in your programming will have to occur. But unlike today’s thinking, whatever stage of weightlifting you are at, your program should always be specific, non random and should always be tailored so that you are constantly adapting in terms of getting stronger and bigger. In the weightlifting world, overcomplicating things through high degrees of muscle confusion and randomness will only detract you from focusing on what really matters: progressive overload.

If you have any questions about the article or would like to discuss further some of the topics mentioned, then please feel free to leave comments down below!



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