P90X, Muscle Confusion and Somatic Differentiation

“Muscle confusion” is marketed as a new, cool and breakthrough discovery that is the outstanding characteristic of P90X, the fitness routine/method that is currently very popular. I’ve written about this concept before, and it bears repeating.
“Muscle confusion,” is a bit of a misnomer. When you mix up your routine with different kinds of ballistic movements, you’re not actually “confusing” the muscles. You’re “disrupting the circuits in your brain,” and giving the brain new and different feedback and stimulus. Your brain actually teaches them to become smarter through increased sensory feedback. The biggest benefit of this kind of training is increased sensory awareness and motor control.

A more accurate word for “muscle confusion” is “differentiated movement.” This term was coined by Moshe Feldenkrais, creator of the Awareness Through Movement exercises and Functional Integration.  Feldenkrais began to see in his own work how breaking down patterns of movement into little seemingly unrelated sequences brings an almost instantaneous improved coordination and range of motion in the muscular system.

One of the best example of differentiated movement is the somatic exercise called the “seated twist.” It is a profoundly effective exercise for relieving neck and shoulder pain by breaking down all the movements inherent in a full spiral twist of the body.

In this exercise you learn to differentiate the head from the trunk, eyes from the neck and head, upper body from the lower body for increased movement and freedom of restriction of the neck, shoulder girdle and trunk. Increased range of motion and rapid pain relief occurs not through force, but through intelligent sensory integration and re-patterning of muscles that had forgotten how to move properly.

Other examples of differentiation and “muscle confusion” are brushing your teeth with your left hand (if you’re right handed), walking backwards, or running, then stopping to do 5 jumping jacks, then running again. You’re basically distracting the brain from its habitual ways of sensing and moving. Current studies on brain plasticity tell us that “mixing it up” and creating a challenge for your brain helps the brain adapt and grow new synapses. This is what apparently creates the “big results” of P90X.

Somatic Exercises before your workout will create even smoother, more intelligent and coordinated movement.

If you want to take the results touted by P90X to an even higher level, add a short routine of somatic exercises before and after your workout.  Somatic exercises are – for most athletes – complete differentiation. Why? Because these exercises are done SLOWLY – something few athletes, with the exception of dancers, do when preparing to move. What, you may ask, is there to learn from moving slowly if your sport involves ballistic movement?

Slow movement “warms up” the muscles safely as it allows the brain to accurately feel what’s happening in the body. Due to accidents, injuries or over-training, you learn to compensate, thus creating a  difference between your ability to move on one side as compared to the other.  You may find that you’re slightly “out of balance.” Somatic Exercises can correct these problems, in addition to teaching you to eliminate muscle pain.

Any sport or vigorous workout like P90X requires balance, muscle coordination and mastery of specific movement patterns – flexing, extending, side bending, twisting, rotating. The more “body smarts” you have, the less likely you are to get injured from overuse or carelessness. Somatic Exercises are a missing link in athletic training that can help you differentiate yourself into improved coordination, muscle function and movement you never thought you could do.

To buy Martha’s instructional DVDs, click here. Contact Martha to find out about how you can bring her to your area for workshops, clinical sessions and professional trainings in Somatic Education (in the tradition of Thomas Hanna).

2 thoughts on “P90X, Muscle Confusion and Somatic Differentiation

  1. It’s a shame you don’t have a donate button! I’d definitely donate to this superb blog! I guess for now i’ll settle for book-marking and adding your RSS feed to my Google account.
    I look forward to brand new updates and will share this site with my Facebook group.
    Chat soon!

    • Hi Karolyn,

      I just might offer a donation button as an option! I’m so glad you’re gaining education and insight from my blog. My goal is to offer people options for exploring a different perspective on movement and pain relief. If Somatics is really what you’re interested in, don’t forget that I train people both in how to teach the Somatic Exercises properly, but also in the clinical methods. Check out my training page. I travel, so it doesn’t matter where you are. You can organize a group and bring me to your area!

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