Not Seeing Results? Here’s Our Guide to Making Gains Again
Everyone has gone through a point in their lives where they put the effort in, sometimes a ton of effort. They keep at it over and over, never faltering – but it’s going stale, and nothing is changing. Imagine that you’re in a relationship where things aren’t going so swell. You work hard, maybe even seek professional help to get it sorted out. You want it to last. But it doesn’t. Nothing changes, the relationship stays just as it was.
I’m sure you’re here because you keep trying to get gains at a particular exercise – maybe you’re training for your next marathon, but no matter what you do, you’ve hit a plateau and can’t progress.
Do you want to change that?
Of course, so let’s go over what exactly causes this.
This guide will show you how to get out of the rut and get back into gaining strength and power as a runner.
Table of Contents:
- How to Start Making Gains Again
How to Start Making Gains Again:
Clearly you’ve had some problems with growth, it’s just not working out for you anymore. You’re not alone, this actually happens to many people. There are some factors that actually play a role in this, so if you stick around you’ll learn everything you need to know!
Let’s start off with this: a peer-reviewed study (Inter-Individual Variability in the Adaptive Responses to Endurance and Sprint Interval Training: A Randomized Crossover Study) looking at a group of 21 active adults.
The goal was to compare endurance training and sprint interval training. However, what was found was different than some would expect: performance increase varied based on person, not on training.
Specifically, our results demonstrated that exercise protocols which differ in intensity, time, and metabolic demand, like END and SIT, can induce different adaptive responses in VO2peak, lactate threshold and submaximal HR within a given individual.
On an individual basis, everyone had different gains after undergoing the types of training.
While training elicited significant improvements in all variables at the group level, considerable heterogeneity was observed in the individual responses including a number of non-/adverse-responders.
Some athletes responded quite well, improving at significant amounts. However, some actually didn’t make any gains at all or even lost performance!
So what does this mean for me?
Breaking it Down:
You might be working on your endurance in an attempt to make yourself a faster 10k runner. Obviously, you must lace up your shoes and head out for a long run, right?
Maybe not. Here’s why:
Everyone responds to training differently. You’re focusing on a specific set of muscles and their systems. This makes them strong, resilient, and tough against whatever training you throw at them – but just because those muscles are strong doesn’t mean that you can forget about the others. Think about this: your slow-twitch muscles are being worked constantly, meaning you can run forever.
But does that mean you can run fast?
No. You’ve built up an aerobic system that’s incredibly strong – your slow-twitch muscles are stronger than an ox’s. However, you left out two other muscle groups: the intermediate and fast-twitch muscles. These are needed for your speed. This might surprise you, but even long-distance runners use their fast-twitch muscles.
Well how does that make any sense? Aren’t fast-twitch muscles just for sprinting?
Actually, your fast-twitch muscles provide the most power per stride. If you want to get faster, but your fast-twitch and intermediate muscles can’t sustain or even drive the power needed, you simply won’t be able to run any faster. This is known as a bottleneck.
A bottleneck is essentially a blockage that is stopping anything else from passing through. For example, your power is bottlenecked, which means that you can’t run fast for a long time, despite being able to run for a long time. The reality is that all of your muscle fibers are used during a run – meaning that if some are too weak, you aren’t going to be able to perform at your maximum potential.
However, imbalances aren’t the only factor.
Genetics play a role too – some will just never get the same improvements out of a workout as others will. Look at world-class sprinters. Their genetic disposition is predisposed to favour fast-twitch muscles and their growth. They train hard, but their body gives them the advantage of being a sprinting-machine since birth.
Others, such as Mo Farah, are absolute distance monsters. They can gobble up any volume that you send them without any trouble. Their aerobic system is genetically-advantaged, but that’s not to say that only elite-class runners are at their level because of genetics.
Everyone is genetically predisposed to favour a certain distance: whether it be short distance, mid-distance, or long distance.
Ultrarunners have this mental prowess to simply shut everything off and just run for hours on end. Not everyone can be an ultrarunner, and enjoy it. Similarly, sprinters have such grace and control while pushing so much power at the same time it’s astounding. However, not everyone can be a sprinter.
This can also translate to training. Some bodies react to training with such a sensitivity that growth and performance skyrockets. Others would have the same training do absolutely nothing, even if they push as hard as they can.
