Upping Your Trainability

Every weight lifter knows after a while progress stalls. It’s due to the biological law of accommodation which states “the response of a biological object to a constant stimulus decreases over time.” It means the body adapts, and what was once perceived as challenging is now part of the normal way of doing things. Interestingly, accommodation happens at the cellular level of the body and can be triggered in any number of biochemical processes. For example, when the body continually senses excess glucose in the tissues, it accommodates and stops removing the excess glucose which leads to Type 2 diabetes. If you consume prescription thyroid medication, over time the body adjusts and stops producing its own T3/4 hormones. Likewise, if you’ve been doing the same weightlifting exercises for several months and stop making gains, it’s a sign that your muscles have accommodated. So, how do you avoid accommodation and continue to make progress? Variation. I don’t mean switching exercises. Although that works. I mean introducing new ways to create muscle tension/fatigue that align with your unique strength profile. Just a few of the right changes, every 2-3 weeks can keep your trainability and motivation high making room for muscle gains for many years to come.

Accommodation…Every Weight Lifter’s Nightmare

Weight lifters hate accommodation because it means the body has fully adapted to a certain type of training. The 3 ways the body accommodates are:

Simply stated, the closer you get to being accommodated, the LESS trainability you have. The less trainability you have, the less room for progress and/or the SLOWER progress will be. Ever felt stuck in a performance plateau or lost your motivation to train? It might be due to accommodation.

Variation…Not Novelty

Once your body adjusts to a new demand placed upon it, things that used to work, simply don’t. That’s when weight lifters get creative with programming and change things. But you have to know what to change to keep your trainability high. First, let’s review the not so effective ways.

Variation is a “Finesse” Strategy

Truth be told, most people don’t know how to use variation in a way that keeps them in the “muscle zone.” You know what I mean, right? That sweet spot during a workout when you stop chasing more weight or more sets/reps and are completely focused on doing exactly what your body needs to turn protein synthesis on, stimulate growth factors and produce the right amount of muscle fatigue/tears to signal improvement. Whenever you stop counting reps and can “feel” your body responding to the work you’re doing … even if you’re just working with your bodyweight, you’re in the “muscle zone.” But working in the zone requires a decent knowledge of how your body works and responds to exercise. Some good tips:

Tip #1 – Stay With the Main Lifts (aka Squat, Deadlift, Bench Press, Overhead Press) – Think of the main lifts as movement training…skills that need regular practice. Even if you are using dumbbells instead of a barbell, always include them in your programs as these methods build up and support your movement foundation.

Tip #2 – Keep Your Muscle Building Switch “On” – When it comes to building strength and muscle, there are 3 variables that have the biggest impact on the body:

First thing to know is you can’t have all 3 elevated at the same time. Why? It stresses the body, spiking cortisol and turning off protein synthesis and muscle growth. So, the rule is to pick 2 and go lower on the 3rd. For mature adults, I recommend increasing frequency first. (For example, it’s much better to do 30 minutes/6x a week than 1 hour/3x a week from a muscle building perspective). Then, vary volume or intensity as you build up your work capacity.

Tip #3: Align Assistance Work With Your Unique Strength Profile – Assistance or isolation work is used to build up specific muscles or muscle groups. These methods are easier to learn and involve shorter muscle chains which means people accommodate to resistance work faster. It also means you can change these exercises more frequently.  But not all changes are equally beneficial to ALL bodies. According to strength coach and author Christian Thibaudeau, the trick is to ONLY change components (aka equipment, methods, sequence, rep scheme, rest intervals, etc.) that align with each person’s strength profile. Over his many years of training world-class athletes and adults alike, he’s identified 5 basic strength types which correspond to whether a person is more nervous system vs. muscular system dominant or some combination of the two. Briefly, they are:

Also, according to Coach Thibaudeau, these profiles have an affinity to motivation. For example, if you are engaging in a type of training that leaves you feeling under-developed, drained…even demotivated, you’re likely doing methods that are not aligned to your strength profile type.

Key Takeaways

To sum it up, purposeful change is good. But you need to learn how to vary the right things at the right time in your program to ensure you stay in the “muscle zone” while giving your body adequate time to adapt and grow (aka to progress). That means doing 3 things:

That’s the key to using variation effectively.  Hope you’re fired up to take your training to the next level.  And as always, seek strength!