Body anatomy

What happens when muscles don’t grow

Is it something genetic or it depends more on us than we think?

In the world of fitness there is the term of non-responder, meaning a person who, although exercising, has no results in return!

One of the most controversial topics in fitness is why some fail when it comes to exercise. Instead of becoming thinner, more muscular, fitter or healthier, they have a “non-response” to training and have almost no benefit from the effort.

The most accepted answer is that non-respondents have a genetic built that makes exercise have a minimal impact on their physiology.

On the other hand, it has also been suggested that there are non-genetic factors, such as the inability to force oneself or the lack of familiarity of what it means to actually train, which would lead to such poor results. In this theory, non-respondents are seen as people who do not train as intensely as others, hence the lower response in terms of benefits.

Aerobic exercises and non-response people

Lack of results is common when people engage in moderate aerobic exercise, such as what is a standard in general public health recommendations. For example, in the Heritage Family study, one of the first studies to identify non-responders, 15% of participants had no improvement in fitness, despite 5 months of aerobic training.

A more recent study found that nearly 40% of subjects who followed general advice to do 30 minutes of aerobic exercise 5 days a week for 24 weeks were non-responders who had zero benefits.

This study was unique because it also tested the effect of increasing the effort to 75% of the maximum and increased the duration to 40 minutes (it would mean running 8 km in 40 minutes). When the participants thus increased the intensity and duration, absolutely all the participants in the study had noticeable increases in terms of physical condition. There were no non-responders. Researchers believe that two key factors determine the positive effects of training: increase in intensity and duration!


Increasing the intensity and duration at the same time increases the chances that the subjects will not finish the training. There are few who love cardio effort and doing it more intensely and longer does not help.

An alternative is the interval effort, which breaks the intense effort into pieces between which low intensity effort is interspersed. Thus a mental “release” is obtained but the stimuli put on the body are strong. Intensity exercise not only increases fitness more than continuous aerobic exercise, but also has better results in terms of physical appearance.

Weight training

Training with weights is the most powerful tool in combating the phenomenon of non-responders. If a minimum intensity is applied to weight training, non-responders are practically non-existent! A Dutch study showed that when older individuals started weight training, all participants had results. It’s something notable because older people usually suffer from something called “anabolic resistance,” which means they don’t build as much muscle mass as a young person.

The study lasted 24 weeks and what is interesting is that it was seen that the duration of training is a determining factor. Meaning, those who had almost no results in week 12 have recovered and had substantial results until week 24.

It was concluded that there may be people who do not benefit from increases in all parameters following weight training (strength, power, muscle mass, speed, mobility, coordination, etc.) but there is no one who does not benefit from the a few of such factors.

Some studies have reported non-responders to increased muscle mass. But in the same studies there were also hyper-responders, ie people who have greatly increased their muscle mass. The difference is given by the genes, the hyper-responders having activated some hypertrophy genes and the non-responders having them inactive. But they also increased their strength significantly.

Practical tips to succeed in training

It’s clear: the more intensely you train, the less likely you are to be a non-responder. Here’s what you can do to succeed:

1) Strength trainings

Even if the main goal is to look better, do strength training with the idea of ‚Äč‚Äčincreasing your strength and functional muscle mass. The results in terms of physical appearance will come naturally as a result of the intensity of training.

2) Train with heavy weights

It connects to the first point. Lift the weights that are AT LEAST 60% of your maximum strength (the strength with which you can do one correct repetition). Most of the time, the non-respondents in the studies are people who train with weights too light.

3) Train your whole body

Instead of focusing only on isolated muscle groups, train your whole body at each workout, with multi-joint exercises such as squats, deadlifts, overhead press etc. Whole body training allows you to lift harder and increase the metabolic cost of training, almost doubling the burned calories.

4) Do cardiovascular intervals

Not only you will increase your physical condition and make cardio less boring, but your intervals will increase your fat burning, trigger protein synthesis and increase your metabolic hormone levels.

5) Do eccentric workouts

By eccentric I mean the negative part of the exercises, usually lowering weights. For example, at squats you can do an eccentric phase by slowly descending to the ground, which lasts about 6 seconds; as you get down you get up explosively in about a second. Eccentric training is a superior stimulus for muscle mass and strength.

6) Eat more protein

Protein is anabolic in itself, and when combined with resistance training it increases the body’s ability to build muscle mass. Eat at least 1.6 g / kg body weight per day, ideally being 2 g / kg body weight.

7) Take creatine

Creatine is a fast and short-lived source for the muscle. It can increase physical performance. It is especially useful for those who have difficulty responding to training because it increases cellular activity that supports muscle growth.

8) Be consistent

Changes in physical appearance and increased strength are progressive. It doesn’t happen after 1-2 workouts. Progress means having many quality workouts in a row, in which you do similar exercises. It is best to have a predetermined training program where you have a progressive load of the body. Consistency is the key!

9) Be patient

We all want fast results. But the truth is that big changes take time. Successful people are the ones who always come to training and invest their time accordingly. Stay focused! Follow the plan!

10) Put yourself in the skin of a hypersponsive person

We know from placebo studies that you are more likely to win if you really think you will win. You don’t know what your genetic ability is so play each card as if you had a good hand! Strongly believing that exercise will change your body is much more likely to happen this way!

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