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  • Notes from the programming podcast

    Please discuss the content in another thread, so that I can post it into multiple comments in sequence. The character limit doesn't allow me to put it into a single comment.

    Disclaimer: This is not a transcript, just my notes. While I did copy some sentences verbatim, I paraphrased many others. I might have misinterpreted what was being said, and in some cases I did not quite understand the argument (I left a note in those parts).

    Part 1: Why harder does not equal better

    Stress is a phenomenon that results in a decreased level of performance. That decrease can be very transient - it can last minutes, hours, days. For example, when you do one rep at RPE 8 (meaning that you leave 2 reps in the tank), for some amount of time you will be unable to repeat that at the same RPE. But a couple minutes later you might be able to.

    Stress can be productive or non-productive. Productive stress is any training stress that creates the desired outcomes. From a strength training perspective, it would improve either hypertrophy (the cross sectional area of a muscle) or increase strength trough some other means, like skill improvement, neuromuscular improvement, etc. Stronger, bigger, or both.

    Non-productive stress is by definition one that doesn't contribute to the desired outcomes. This depends on what the goal is - if you want endurance and your training doesn't produce improved endurance, that is non-productive stress because it's non-specific to your sport. There is a lot of training you could do that doesn't improve your performance in your sport specifically. An example of non-productive stress would be lighting yourself on fire - it's very stressful, but doesn't improve your performance. As a more salient example, if you do a very heavy, bone-on-bone 5 sets of 5 effort, it might not contribute to your 1RM as well as different type of rep, set or intensity scheme.

    Similar to the spectrum of specificity, there is a spectrum of productiveness of stress. This also depends on individual response to training variables, training history, expectations and psychology, etc. Not all stress is as productive as another stress. There are differences in how the human organism responds to certain kinds of stress even if they are rather similar. An example would be a 5RM (which is 86% of a 1RM) and a set of 5 at 80% - the 5RM is more stressful, but it's not necessarily a productive stress. And if it's not productive, what is the point of exposing yourself to that? Harder isn't always better, heavier isn't always better, but by the same token, lighter isn't always better either - it's nuanced.

    Sensitivity vs resistance

    A concept most people will be familiar with is insulin resistance, when your cells don't respond quite as well to a given concentration of insulin and so you need a higher amount of insulin to overcome that resistance. This is what ends up happening in conditions like type 2 diabetes, when you need to be given exogenous insulin, or be given treatment that artificially sensitises you to insulin, which will make you more sensitive to the insulin you already have.

    Sensitivity and resistance talks about the robustness of the physiologic response to a given stimulus. If we have two people, one who is very lean and metabolically healthy, the other who is an end-stage type 2 diabetic, then the first person's cells will respond very robustly to a small dose of insulin, but the next person's cells will not respond to that dose of insulin and will need either artificial means of sensitising them or a much higher dose of insulin.

    As another analogy, if you walk into a room and somebody is wearing way too much perfume, then all you can smell is the perfume. You are very sensitive to the perfume at that point, because you haven't smelled it before and it's new. However, 20 minutes later, you stop smelling it, because you de-sensitised yourself to it. That's like developing insulin resistance in a very short period of time. The only way you can smell the perfume again is either adding more perfume or leaving the room to smell something different (which would re-sensitise you to the perfume) and then coming back.

    If you're seeing a new exercise or a new rep/set scheme for the first time, it can be very stressful, meaning that it will cause a more prolonged and robust dip in performance. However, it doesn't mean that it has to be really hard, it can be something that you have never seen before. It is a physiologic stressor insofar as it provokes a physiologic response. You should divorce the ideas of something being hard vs something being stressful.

