We’re all different. You can’t expect everyone to respond to training in same way. In truth, everything is probability, an outcome is either more or less likely depending on many different factors. Structuring training to achieve a desired result is relatively easy for the majority, but there are always outliers, those high-responders and non-responders that sit at either end of the average distribution curve (Timmons et al. 2011).
It’s important that coaches understand this – one size does not fit all, whether coaching technique, strength, power, conditioning or mindset – you must adapt to each individual. This requires experience, over time you can adopt different approaches when you recognise non-responders. Alternatively, bad coaches run out of knowledge and patience, writing-off the individual as hopeless, when the limitations are actually the coach’s. Everyone can improve.
As a student, accept your strengths and weaknesses, be prepared to find some things difficult and others much easier. If you’re passionate about your training and practice you’ll put in the hard work. Application and work ethic can overcome poorly applied natural talent. Mindset is a major contributor to all that you do, in fact the most important thing – but that’s a whole new topic.
Your Biology is Unique
We all have different abilities and weaknesses, and respond differently (to a degree) to a given system of training. Our genetic blueprint determines our maximum potential to tolerate training, and although we have similar responses and adaptations to exercise, the rate and magnitude of these changes are limited by your genetics. As an example, if my wife and I are both exposed to the same intensity and volume of sunshine, I’ll burn and she’ll get a golden tan. My blueprint stems from a pool of pasty Celtic genetics and my wife’s from an Italian hereditary. It’s the same with training and athletic performance. We all have a unique combination of stature, limb lengths, body proportions, muscle fibre composition, aerobic potential etc. There isn’t anything you can do about that, you’ve got what you’ve got – I’m never going to be handsome. The trick is to understand the hand you’ve been dealt and to train accordingly, maximise your own potential within your unique constraints.
You’re Psychologically Unique
No-one sees the world in the same way, through the same eyes. With a possible 11-million bits of information bombarding your senses every second, you unconsciously filter for what’s important and ignore the rest. What’s deemed important and survives this unconscious data compression process is flavoured by your life experience – a life experience unique to you and your perception of reality, you are unique. Just as training your body changes your physical attributes, you can also train neurological patterns or mind habits. The task is identifying and changing unhelpful habitual neurological/emotional patterns. Patterns that are the result of a lifetime of experiences and learned associations. You can’t possibly understand exactly what someone else is thinking, and it’s also none of your business! It’s your responsibility to learn about yourself physically and emotionally (warts and all), accept how you are without judgement or ego and apply this knowledge to help you grow as an individual.
Test, Don’t Blindly Copy
Don’t just copy other’s programmes or work outs. Understand the reasons why exercises were chosen, why they’re given in the order they are, why the intensity, volume and rest periods are prescribed as they are, why the training frequency is as it is. Understand how these variables affect the majority, and consider how they may have to be manipulated to suit specific individuals. Don’t blindly believe anyone, including me, try it out for yourself. Everything I recommend I’ve tested on myself, other athletes or personal training clients, and have found to be effective. But what has worked for me might not be effective for you, are you a non-responder – go find out!
Coaches should act on experience, their own testing (both on themselves and others) rather than directly from someone else’s suggestion or information in a book. Good coaches don’t always get it right, but constantly experiment, learn and adjust to better suit the target individual. The purpose of this blog is to share what I’ve found to be true for me, and encourage you to experiment with your own training – don’t simply believe me, find out for yourself.
Don Heatrick, owner of Heatrick Strength & Conditioning, is a renowned Level 4 Strength and Conditioning coach, Muay Thai coach and former pro Thai boxer from the UK.
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