A major part of how you react to weight training comes down to the genetics that you were handed down by your parents. You could have two people following the exactly same training plan and getting different results. Even when all the variables of diet, rest, stress management, and whatnot, would be the same. The results vary even between siblings.
Have you ever thought if you got given a set of genetics suited for weight training? You know who you are. I’m one too. We react poorly to training stimulus and might get injured easily when following a more mainstream fitness advice of “do more!”.
There are of course other factors that contribute to getting results in strength training. Again due to genetics some people are more prone to injury which makes their training start/stop process of never getting anywhere.
This could be things like being extremely hypermobile (a lot of mobility that is not well controlled), poor motor control (coordination etc). Both which can be improved, or at least controlled by the right training.
Then there are lifestyle habits that are simple (but not easy) to control such as stress management, sleep habits and diet.
What can you do to get better results
You shouldn’t throw in the ol’ “no point to train since I am never getting anywhere” sympathy-towel. Shitty hand of training genetics is not an excuse to not train and look after your health. You can still get amazing results. But you might have to reset the expectations that you have.
If you have an abundance of time to eat well and recover, you can get away with more than a person who juggles work, family, training, barbeques, and aunt Judy’s birthdays. But, most of you reading this have more in life to focus on than just training. And that’s awesome.
There’s no point crying over Vegemite toast that’s already on the ground stuck to the floor, covered in dust. And cat hair. Some of us were not born to lift weights like few yoked motherfuckers you see in gyms. And the quicker you come to terms with that the better your training progress will be.
The best you can do is focus on the things that are within your control. Pour your efforts into improving sleep, stress and diet.
And when it comes to training maybe you could you get more results by doing less. Especially if you are often left feeling achy, sore and tired after your training session. Maybe you could reduce your risk of an injury and unnecessary ache by looking outside of the typical fitness advice box filled with words and slogans such as “hardcore”, “no pain no gain”, “sweat is weakness leaving the body”, and “astronauts never skip bench press”.
Instead of always chasing fatigue, exhaustion and grinding out reps, what if we’d find a smart way to go about it. A way that would focus on the long term progress while keeping you safe and less likely to get injured.
Stop at 80%
This might be the best of them all. The hardest part of following the 80% rule is not that it’s complicated but the fact that you need to have a long term focus on your training. The progress will be a bit slower than when training closer to failure more often.
For us genetically challenged it moves us forward in the long run and keep us away from grinding repetitions. Which is more likely to keep us injury free. Frequent training to failure has a tendency to get us achy and sore and possibly injured. And injury means that we are going to be sidelined from training.
How it works is so simple that you are forgiven for thinking it doesn’t work: if you have a weight that you can lift for 12 reps, stop at 9-10. If you can get 10, stop at 8. If you can get 8, stop at 6. And so on… You will still get stronger over time.
The other great part about the 80% rule is that it forces you to be in the moment when lifting. Instead of mindlessly just pumping through sets until you’re tired.
No more than 1-2 hard sets per exercise
If you are new to training, this is going to sound confusing.
Don’t pump out the reps just for the sake of adding more volume to your sessions. Rather, make the sets that you have count. You could even use intra-workout warm up sets to build up the resistance and go to 90% with the last sets. Meaning that you will stop when you feel like you have about a rep left in you.
If your program says 3 sets of 8, use the first two sets to ramp up the weight and go to town on the last set. You might even do the first two ramp up sets as 6 reps to save as much energy as possible for the least set.
If you can kettlebell front squat 48kg by 8 repetitions with a solid form, you could do:
32kg x 6 reps, 40kg x 6 reps, 48kg x 8 reps. If you feel good after the 3rd set, do a 4th with the same weight. If you feel exceptionally great try upping the weight. And if you feel like ratshit, well, stop.
For those new to training, it’s good to get the 3 sets of 8 reps done with a good form using a weight that’s challenging but not too heavy. Getting some quality reps with an exercise will help your form and just getting you confident with the movement. And when starting out, pretty much anything works for a while.
2-3 sessions of weights a week is probably better for you than 4
You know when you’ve taken an extra day or two off training and you feel stronger. The chin ups don’t feel as heavy, the lunges that you struggled with feel like you’re doing the moonwalk. “Hee hee!”
You don’t make progress when you train, but when you rest. The muscle is “broken” in the gym and repaired at home. Training hard is good, but too much of it doesn’t allow the body to repair itself.
Of course, there are always exceptions to these rules. Just don’t make the exceptions the rules. If you’re an astronaut, sometimes it’s ok to skip the bench and do some space squats instead.
If you want to geek-out on genetics and how they play part in your training, I recommend this article at Stronger by Science.