No response to an exercise routine may indicate you are a non-responder


Exercise science has a name for people who train hard in a certain way, yet don’t really get to see much in the way of change for the effort they put in. That name is ‘non-responder’.

Sadly, if you are a non-responder then there’s a good chance you’ll never see any benefit from the exercise regime you’re using. Despite this, don’t despair. It just means the regime you’re using doesn’t suit your own unique biology, and a simple change, or maybe a more radical change will see you start getting the benefits you expect from all that training.

In 2001, an analysis of several previously published exercise studies found that a single exercise routine could affect different people in dramatically different ways, regardless of age, gender, or other demographic factors. Some trainers may build up their stamina from a running routine, or build up muscle mass from lifting weights, and yet others on the same regime might see their fitness levels remain stagnant, or even end up worse off than when they started.

The good news is that a study conducted by the journal PLOS One suggests there is no such thing as a universal non-responder, so if the workout you’ve been on for the last six weeks, or months, or longer, is not working for you, there will be one out there that will.

The study authors had their subjects go through three weeks of endurance training and three of interval training, with a few months’ break in between the two, and measured each person’s fitness at the beginning and the end of each program. The results: “As a group, they had gained admirable amounts of fitness from both workouts and to about the same extent, but individually, the responses varied considerably.”

The study showed around 33 percent of the people failed to show much improvement in one of the measures of fitness after three weeks of endurance training. Similarly, about 33 percent had not improved their fitness much with interval training. And after each type of workout, some participants were found to be in worse shape.

A majority of the participants, in other words, had failed to respond as expected after one of the workouts.

The researchers’ main takeaway, though, is that each participant had at least one workout that did work for them. So, being a non-responder to one type of exercise never meant that someone was a non-responder to all types.

The real downside to some extent is that the only way to really tell if you’re a non-responder to something is through trial and error. Yes, this means you have to battle through four, five, six weeks of the one style of training and see what happens. If you’re lucky, you’ll hit on a great response straight away; if you’re unlucky you might slog away for some time before finding the right regime for you.