    The first time you exposed to something, it is very stressful. The next time it's less stressful. This is an example of the repeated bout effect (your ability to better tolerate a given stimulus). The second time, it is easier to recover from than the first time, regardless of whether the weight is heavier - this is because the exercise and rep/set scheme is not new anymore and your performance is better. The relative loading might be the same, but now you're better at tolerating that stress, meaning that the same sort of input is less stressful. At some point, if you keep repeating the same workouts, even with more weight, you're not imparting enough stress to drive the stress-recovery-adaptation. If the workouts stay the same over time, they cause a smaller disruption of homeostasis and you get a smaller adaptation. You need to re-sensitise yourself to the stress - you can add more perfume to the room (add more stress, usually by adding more volume), or you could leave the room to smell something different (exercise variation or novel changes to the rep/set scheme). If all you've ever done is fahves, and you switch to sets of tens, that's a new stress for you, even if the exercises stay the same, and you'll be more sore and get a longer dip in performance.

    During SSLP, when you do a reset and take 10% off the bar, you get a small de-training effect which re-sensitises you to the training stress. This will work for a couple weeks, but the main reason that the program stopped working is that you've been seeing the same exercises, the same sets and reps, the same relative intensity for weeks and you've become really good at tolerating it. The stress is not enough to drive the adaptation. This does NOT mean that the workout is not hard. Being on fire is also very hard, it's just not useful.

    Recovery and adaptation

    In contrast to stress, which caused a decrease in performance for some time period, recovery is when your performance returns to the baseline level it was at prior to the stress. This may take minutes, hours, days, or weeks. If you're doing sets across, you have an intra-workout stress that you recover from to perform the next set. Stress is dynamic, in that it can have an effect for a variable length of time, which is also impacted by how sensitive you are to that stressor. The organism is constantly responding to the stressor and is constantly in a state of recovery as well. We sometimes give recovery discrete time periods when discussing things, but that's not really how the body works - it's constantly responding to the composite of stressors that it's receiving and recovering from them and it doesn't see a calendar. Having discrete periods of time where you're expecting a stress-recovery-adaptation to occur in full is a faulty way of looking at programming.

    An overload event is effectively a productive stress that's been applied to a person and that's been recovered from and subsequently adapted to. However, there is no discrete overload event you could measure and put on a calendar. You can't say that if you're a "novice" then your overload event is one day and you can adapt 48 hours later, because every training session you're accumulating stress that has not been completely recovered and adapted to. You never completely realize the totality of all the stress and recovery in one single adaptation until much later. The last few sessions of a successful novice progression is effectively the summation of accumulated training stress.

    The decay of certain physical adaptations is faster for a novice than somebody who has been training for a longer amount of time. If a novice stops training, he won't suddenly get so much stronger from all that previously accumulated stress - he hasn't been training long enough to have enough of accumulated stress to peak. It's more likely that the novice's strength will decay, whereas somebody who has been training longer and has a bigger base of stress built up will likely peak and get stronger after a week of lighter training.
    Last edited by WhatCouldGoWrong; 08-20-2018, 02:39 PM.

  • #2
    Fatigue and measuring recovery

    Fatigue is the summation of the stressors that you're dealing with at a given time. It can be broken down into performance fatigability, which refers to the decrease in performance after a stressor, and perceived fatigability, which is more subjective - your wakefulness, mood, motivation, etc. Perceptions aren't a perfect predictor of performance, sometimes you will still have good performance under the bar even when you are feeling tired, which has to do with the performance fatigability side of the equation.

    How can you measure recovery? One idea is measuring heart rate variability, which has some evidence in endurance sports. It refers to the variability of the time between heartbeats, assuming you have a normal sinus rhythm of the heart. You have both parasympathetic and sympathetic inputs to your heart rate. The first one is the rest and digest (?), slowing down your heart, provided by the vagus nerve. The sympathetic input is the flight-or-fight aspect of the nervous system, that will dump adrenaline and noradrenaline into the heart when you get scared to make it beat faster. The idea is, the more recovered you are, the more input from the vagus nerve you get to the heart and this input is more variable, meaning that you will get more significant undulations in your resting heart rate. However, it's usually used to adjust the training on a day to day basis, which is too myopic. It's likely less useful than has been advertised. If your gadget shows you that according to your heart rate, you're only 60% recovered, while you have otherwise been feeling fine, it's likely to have a negative effect on your training session and the information is acting as a nocebo, increasing your perceived fatigability. It is not recommended to use any wearable tech. Almost everybody has had the experience of going to the gym tired or hung over and doing a PR, or alternatively feeling great yet underperforming. If even your own body's perception of fatigue is this unreliable, the gadget is likely to be even less useful.

