"There is no point in training; I'm a low responder."
When it comes to physical activity, some see results a lot faster than others, even if they’re undertaking the same program. These lucky people are high responders.
But being a “low responder” when it comes to a certain type of training program isn’t the end of the world. The spectrum of responsiveness to training is far wider than just high and low responders, as training expert Florian Nock explains.
What are low responders and high responders?
People have individualized responses to training and some progress faster than others. To understand this process, scientists have conducted various studies. According to the results, they determined that people can be classified somewhere on the spectrum of high and low responders to exercise.
The difference? High responders see fast results and seem to move more quickly towards their training goals. At the other end of the spectrum, low responders take a lot longer to see results, no matter how hard they train. They might follow exactly the same program, but don't improve nearly as much.
However, the rate at which you see results isn’t quite so simple and is subject to many other factors.
Intrinsic factors: your genes define how you respond to exercise.
Genetics play a big role in how we respond to training. Scientists have identified at least 15 genes associated with physical performance and muscle-specific traits that predict the potential for the development of power and endurance qualities. These genes regulate several factors such as the size of the muscles and the fiber type composition. This is why some people seem to be more suited to endurance and others to strength training.
Other intrinsic factors that impact how we respond to exercise and see results include our gender, upbringing, age and hormone levels.
Extrinsic factors: breaking the genetic ceiling
While you can't do much about your DNA, there are some extrinsic, non-genetic factors that make a big difference when it comes to progress and body composition and that we can control.
Nutrition, daily routine, stress, and sleep all have a huge impact on how we respond to an exercise program and how our body makeup changes. With proper nutrition and rest, someone considered a low-responder could, in time, turn the tables.
We are all unique: training differently to get different results.
Despite these various factors, the main reason why low responders don’t see results is simply because they’re following the wrong type of training program.
A 2017 study showed that people respond to cardio training in different ways. In terms of improving VO2 max, some subjects saw better results while practicing low intensity aerobic exercise, while others achieved greater improvements with HIIT.
Another study conducted by the Zurich Institute of Physiology in 2017 concluded that one reason why some people do not respond to training is that they simply don’t train enough. While overtraining is definitely something to beware of, some people need more sessions than most to get the same results.
Finally, responsiveness to training also depends on which parameters are measured. For example, following the same resistance training program, some subjects could be seen as "high responders" for strength gains but "low responders" for muscle growth.
Some people respond faster to training than others, that’s a fact. But many different factors come into play when it comes to seeing results from training. If you think you might be a low responder, changing up your training programme and making some lifestyle changes are a great way to start seeing results.