Previously, some studies found that for some unlucky few people exercise just doesn’t seem to work. While other people doing the same routine would see a physical improvement (more muscle tone, losing weight, etc), these ‘non-responders’ — the term used in the scientific literature — had nothing to show. This depressing idea is enough to demotivate most people. Now, a new study found this is simply nonsense because people who don’t become fitter from one type of training show improvements (a response) when using a different workout.
Exercise is dose dependent. Don’t worry if you’re not seeing results even when everyone else is
For the new study published in the Journal of Physiology, Swiss researchers from the University Hospital Zurich and the University of Zurich recruited 78 healthy adults and divided them into five groups. Depending on what group they were in, the participants would do one, two, three, four, or five 60-minute workouts every week for six weeks.
“One in five adults following physical activity guidelines are reported not demonstrating any improvement in cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF). Herein, we sought to establish whether CRF non-response to exercise training is dose-dependent, using a between- and within-subject study design,” wrote the researchers.
Most of the participants who only exercised for 60 minutes the whole week didn’t become fitter. Some people in groups who worked out two or three times a week were also ‘non-responders’.
What the researchers did next was to upgrade their program. So, people with only one workout per week were transferred to a group exercised three times a week. Those who worked out for three hours every week but didn’t see any improvement were asked to do it five times a week.
Using this system, absolutely everyone’s maximum power and cardiovascular fitness saw improvement.
Another study published in journal PLOS On at the beginning of the year also investigated the non-responder myth. The Canadian researchers had each of the 21 volunteer complete two very different types of workouts. Each program lasted for three weeks, at the end of which the volunteers had to put it on pause for a couple of months so they’d return to their baseline fitness then move on to the next training regimen.
As a group, the participants performed well having improved their fitness from both kinds of workouts (a typical endurance training and a high-intensity interval training). Individually, however, the response varied wildly. A third of the volunteers didn’t show much if any improvement in one of the measures used to gauge fitness.
However, those who had shown little response to endurance training generally showed a robust improvement after the interval sessions, and vice versa.
“There is no one-size-fits-all approach to exercise,” says Brendon Gurd, an associate professor of kinesiology at Queen’s University who oversaw the study. “But it does seem as if there is some size that fits everyone.”
The big takeaway is that exercising is dose dependent and someone who failed to benefit from one form of exercise might do well with another. If you’re not seeing any results, then you just need to exercise more.
That may sound easier said than done but at least you know what it takes. I’m sorry, but if you’re a so-called ‘non-responder’ you need to hit more time at the gym. Switching to biking or walking for your daily commute instead of driving to work will definitely help, especially if you’re struggling to meet the minimum 150 minutes of weekly moderate activity which doctors generally recommend.