What is the most likely parameter to be changed to see normal gains within non-responders?
TL;DR: Sleep 8+ hours a night, eat high quality food concentrating on protein and fibre, drink enough water, find ways to keep stress to a minimum.
I'll give you three that people often overlook:
- Diet (and hydration)
One of the biggest jumps I had in body composition, as well as strength, was when I stopped travelling every weekend to see friends; which would mean not sleeping properly for 3 night, and eating crappy food for 3 days (takeaways, eating out, protein bars, etc).
Are you sleeping at least 8 hours a night? Is it quality sleep? Are you constantly waking up at night? Are you staring at your phone or the computer until 3am?
I understand that life can get in the way, especially if you've got kids, but lack of sleep is probably the main factor that impact most people's training.
My optimal evening routine looks something like:
- 2100: Make breakfast for the following day
- 2110: Stretching out hips / chest
- 2120: Cold shower
- 2130: Read in bed until I start to fall asleep (normally about 15 minutes)
My phone automatically switches to "Do not disturb" mode at 2130, and the only time I touch it after that time is to plug it in, or very occasionally check the alarm if I've been travelling.
Food wise, I'm a big believer in quality over quantity. Eat good quality food, eat a lot of vegetables, eat grass fed beef and free roaming chicken and eggs. I like Dan John's approach to diet, eat like an adult and concentrate on more protein and more fibre (that means more protein rich foods and more fibre rich foods, like vegetables, NOT supplements). Eat organ meats, like liver, kidney and heart, they contain a lot of nutrients that people tend to miss these days with the preference of eating muscle meats.
Drink enough water. How much is enough? I like to aim for 1 litre per 25kg of bodyweight. That means I drink, on average, 4 litres of water a day (plus a few cups of black coffee).
Stop drinking energy drinks completely and cut fizzy drinks (soda in the US) to a minimum. Yes, I do enjoy the occasional can of Coke (never could completely shift that sweet tooth), but I have maybe one a week, if that.
Finally? Chill the f**k out.
Stress will screw up your body in a lot of ways, like screwing up your sleep (which can have a scary amount of impact on your health).
How do you reduce stress? I can't tell you that, you need to figure out what's causing it and address those issues. If you need help with it, then go talk to someone professionally, there's no shame in it. I've done it. A lot of people I have a great deal of respect for have done it.
Again, what works for me is spending time with friends (but not all weekend, forfeiting sleep and food), being outside in nature (I rock climb, and yes, I find hanging off a rock face a hundred feet in the air by my fingertips relaxing), cold showers every evening, and sitting quietly with a coffee and a good book (basically, spending time in my own company).
But but but... what about sets and reps and exercise selection and rest periods and reverse Bulgarian tricep curls on a Swiss ball!?!?!?
If you're not recovering, the nothing is going to work past a certain point. Yes, you need to stress the body to enable adaptation to take place, be it muscular hypertrophy or strength, but if you're not allowing your body the chance for the adaptations to take place, you won't progress.
Want a personalised plan?
Every day for the next 6 weeks, do this:
- Be in bed by 2200 (10pm) in a dark room no electronics in the same room (no red light from the TV, no phone on charge next to your head)
- Take a cold shower before bed
- Sleep through until at least 0600 (6am). If you can get away with it, don't set an alarm but allow yourself to wake up naturally
- Eat 10 - 15 portions of vegetables, concentrating on things like broccoli, cauliflower, leeks, onions, garlic, beets, leafy greens, squash and sweet potatoes
- Drink 1L per 25kg of bodyweight
- Eat enough high quality protein, ideally from organ meats from grass fed animals (I can't remember the recommended amount off the top of my head, but it's easy to find, if you're vegan, find other protein sources that aren't soy based, though fermented soy is ok)
- Get outside in nature, go for a walk through. If you get the opportunity, go swim in the sea or a lake
- Spend time with friends. If you can't do that physically every day, then just send a message to let them know you're thinking about them, I like to send stupid comments and jokes, because I like making people smile and laugh
- Spend a little time by yourself. If you're into meditation, then do that. If you're not (I'm not), then go sit quietly and read for 10 minutes (note: playing on your phone doesn't count, turn the stupid thing off)
- Lastly, go train. Lift weights or do bodyweight stuff, it really doesn't matter that much, just pick a routine and stick to it for the next 6 weeks. I'd recommend the StrongFirst Simple and Sinister kettlebell routine, though I doesn't exactly match your goals