Newbie gains. When personal bests seem to come every week. We’ve all experienced the rapid rate of improvement when just starting out on a fitness journey. The reason is simple. Untrained, the body adapts very quickly to any training stimulus. This is because in an untrained state, our bodies are so far from their genetic potential, or how fit they possibly could be. This is true for all forms of fitness training, whether it’s strength in weightlifting, skill in gymnastics or team sports and endurance on the bike. If you stick at it though, many people will reach a point where the improvements slow down, and possibly even stop altogether (known as a training plateau). Let’s look at how this happens and what can be done about it.
When the Newbie Gains stop
From mobility gained during yoga to strength gained when lifting weights, our rate of improvement will slow down over time. Train over many years and improvements or personal bests may even stop. Why is this? The first factor is the ability of the human body to adapt to stress. Fitness training is a form of stress. The body adapts to physical stress by improving it’s ability to cope with it. Think of it as the body not wanting the same stimulus to be so stressful in the future! A really good example of this is the increase in muscle size that comes through weight training. Bigger muscles are able to lift the weights easier, and therefore it’s less stressful. When we lift objects that feel heavy to the point of fatigue this sends a message to the body. The message is ‘build more muscle tissue so that it doesn’t hurt so much in future. As muscles adapt, the amount of training needed to cause this ‘overload stress’ increases. This is why advanced athletes tend to have a higher volume and intensity of training compared to novices.
There is a limit to human potential. This is limit is set by our individual genetic potential. Think of this as the ultimate personal best. As fitness levels improve towards genetic potential, the rate of improvement slows. Elite athletes can work for several years to experience the smallest of improvements. The other major factor in newbie gains is the nervous system. Every movement involved in fitness requires control from the nervous system. Therefore, each movement has an element of ‘skill’ associated with it. The more complex the movement, the more neural skill is involved. By far the biggest contributor to newbie gains when we start training is an improvement in skill. The nervous system adapts so that we can control the movement better. This alone allows you to produce better performance. In short, before the muscles grow they simply get better at doing the movements.
A new way of gaining personal bests
So we know that the more we train, the harder personal bests are going to be to come by. Therefore its important to view personal bests in a different light. Reframing what constitutes training performance is key. Maximum lifts, fastest times, longest distances and ranges of motion are common measures of personal best performances. However, we know that these are limited by genetic potential. Within any training session there are so many variables, other than these maximum capacities. For example, there’s total load lifted (load x sets x reps), rest interval length, movement quality, range of movement performed. This list can go on and on. For example, being able to complete a given volume of work with shorter recovery periods represents a personal best performance. Performing the same volume of an exercise but at a slower tempo means more time under tension for the muscles, and therefore a potential personal best.
Here at NK Fitness we work hard with our clients to ensure that they can achieve the most from every session. Being able to ‘reframe’ their outlook on sessions in order to recognise the improvements when personal bests seem to be drying up is especially true of our many long term personal training clients. It really does bring meaning to the Team GB phrase that ‘Better Never Stops’. Give it a go and you’ll find that the personal bests just keep coming.