There’s nothing more frustrating than looking in the mirror or stepping on the scale and noticing little-to-no difference in your appearance or wellbeing after committing to a new fitness regimen — especially if you begin comparing yourself to your accountability buddy or others on the same path as you.
In fact, a new study published by researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) suggests there are proven links to why the same exercise affects people differently, but it’s not exactly clear why.
So, no; seeing your gym buddy lose 20 pounds in the time it took you to lose five is not just in your head — there’s science behind it.
“While groups as a whole benefit from exercise, the variability in responses between any two individuals undergoing the very same exercise regimen is actually quite striking. For example, some may experience improved endurance while others will see improved blood sugar levels,” explained senior corresponding author Robert E. Gerszten, MD, Chief of the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine at BIDMC.
“To date, no aspects of an individual’s baseline clinical profile allow us to predict beforehand who is most likely to derive a significant cardiorespiratory fitness benefit from exercise training.”
Although the study isn’t conclusive in terms of exactly why some people of the same health and fitness regimen seem to improve better than others, there are certain things you can look into if you feel like you’re progressing slower than your gym buddy.
Personal trainers and nutritionists break down the common underlying factors that make some people benefit from working out more than others do — and what you can do to ensure you’re getting the greatest benefit possible for your body and fitness goals.
1. You might just take longer to build muscle
“Any veteran gym-goer will tell you that there are people known as hard gainers,” said Robert S. Herbst, Personal Trainer, Weight Loss, and Wellness Expert, and Powerlifter.
What’s a hard gainer?
No matter what they do, gains seem to take forever. This does not mean they cannot improve, it just means it will take longer, with a lot of effort.
“The basis for that is genetic and they are the opposite of those lucky souls who we say just have to look at a weight and they will get big,” said Herbst.
2. You might be comparing yourself to experienced gym-goers
“For average people, beginners will make a lot of gains initially, but progress will slow as they get near the limits of their genetic potential,” said Herbst.
“However, if someone has been in shape in the past but stopped exercising, they will make gains relatively quickly when they resume because of muscle memory.”
Everyone has limits, but they can improve and get fitter and stronger than they are and try to approach those limits to be the best they can be.
3. You might not be eating well enough
According to Heather Hanks, M.S. Nutritionist, one thing to keep in mind when adopting a new exercise program is that your diet must follow suit.
So, if you are working out and hitting the gym every day, but then you go home and eat a large pizza and ice cream every night, you will not see results.
“You will see the most (and quickest) benefits from your exercise program if you also adopt a clean eating routine,” said Hanks.
“Cut out all refined sugars and carbs, and focus on getting as many whole foods (mostly vegetables) and lean meats in your diet as possible.”
4. You might get more hungry as you work out
Some people will actually not see weight loss results if they eat back all the calories they burned.
“It’s common for someone to get hungrier when they start a vigorous exercise routine,” said Hanks.
“If they are not keeping track of what they’re eating, weight loss will probably not happen.”
As the saying goes, “you can’t out-exercise a bad diet”.
5. You might be gaining more muscle weight than you think
You may be putting on muscle mass, which is great for metabolism and looking better naked — but just remember, muscle weighs more than fat, so it’s possible to see weight loss slow down or even stall, said Hanks.
6. You might not see a huge difference if you have normal blood pressure
In terms of internal wellness, like blood pressure, it might be frustrating to see slow improvements, but it could be normal if you’re already quite healthy.
“If you already have normal blood pressure and good levels of HDL (good cholesterol) you may not see much more of an improvement,” said Hanks.
“If your biomarkers are already good, there’s only so much better they can get with exercise alone.”
7. You might not be eating enough protein
As for muscle gain, it’s important to get enough protein.
“You can be lifting a lot, but if your protein intake is inadequate, you won’t have the building blocks necessary to help them grow more,” said Hanks.
8. Sometimes genetics makes certain areas harder to target
If you inherited skinny calves or thick arms from your parents, you do have to work harder to make a dent in the change you want to see.
“This should not be a deterrent from working out because other parts of your body will be improving as will your overall health,” said Hanks.
This article was originally published on The Ladders.