Are Some Women Resistant to Resistance Training?

You’re logging your hours at the gym, busting your tail five days a week at the crack of dawn… but you’re just not getting the results you’re after.


While you may find that you are, in fact, getting stronger and increasing your stamina, factoring in aesthetics can be frustrating to even the most dedicated among us. You’re getting more fit, but the truth is, you just don’t look any differently than before you added regular training.


For some, not visibly developing those toned triceps or svelte abdomen can be what stops the healthy exercise habit in its tracks – even those who report feeling better about their appearance after exercising for 30 minutes every day for the past week.1


Could your body’s reluctance to develop an athletic look be out of your control?


According to a recent study,2 new research on women finds that some are resistant to resistance training. For these women, “a welter of genetic variations protect their bodies from fat loss and prime their bodies to maintain their weight, even in the face of heroic body-sculpting efforts.” The study focused on 21 genetic risk variants for obesity, measured largely on how participants responded to a regimen that included regular resistance exercise.


Researchers tracked how the women were losing weight, trimming fat and shifting their overall body composition in a leaner direction, but found that these genetic variants hindered the effects of training. The more of those genetic variants a woman had, the less likely she was to see any changes, even if she adhered to the three, 75-minute resistance-training sessions per week for a full year.


The conclusion was that the obesity-related genes appeared to work together to thwart a woman’s success. Even though exercise might work to reduce appetite and turn up the calorie-burning thermostat of a woman with few obesity genes, the women with many of these variants appeared to compensate for their work in the gym with increased appetites, more efficient calorie-burning and other physiological measures that prevented weight loss.


So that’s it? You happen to have the short end of the stick in the gene pool, so you’re supposed to shrug your shoulders and accept that there’s nothing you can do about it? Hardly!


The first, and most important component that appeared to be grossly overlooked was what these women were eating. To not address this crucial factor is akin to wondering why your car won’t start when the fuel tank is empty. “As a rule of thumb, weight loss is generally 75 percent diet and 25 percent exercise,” according to Shawn M. Talbott, PhD, nutritional biochemist and former director of the University of Utah Nutrition Clinic.3


If the study looked only at genes being a factor in some women appearing to achieve a lean, toned body and others who did not, there’s clearly a large piece missing.


Say, for example, that the women were following what would be portrayed as healthy advice for weight loss.   It’d be a fair bet to assume they’d follow the guidelines for healthy eating as per the USDA,4 and as such, they’d be: 


  • Emphasizing vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat dairy products.

  • Controlling portion sizes, specifically limited women to 1,200–1,500 calories each day and men or women who weigh more or who exercise regularly to 1,500–1,800 calories each day.

Of course, there’s no mention of how to balance the calories and properly source them or the impact of the old, ‘everything in moderation’ idea, as if to say the sheer number of calories is the single most important factor. What about food timing? Were they eating enough fat? Were the women working out in a fasted state?  Studies show that fasted training is more potent than fed training to facilitate adaptations in muscle and to improve whole-body glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity during a hyper-caloric fat-rich diet.5


Nature versus nurture is a topic with a long history and in many cases, can be an excuse for not attaining the goals for which one is looking. Don’t let feeling stuck in a rut be the reason to stop your healthy exercise regime; instead, look at what you’re eating and when, and take matters back into your own hands!




[1] “Americans Who Exercise Most Feel Best About Appearance.” N.p., n.d. Web. 29 June 2015.

[2] Research Shows Some Women Resistant to Resistance Training.” Watertown Daily Times. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 June 2015

[3] Masin, Pam. “Exercise Vs. Diet: The Truth About Weight Loss.” The Huffington Post., n.d. Web. 29 June 2015

[4] “Healthy Eating Plan.” Healthy Eating Plan. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 June 2015

[5] Result Filters.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine, n.d. Web. 29 June 2015.