A rise in the popularity of workout DVDs may bring up questions about the benefits of bodyweight exercises versus those of traditional resistance training with heavier weight.

Here’s what we know about the at-home fitness craze: Doing a bodyweight/light dumbbell exercise plan for a few months is a form of muscle confusion and may yield significant results.

Muscle confusion is the regular practice of changing things up in your training program, including using different modes of activity and exercises. Bodyweight training, a staple of popular instructional workout videos, is a form of muscle confusion that can be used to get lean, increase stability, and build functional strength.

“If you look at the strength and power of gymnasts, it’s clear that bodyweight programming is capable of producing tremendous results,” says Chris Frankel, strength and conditioning coach and head of human performance at TRX.

Muscle confusion can also occur within a resistance training program, by using different set and rep schemes, rest periods, and exercises. We asked Stew Smith, CSCS, ex-Navy SEAL and owner of stewsmith.com and Bert Sorin, strength coach and co-founder of sorinex.com to explain how to make huge gains using muscle confusion during weightlifting.

Use these four lifting tweaks to spark new muscle and push past what you thought was a training sticking point.


“Advanced training systems [such as the ones below] can be used for variety and to prolong the onset of Selye’s General Adaptation Syndrome, otherwise known as a plateau,” says Boyd Epley , C.S.C.S, founder of the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Utilize these advanced lifting techniques to make strength and size gains year-round.

1. Rest-Pause

Try it: Do a few reps, rest for a few seconds, then crank out more reps within the same set.

“Changing how you perform standard movements or isolation exercises makes a big difference in your progress and can be the very thing you need to push you off a training plateau,” says Smith.

2. Continuous Tension
Try it: Avoid the lockout portion of an exercise, thereby shifting stress to your muscles instead of your joints.

For example, most guys pause at the top of a squat and take tension off their quads by forming a “bone-on-bone” crutch when they fully extend their knees. Squatting with continuous tension would require no pause at the top and a quick sink back down.

“Increasing time under tension by following a 4,0,2,0 rep tempo is great for adding muscle size,” says Sorin.
4,0,2,0 tempo: Take 4 seconds to lower the weight, no pause, then take 2 seconds to raise the weight without a pause at the top.

3. Partial-Repetition

Try it: Do an abbreviated version of the rep, using less-than-full range of motion.

See that powerlifter benching 400 pounds off of a stack of wooden planks sitting atop his chest? He’s using partial reps to increase strength on a particularly shaky part of the exercise.“Doing partial reps on the weaker range-of-motion is a great technique to boost overall strength,” says Sorin.

4. Supersets

Try it: Perform a few exercises, one after another, without a break.

There are two general styles of supersets: compound-sets and trisets. Compound-sets work two opposing muscle groups, like chest and back, with no rest between moves. “This allows for a stretch of the chest while pumping blood into your upper back,” says Sorin.  “Follow this technique if you want to gain muscle but are short on time.”

Trisets use two or three exercises for the same movement pattern, without breaks. For example, three vertical pushing exercises, where you move the weight overhead, like barbell shoulder presses, dumbbell shoulder presses, and cable lateral raises.

Overall, when it comes to your workouts, it’s indeed important to vary sets, reps, and other exercise variables—as long as you do it in a way that’s science-based. Just remember, when it comes to designing a smart workout, no one technique is the Holy Grail.

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Tactical Bodyweight Workouts is based on the teachings of tactical strength and conditioning coach, Joseph Arangio, MS, CSCS.