    Work capacity

    Your recovery capacity, or your fatigue tolerance, goes up as you become more trained. The more of an advanced lifter you are, the more fatigue you can tolerate without seeing such a large drop in performance. The repeated bout effect is your ability to better tolerate a given stimulus. In this case, it's the tolerance of a series of stimuli without becoming as fatigued - your work capacity is increased. Training is less of a stress than it once was to you, which is one of the reasons why you need to accumulate more stress over time. This can change if your training input changes - if you start training less, if your volume goes down, if you do anything that decreases the stress, then you become more fatigable, your tolerance goes down, but you may perform better for a short period of time (peaking). This would hopefully be on meet day. As an aside, the taper periods people use for peaking are often far too long, because your work capacity and ability to tolerate training decay pretty fast (note: I don't completely understand this argument).

    Increasing your work capacity and tolerance of fatigue is essential for long-term training to be productive. You need to be able to handle increased stress to continue to make progress. The longer you fail at increasing somebody's work capacity, the more you are delaying their progress. This is one of the issues with "running out" the LP or programs like Old man's Texas method (which has a nocebo right in the title btw) is that they don't address the lack of work capacity, which the trainee needs for long-term development. People argue this with "They're not even lifting that much weight, and you want them to do more volume?", but don't we always say that the weight on the bar doesn't determine the advancement level of a lifter? A second argument used is "Are you saying that a person with an average response to training needs more volume than a somebody with a super-great response?", which is exactly what we are saying. If you're a male between 25 and 40 years old and you end your novice LP with a squat between 240-300 pounds, you're average. That doesn't mean you'll always be average (Austin ended his novice LP with a 285 squat for a set of five, though his response to later training was pretty robust). The LP is a good way to start - get the habit of going to the gym, learning the movements, refining the technique, etc. But once you stop responding to that, you need to develop your work capacity. If you say you've been on the novice LP for 6 haven't, and you need a coach, or a different coach.

    As previously mentioned, discrete overload events don't actually exist due to the nature of physiology. The assessment of how much stress you are applying to the lifter as a coach has to be measured by objective improvements. You can't change the goal post, and at one point say that the overload event is a day, and later say that it's a week, because stress-recover-adaptation is always occurring (note: I don't understand what is being said here - what exactly is being measured?). If you want to compare programs, you have to use some standardized time-frame, and you can't change it. Just like you can't compare a set of 5 at one weight, to a set of 3 at another weight, then to a single.

    Adaptation and specificity

    The SAID (Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands) principle is a that your body will adapt in a way that is specific to the stress that was applied to it. If you go suntanning and you lie face down, you will not get a tan on your belly, but on your back. The measurement of the specific training outcome is important - you wouldn't want to measure something that doesn't actually tell you what you're trying to find out. If your heavy set of five is going up weekly, it is not enough to tell you that you are getting stronger. If you squat 330 pounds one week and 335 next week, but the second week is much harder, it's not possible to tell whether you actually improved. You need some sort of qualitative assessment to tell you whether those efforts are equal or different. Additionally, if your goal is an increased 1RM, increasing your 5RM is not necessarily going to achieve that, since you might be just improving your skill at doing 5RM efforts.

    What we like post-novice lifters to do is a single rep at RPE 8 (basically 1 rep at their 3RM weight), which is a good proxy for what their current performance level is like and how they are adapting to the training. The single rep is a pretty sensitive and specific measurement of the 1RM improvement, but also has the benefit of being sub-maximal so that it doesn't apply a ton of non-productive stress. A 3RM is significantly more stressful than a single at RPE 8, and all it would tell you is how your 3RM is trending. You now have a quantitative input, which is the weight, and a qualitative input, which is the RPE.