Studies Prove Genetics Play a Role.
This 2001 study is the best example (Individual Differences in Response to Regular Physical Activity). Age, sex, and race place little impact on how your body responds to training. Rather, it’s based on genetics, how your body responds to the environment, and how it has developed from the environment.
For example, some people gain weight easily. Others may have problems gaining any weight at all. Another example could be a switch in metabolism from what they’re eating – they used to gain weight easily, but now the scale barely moves anymore.
This is all part of what their body is predisposed to respond with. In summation, do what your body is naturally inclined to do to see the fastest results.
Overtraining Negates Gains.
It’s not only genetics or bottlenecks that can stop your growth – if you’re training too hard, you won’t end up making any gains at all. Remember that your body needs time to repair itself, and by overtraining it can’t do that. “Supercompensation”, the theory that muscle growth is a curve where theres a period of destruction and weakness, then repair which leads to the body overcompensating and actually creating extra muscle tissue.
Looking between the blue and green points, you can see that the graph still hasn’t quite reached equilibrium with the starting point yet. If during that section of time you did another strenuous exercise, you would actually knock your fitness level lower than the lowest point (blue point) on the graph, and your body would have to start the repair cycle all over again, but even lower.
A huge problem that us athletes and bodybuilders face is stagnation. When we realize that we have been stalling in gains, we respond by increasing the workload we do when training. We do this under the assumption that more training = more gains, when we might actually end up faring better if we hold back on our training.
If your training plan is too tough, ease up. You can’t make gains and start seeing results if you push yourself too much!
Finally, nutrition. Everyone needs to consume adequate macro and micronutrients to sustain their body, let alone grow their body. If you want to make gains, you have to ensure that you have enough protein in your diet for your muscles to use for repair. Otherwise, no matter how great your training plan and coaching is, you’ll never be able to get better.
If your shed takes damage from a bad storm, and you want to repair it but lack boards, you simply can’t fix it.
But now I bet you’re wondering what to do with this information. How do I make gains again?
Jumping Out of the Rut:
Take a look at Kristi (@AverageRunnerK), she’s the perfect example of what you should do.
Let’s go over some back-story first,she tells us something that we can really connect with when we began running as well.
I was a late starter to the world of running. At 42 I decided I wanted to see if I could run 3km. Despite being in good health and good weight I quickly discovered that I would need to train to meet my goal. I can still remember how hard it was to run 3km straight.
From there I tried a few 5 and 10k races and was hooked. From there I kept increasing my distances until last year, at the age of 47, I completed my first three 50k races and was a first-time marathon pace bunny at Ottawa Marathon. I am currently only weeks away from my fourth 50k, the Antelope Island Buffalo Run in Utah.
She’s just as human as everyone else, starting from scratch and working her butt off to get to where she is now. Kristi has grown as a runner and has expanded her comfort zone by trying new things, cross-training, and exploring new ways to stay fit and strong.
When I started running I was very linear in my thinking. I just wanted to run on pavement and see the kms add up. But slowly I have learned to change things up and add variety. In the spring in summer I take part in orienteering events on a weekly basis. In winter I do as much snowshoeing as possible. When the snow is gone I keep hitting the trails, trying to increase my speed on technical and uphill terrain. A recent last long run was 14k on snowy trails followed by a quick shoe change and 10k on plowed pavement. This variety is keeping me fresh and I also think helps prevent injury.
I also love to travel and run. Our family trips are now planned around running or orienteering events. I have been very fortunate over the last few years to have run not only in my hometown of Ottawa but also Toronto, New York City, Vancouver, Prague and Philadelphia. The excitement of running in a new city certainly helps encourage me while training!
So what can we take from this?
Workouts to Try:
If you want to spice up your runs and start making those fantastic gains again, you have to experiment and push your body with new situations. Keep in mind it needs to be a healthy mix of easy and hard intensity – otherwise you’ll push yourself too hard and lose gains!
Hills are a high-intensity way to push your body while building tons of strength at the same time. There are so many ways that you can use hills to train as well! Our guide covers all of the benefits of hill training, and you can go far when you supplement your training with hills.
This Swedish workout actually targets both your endurance and speed by combining the two into one workout. With short bouts of fast, race-pace speeds, to periods of gentle, long-run pace speeds, you cover both extremes.
