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Gyms must recognise the ways in which individuals respond, and programme accordingly


individuals will lie in the middle, clustered around the average, with a small number located at either end with particularly high or low scores. The individuals at either end are known as outliers, and for the majority of research purposes are lumped together with the rest of the population, or in some cases ignored altogether. We spent last summer watching the fantastic sporting exploits of the world’s best outliers – because the majority of Olympic teams are made up of the small percentage of people who possess exactly the right combination of physical and psychological attributes to reach the top. While we’re all aware of the lucky few with outstanding trainability – the ability to respond to and adapt to training – an understanding of those who make little or no adaptation to training has been developed relatively recently.


THE RESEARCH The term ‘non-responder’ was fi rst used by researchers looking into responses to altitude training. Studies reported that, although the majority of VO2


max scores


increased as expected, a small number of subjects made no improvement. A 1998 paper published in the Journal


of Applied Physiology suggested that non- responsiveness could be attributed to a physiological pathway required for the necessary adaptations to take place. The authors suggested that genetic factors could be responsible for the differences noted as a result of this pathway, citing research conducted in 1978 as an explanation. The signifi cance of the latest research, led by professor James Timmons of Loughborough University, is the ability to predict exercise non-responsiveness by taking a cheek swab DNA test.


AEROBIC CAPACITY Prof Timmons explains that, for many of the physiological outcomes derived from regular aerobic training – such as


February 2013 © Cybertrek 2013 RESEARCH SHOWS THE BODY’S


ABILITY TO INCREASE STRENGTH AND MUSCLE SIZE ALSO HAS A GENETIC COMPONENT


increased aerobic capacity, enhanced endurance performance, improved insulin sensitivity and reduced blood pressure – there is a large range of observed improvements. No matter which of these measures are studied, non-responders are readily seen. For some of these variables, such as insulin sensitivity, some studies have found non-response to exceed 20 per cent of the study population. Early attempts to explain individual


differences, and the absence of improvements in VO2


max, suggested


that these were related to programme compliance, or that the programmes themselves were inappropriately devised or supervised. However, Timmons’ studies showed that – despite tailoring exercise intensity to the individual participant, ensuring all sessions were supervised by exercise physiologists, including continuous and interval-style training and ensuring full programme compliance – around 20 per cent of all subjects demonstrated improvements in VO2


max of less than


5 per cent, compared to an average improvement of around 14 per cent.


STRENGTH TRAINING Research also shows that, while some people respond well to strength training, others barely respond. In some studies, certain subjects didn’t respond at all. A 2005 University of Massachusetts study showed that 12 weeks of progressive dynamic exercise resulted in a wide range of responses. The worst


responders actually lost 2 per cent of their muscle size and didn’t get any stronger; the best increased muscle size by 59 per cent and strength by 250 per cent. This isn’t the only study to show such results. Subsequent work at the University of Alabama showed that 16 weeks of progressive resistance training failed to bring about any gains in muscle size in 26 per cent of subjects. Both studies were conducted among healthy subjects, none of whom had undertaken any resistance training recently – ie improvements could realistically have been expected in all participants. It was shown that gains in muscle size


were related to satellite cells surrounding the muscle fi bres. These cells respond to the microtrauma caused by resistance training, helping to regenerate damaged muscle tissue. Those who saw the greatest gains in muscle size had the highest levels of satellite cells, and an enhanced capacity to produce more satellite cells via training. Work by both Dennis (2009) and Timmons (2011) also showed that the ability to respond to resistance training was infl uenced by the presence of certain genes. This body of research shows that the body’s ability to increase strength and muscle size has a genetic component and that, while some hit the genetic jackpot, others are much less fortunate.


BODY COMPOSITION The emergence of an ‘obesity gene’ some years ago highlights the likelihood that a


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