    We also like using estimated 1RMs, which have the benefit of going off a sub-maximal value. Sub-maximal training, typically in the 70-80% intensity range, is better at improving your 1RM than maximal training. You can do sub-maximal sets, say sets of 6 at RPE 8, and calculate your estimated 1RM, which you can then track across different exercises and be able to tell if you are making progress. It's not as sensitive and specific as a single at RPE 8 of the competition lift, but it's pretty close. However, it might be more specific than measuring a 1RM - if at week one of a program you squatted 560 pounds for a set of four and at week twelve you did 628 for a single, it's not possible to tell whether you actually got stronger. You'd be changing the goal post (4 reps vs one) and there is no qualitative input there. Doing 560 at RPE 10 for four reps works out to 628 at RPE 10 for a single, so what did you do in those 12 weeks?

    You could use other things instead of RPE, for example bar speed, reps in reserve (which is kind of a proxy to RPE), the Baraki eye scale...

    As an aside, overtraining in the context of resistance training is not something to worry about. There are no data to suggest that it happens with any regularity. There are two studies on this topic. In one they took 17 people, which they made to squat in a squat machine daily for two weeks. Eleven of those people did 10 singles at 1RM (daily!), the rest did 50% of their 1RM. Their cortisol levels did not go up, their testosterone levels did not go down, they had no neuro-endocrine response (which would be a classic sign of overtraining if it was present). The interesting thing is that almost nobody got better. What it shows is that training maximally all the time doesn't necessarily improve your 1RM.


    • #3
      Practical example

      Let's say we are using the novice LP on two people who are widely different in their level of training sensitivity and their adaptability - the rate at which they will adapt to the stress. The first one is going to be an old, vegan female and the second one will be a male teenager who is gaining weight. The young male is more sensitive to training than the old female, meaning that for every dose of stress (the three sets of five) he will get a larger improvement in strength and his muscle cross-sectional area and his ability to tolerate the stress. Since the male is so sensitive, he may be able to run the novice LP for a longer period of time.

      Things that make your sensitivity to training higher: being male, younger, having a certain genotype that makes you more explosive and athletic, broad shoulders, naturally carrying a lot of lean body mass, narrower waist, previous sport activity. If you've been doing sports, your sensitivity will be higher - you will have a great base of activity and motor patterns and a higher amount of nuclei in your muscle cells. This is why you will hear about people who will end their LP with a deadlift of 405 for a set of 5 - they were the ideal person to run this program, but that doesn't mean that everybody needs to grind trough their LP to hit those numbers.

      The older, vegan female who was previously sedentary is super resistant to training (doesn't get much of a response), and also doesn't have any basis of training. And while that 3x5 might even be too much stress at the start, she has to eventually get there and to an even higher volume of training to keep getting a response. Similarly, older people have a higher resistance to protein, and the way to deal with that is to increase the dose of protein. The younger male might be able to get away with eating 10g of protein per meal and get a nice robust muscle-protein synthesis response. The older person might need 30-40g of protein per meal to get the same response. Older people are generally more anabolically resistant, both to protein and to resistance training. Again, we are not talking about whether the training stress is hard, we are talking about whether the stress is enough to disturb homeostasis and cause an adaptation. The older person needs to overcome their resistance by using a higher dose or be sensitised to training in some other way (e.g. anabolic steroids).

      To overcome the training resistance of the old female, you could have her stop being a vegan, have her train for a substantial amount of time (which would improve her work capacity enough so that she could add more stress to overcome the resistance), and give her more training stress relative to the younger person. This doesn't mean that she should be doing sets at maximum intensity. Having older people do one heavy set of 5 and less volume is just wrong - you're not developing their work capacity and you're giving them less productive stress. Instead she should do a lot more sets at a substantially lower weight. The 70-80% range is the money range for training intensity, but it probably shifts to 65-75% for older people, or even lower.

      People worry that using lower intensities will have them detrain, since it's not heavy. This depends on what physical characteristic you think will detrain. Work capacity will definitely not get worse, because more training improves work capacity. If you're talking about strength as in the production of force against an external resistance, why would their ability to produce force get detrained while producing force in a useful intensity range?