This workout is considered speedwork, so it’s not as gentle as an easy run, but it’s not too intense that these will cause you to burnout.
Fartleks can be quite fun and provide that mental break you need during a hard week. Fartleks in your training plan can help you push all of your systems, allowing you to makes gains, all while giving you mental benefits. Who wouldn’t want that?
Yes, the harsh speedwork everyone is so afraid of.
The reality is this:
Interval training can cause huge growths. In fact, you can even start your training plan around interval training, simply because it’s all about pacing and your goals. Intervals are so fantastic because you can put a lot of work in in a short period of time.
Think about intervals like this:
They’re tough, but short. A lot can be gained in a tiny amount of time.
Whether you’re focusing on sprints, with 100m to 200m intervals, or working on your distance by practicing 800m intervals, there’s a ton of variation to be had. They’re a powerful asset to any training plan.
These types of runs are done at a pace right near the aerobic/anaerobic threshold, where lactic acid will start to build faster than it can be cleared from the system. This is a faster way to push your aerobic systems, but is more demanding and stressful. Having a threshold run weekly or biweekly can help greatly.
There are also less intense runs that can help you with variety:
Easy Runs and Recovery Runs:
These are the runs that generally make up most of your volume. Easy runs are at a pace that are of low-intensity and relaxing, designed to build up your aerobic strength. In order to make gains, sometimes you have to slow down and let your body recover, because all muscle growth occurs after the workout, not during.
A recovery run is an easy-paced, short run that is designed to put your body under active recovery. Blood flow is elevated to help bring nutrients and protein to your muscles, aiding growth and repair.
But don’t let me summarize it all here, read about recovery runs here!
Lastly, you can use cross-training:
This is where you do a workout or activity unrelated to your sport, but the gains from undergoing the activity can cross over to your sport. It doesn’t directly follow the same routine, meaning it rests you from your sport while you still give time to exercise and improve.
For example, swimming is a form of cross-training because it get’s your heart pumping strong, building up your endurance. It takes a lot of cardio to swim for a long period of time, so by swimming you can really amp up your stamina. Cross-training is an excellent tool.
Activities that provide cross-training for runners:
- Bodybuilding (core- and leg-work especially)
Any activity that can push your cardiovascular system will help you become a better runner, and strengthening your core and leg muscles will keep you stable and powerful. As mentioned before, cross-training doesn’t use the same muscle fibers, so you can recover while training – leading to amazing results!
Eat and Rest Right:
The safest way to train is with adequate energy in and protein for repair. If you’re fat-adapted, make sure that you refuel your body afterward to replace any lost energy. Too much of a deficit is dangerous. If you’re on the standard American or Canadian diet, which is high-carb, low-fat, carb-loading before a workout can ensure protection against hitting a wall and faltering mid-training.
Nuts, meat, mushrooms, and dark-green vegetables can provide plenty of protein for your muscles to fix themselves with, so get some of them in before or after the workout!
Electrolytes are important too, so don’t forget to get sufficient salt in your diet! Without salts, your muscles wouldn’t be able to get the electrical signals from your brain to actually function. For us athletes, sodium is far from being the devil.
- I took in enough calories.
- There’s enough protein for me to repair my muscles.
- I have the electrolytes I need.
Don’t forget sleep:
Make sure you are getting enough sleep every night. Every single person on this planet has a majority of their repair and growth occur during sleep. Without it, you simply can’t make the gains you want. This can be the biggest bottleneck of them all.
Just remember, everyone is different. You know when you’ve had enough sleep and when you haven’t. There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to sleep – some fare better with 8 hours, some only need 6. It can switch up as well, some days you might need more. Your body is an adaptive, dynamic organism.
That should cover everything!
These are the five points you need to pay attention to:
- Vary your training plan.
- Genetics dictate what works best for you. Explore to find out!
- Allow time for supercompensation to take full effect.
- Eat enough protein and calories for bodily function.
- Sleep! Rest! Without it, you can’t repair.
Revise your training plan if needed, but remember that diet is just as important to being fit as exercise is. Without proper diet, you can’t grow. Similarly, without proper rest you won’t see results.
Now it’s time for you to make gains!
Caleb Thompson is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com, Amazon.ca, and other Amazon stores worldwide.
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