Have you wondered why people respond differently to the same training program? Setting aside the use of performance enhancing drugs, why do some people put on muscle quicker than others? Is there such a thing as a hard gainer? Anecdotal evidence seems to support this but what are the possible explanations?

Accepted thinking on exercise programs is design a strength program that begins with compound movements using big muscles to maximize the release of testosterone, growth hormone, etc. post workout. As a result, muscle growth and rapid strength gains are a given. Well, maybe not.

A series of studies conducted by McMaster kinesiology professor Stuart Phillips and his colleagues have shown no correlation between post workout hormone levels and muscle gains.

The new study, led by doctoral student Robert Morton and published in Frontiers in Physiology was based upon a study of 49 volunteers who followed a 4x per week, 12-week resistance training regimen which measured nine different hormones in the blood and muscles. This study found no link between any individual hormone or group of hormones and the amount of muscle gained. Instead, the study provided another explanation on how hormones affect muscle growth. A class of proteins found inside muscle cells called “androgen receptors” respond to the presence of testosterone and other hormones by switching muscle building genes on or off. The study volunteers who gained the most muscle did not have higher post workout hormone levels. The study found those volunteers who gained the most muscle instead had significantly more androgen receptors than those who gained the least muscle.

Well, what about steroids and other performance enhancing drugs? Seems the “benefits” experienced by users come partially down to a matter of timing. While the strength training boosts the bodies natural production of muscle building hormones post workout for less than an hour, steroid use or abuse will artificially boost synthetic muscle building hormones for a duration of days or weeks.

While there is no strategy for increasing the number of androgen receptors, maximizing muscle building benefit and the release of post workout muscle building hormones through appropriate program design and diet remains the best and healthiest way forward.

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