      Developing their ability to tolerate enough training will save the old trainee's life. Every medical pathology that can be addressed via resistance training has a volume threshold. Does resistance training help high blood pressure? Yes, but there is a volume threshold that you have to overcome to get that response. Same for obesity, diabetes, etc. Training more is better.

      It would bend the laws of physiology if giving a lower dose of stress to an anabolically resistant trainee produced a better response.

      People aren't robots and when you expect people to function like robots under the bar, they end up breaking. They get burned out when they get the idea that they have to train as little as possible, for as long as possible, and as heavy as possible, all the time. That paradigm is just patently wrong and not evidence based.

      Improving recovery

      How to improve recovery? Austin trains 4 days a week with a lot of volume while working a very demanding job. How does he recover? He can tolerate his current amount of training because he build up to it over time. As his work capacity improved, his ability to tolerate training improved. Another reason is that the lower intensity allows him to use more volume, which is one of the main reasons not to do super high intensity work, since it doesn't allow you to accumulate enough volume to sufficiently increase training stress. Austin hasn't done a 10/10 grinder in training or failed a rep in years.

      Also, foam rolling won't improve your recovery. It doesn't apply enough pressure to release adhesions, plus the adhesions don't really exist. Foam rolling and massage, while they do improve things like blood flow to the skin and make you feel good, only improve perceived fatigability, not performance fatigability. The problem is, the proponents of these methods make claims about how it improves performance fatigability. Even if you use them only to improve your perceived fatigability, if you become reliant on these methods you can nocebo yourself when you skip a massage session.

      Things that don't improve your recovery: foam rolling, massage, hyperbaric oxygen chamber, voodoo bands, e-stem, ice baths.

      Things that do improve your recovery: training more (with the appropriate training methods), sleeping more (make sure you don't have sleep apnea), eating enough food to support your goals, taking a ton of drugs.

      (to be continued)


      • #4
        Part 2: Why running it out and getting fat is a bad idea

        Training categorization

        The trainee categorization was introduced in Practical Programming by Mark Rippetoe. He categorized people into novices, intermediates and advanced lifters. This model was very useful at the time, but the problem with it is that it doesn't really affect management of trainees from a coaching standpoint. The novice category is very useful, but if somebody tells you that they are intermediate or advanced, as a coach you can't really do much with only that information. If it doesn't affect management, it's not useful. It becomes even less useful as people start creating categories like early or late intermediate. What exactly does it mean that you are late intermediate? By the original definition it should mean that the trainee can get objective strength increases once per week after some stress is applied, but it doesn't say how much stress, which can vary wildly between trainees. We need more specific determinants of the training level - things that would ultimately affect your coaching.

        There is a very large inter-individual variability in response to even standardized training interventions. If you take a large group of people and subject them to the same training, there will be a large spectrum of responses - some will gain no strength, some will gain a massive amount of strength (same for hypertrophy, endurance, etc). It doesn't work every time, all the time. There is literally no intervention that can be done on human physiology that results in the exact same, consistent, and predictable response across individuals - there is no medicine or treatment that works like that.

        We agree with the Rippetoe definition of a novice - a trainee who can add weight to the bar every time they train, for the same amount of sets and reps and the same qualitative effort. The last condition about the qualitative effort is a modification to the original definition, since if you add weight but it's significantly harder this time, it's not possible to tell if you got any stronger. However, the intermediate and advanced categorization is not very useful, because both an IPF competitor and a lifter who has been training for less than a year could be considered advanced lifters, as they have both stopped making weekly progress. The Russian classification based on the trainee's total is also not very useful, because an athlete who is super-responsive to training could have a huge total but still be intermediate. Ideally we'd have some categories of post-novice trainees that would help us make decisions about their training.

        The training sensitivity spectrum

        The post-novice spectrum (can be applied to novices too) relates to people's sensitivity to training. The sensitivity of training is the degree of improvement you see from a given training intervention. If you got very good results from the SSLP, you are sensitive to training. As you see the same stress over and over again, you become less sensitive to that stress, due to the repeated bout effect (you get better at tolerating a stress that you've seen before). However, some trainees will acclimate less to that stress over time and therefore be able to run the same program for a longer period of time. This explains people who have been able to correctly run the SSLP for 6 months and get great results - they are outliers and very sensitive to training. On average, the SSLP will last for 9-12 weeks and gets your squat to the upper 200's if you're male. A person who didn't get good results is considered anabolically resistant, which means they will get a smaller effect from the same input than the sensitive person.

        All trainees start at some degree of sensitivity and as they keep seeing the same stress, they become more resistant to it. In order to get a continued effect, they have to increase the dose.

        Things indicative of a person starting out as very training sensitive: high amounts of lean body mass and strength without training, broad shoulders, narrow hips, high vertical jump. Those who have detrained after a layoff will also be very sensitive in the beginning, because they have re-sensitised themself to training. You can also artificially sensitise yourself to training by using anabolic steroids. People sensitive to training will get further on a lower dose of stress and with simpler programming. There are people who have done their competition lift only once a week or month and got to world record levels of performance, due to favorable genetics and extreme training sensitivity thanks to the use of anabolic steroids. Anybody who is performing at the elite level has by definition already proven themselves an outlier as far as training sensitivity goes. We're not saying they didn't work hard, but there is always going to be a bell curve. If you are on the far end of the sensitivity spectrum and are therefore training resistant, their program is not likely to work for you.

        On the opposite side of the sensitivity spectrum are the training resistant people: more advanced trainees, people with genetic predispositions to have poor responses to training (often called non-responders, who need higher doses of training to overcome this), people with wider hips, narrow shoulders, chronic medical conditions, low testosterone.

        Lower training stress and simpler programs won't work as long for resistant people. This is similar to the responsiveness to protein - if you give a young person 20g of whey in a meal, they are going to almost maximise their muscle-protein synthesis, but the same dose for an older person is not going to get any response at all. But if you double the dose they get the same magnitude of response as the younger person. The current thinking seems to be that the training resistant people need less stress, but this is the exact opposite of what needs to be done. The solution is not to recover more, because recovery is not the problem.
        Last edited by WhatCouldGoWrong; 08-21-2018, 05:56 PM.


        • #5
          Changes from novice to post-novice

          Novices who just started to train will be the most sensitive to training than they will ever be. However, their recovery rate will be very low, since they haven't seen that stress before and their repeated bout effect has not been trained. Three months into their training (let's say SSLP), their recovery rate will be higher and their sensitivity lower.

          If you're very pale and go suntanning, you are very sensitive to this stress at first. If you went out for 2 hours, you'd get burned, because you're so sensitive and your recovery rate is low. So you start by tanning 20 minutes, which you are able to recover from, and you gradually increase it over time. At some point you will get very tanned, you will be very resistant to the effects of the sun and your recovery rate will be much higher too. Now you will need even more exposure. Taking more days off from tanning would not help you get even more tanned, because recovery isn't your problem. You can increase your stress either by increasing the volume (time spent tanning) or the intensity (move to the equator). If you try to increase the intensity, there will be an upper limit of how much a human can tolerate at all. There is a range of intensity that is useful (discussed in part 3 of the podcast).


          Why does the SSLP work? It provides a sufficient amount of training volume at a useful relative intensity for that individual over the time that it's working. This is the same driving principle that makes every other program in existence work, for anybody at any stage of training. Physiology doesn't at some point magically switch from being intensity dependent when you're a novice to being volume dependent when you're an intermediate. If intensity was the driving factor in SSLP and we wanted to use the simplest minimum dose of training, why would we do 3 sets of the squat? You could just do one heavy single and the intensity from that single should be enough to drive progress. As you add weight to the bar, your absolute intensity goes up. If absolute intensity is what drives progress, your progress should accelerate with time. This is not what we observe.

          Relative intensity is a % of your 1RM. If you are able to add weight to the bar next time and lift it at the same RPE, your relative intensity stayed the same, because your 1RM increased. Increasing the weight on the bar may not actually be causing more stress, because the relative intensity stayed the same. It's actually less stressful than last time, since you've seen that workout before. At some point it will not cause enough stress to drive the adaptation, even though you increased the weight on the bar, and then your LP is over. You don't need to recover more between sessions, the problem is that you're not getting enough stress, plus you now need a longer realization period, because it's going to take more sessions to accumulate that stress.

          People tend to conflate the idea of the training being hard with the amount of stress imparted. We recognize that at the end of SSLP, the training is very, very hard. However, this does not mean you are causing a high amount of physiological stress. If the stress from these extremely hard sessions was very high, you should be getting a substantial disruption of homeostasis, and eventually you'd recover from it and get very good performance. If it actually worked like that, then when at some point it gets so hard that you can't do it anymore, the simplest thing you could do would be to add a rest day. This might actually work for one or two more sessions. Then it won't work anymore, and you might be thinking that the stress is so big that you need yet another rest day. And now you're taking 3 rest days between sessions...and it won't work, you won't be able to finish your reps, because in reality you won't be getting enough stress to drive the adaptation. The less you train, the less stress you are imparting on yourself. If you start taking 2 days off, 3 days off, then 4 days off, your weekly training stress is going down. This is the case regardless of hand-waving about how long you think your overload period is.

          If you observe this sort of program working, it is likely not working for the reasons you think it is working. You might also be applying it to somebody who is sensitive to training and will have a robust response to whatever you throw at them. The underlying reasons of why the program is working is not just semantics because it guides what you do when it stops working. If you use the paradigm that your results are mainly recovery dependent, you might try to out-recover your training. It would be nice if you could just train less and eat more and keep making PRs, but that's not how it works.


          The cool thing about the sensitivity spectrum is that you can plot every single trainee on this spectrum. This means both males and females are on the same spectrum, and there is a significant overlap between them. There are highly athletic females that will respond better to training than some males. Instead of switching women from doing 3x5 to 5x3, it might make more sense to have all the training resistant people do that, regardless of whether they are male or female, since there are women who are more on the training sensitive side of the spectrum and men who are training resistant.

          Programs that "always" work

          If you create a program and claim that it's optimal for everybody, every time, and somebody who is training resistant fails to have success on it, it places implicit blame on the individual for failing to respond to the program. People keep spinning their wheels and resetting on the SSLP because they think they didn't achieve good enough numbers to be done with the novice program. Yet the underlying problem is that the program eventually stopped providing enough stress for them.

          Improving training sensitivity

          Things that improve sensitivity: anabolic steroids, being in a caloric surplus, supplements - e.g. creatine (increases the amount of muscle-protein synthesis), beta-alanine, caffeine (allows performance to go up and RPE to go down), etc. If you have any chronic condition, then getting that under control would help. People with chronic inflammation might benefit from NSAIDs.

          Things that decrease your sensitivity: smoking, drinking, certain medications that are myotoxins, huge amounts of psychological stress. Visceral adipose tissue releases hormones that negatively affect your muscle-protein synthesis, so if your waist is approaching the danger zone (40 inches for males), gaining weight on the novice program might set you back in terms of sensitivity. Gaining muscle improves your strength results, but as you are becoming less sensitive to the training it becomes harder to gain muscle and your weight gain is going to skew more and more towards fat gain. Gaining more fat will make you more resistant, and if you reduce your volume at the same time by adding rest days, you're going to start a negative feedback loop.

          Decreasing volume

          When would you decrease somebody's training volume? Well if a competitor asks you to program for him, and you want him to lose, you could have him train less often, do fewer sets, take more rest days, see how much body fat he could gain, do one heavy set only, and run it out. Just joking. But this is actually happening, and people are recommending training resistant lifters to rest more and train less, which is just plain wrong.

          You might start somebody out with a lower amount of stress if that's all they are going to be able to recover from at first, but the goal is to eventually increase that. If people are super sensitive in the beginning, the lower volume might be sufficient, but it needs to be titrated up.