What To Do If You're An Exercise "Nonresponder"

by Megan Grant
BDG Media, Inc.

Have you ever found yourself frustrated by a lack of results from your fitness routine? Recent research has a possible answer: You might be a "nonresponder" to certain types of exercise. The study comes from Queen's University in Canada, and it found that the exercise that works from person to person and brings positive results can be vastly different.

In the study, 21 adults were first given either endurance training or interval training; then later, they switched over to the other. Some participants improved by the end; some saw no change; and still others were actually worse off. Another interesting finding? Every single person had some kind of response to one of the workouts, even if they saw no changes from the other.

The results were all over the place, and that's exactly the point: The effects of fitness are all over the place for every individual. "I do believe that people respond to different fitness programs differently. What works for one doesn't always work for others," says Johnny Mears, a CrossFit Level 3 coach with 25 years of experience in fitness and sports medicine, in an email to Bustle.

If you find that your workout routine isn't working for you, it could be that you're a nonresponder to that particular regime, similar to some of the participants who had no response (or a negative response) to either the endurance or interval training.

But you needn't worry; there are definitely ways to find an exercise regime that improves your mental and physical well-being. Committing to finding something better is a good start, but what steps can you take to get there? What should you be looking for? What should you be avoiding? Here are a few expert pointers.

How You Know Your Fitness Routine Is (Or Isn't) Working

Of course, enjoying the physical activity you're partaking in is of great importance — and in my own humble opinion, it's half the battle. "If you enjoy what you are doing, then you are more likely to do it consistently and long term," Lara Crutchley, a 2004 Olympic trial qualifier, former UNLV track and field coach, and 2015 Southwest Regional Crossfit Games Team competitor, tells Bustle.

But what about physiological changes? "I would recommend tracking how they feel regarding perceived energy levels, overall wellness through labs by a doctor, and track body measurements," says Crutchley. Mears adds that resting heart rate and blood pressure are also important.

Even in people suffering from fatigue, research has found that consistent, low-intensity exercise can boost energy. In a nutshell, it has to do with the release of endorphins and training the heart to work more efficiently and deliver more oxygen to your brain, organs, and throughout your body.

Ironically, another indication that your fitness habits are working is that you'll sleep better. One study found that people get better rest (and thus feel more alert during the day) when they exercise for at least 150 minutes a week.

But any old exercise won't do; and in fact, the wrong exercise, or exercising too late in the day, can worsen sleep. Furthermore, one study found that certain kinds of high-intensity exercising can negatively affect sleep.

Have you taken inventory of your energy and sleep quality lately? Are they helping you or hurting you? The answers could help you determine whether or not your fitness routine needs an adjustment.

Unfortunately, such a heavy emphasis has been placed on the number on the scale, as if that defines our health and happiness. Crutchley reminds us to look beyond that: "Scale weight to me is a very trivial number because I would rather know someone's body fat percentage in regards to their overall body composition goals," she says. The point here is to consider what your body is actually made of and what your goals for your own body are, not a largely meaningless number on a scale.

What if a fitness routine that used to work for you suddenly stops working, meaning you may have become a nonresponder out of the blue? This is called a plateau, and it means that you've stopped seeing progress in your training. While this is normal to some extent in most sports (in my sport — Olympic weightlifting — there are certain elements in which you can plateau for months or even years), you still need to draw the line somewhere.

The answer could be in changing the intensity or frequency of your workout. Prolonged periods where you make no improvement across the board could likely mean that it's time to switch something up.

But it's important not to throw in the towel too quickly. "When I design a program for a new client, I expect them to stick to it for at a minimum of 60 to 90 days, but it depends on what a person's ultimate goal is," Crutchley says. "Bodies change as they adapt to stress, but they also need recovery to rebuild to continually improve long term."

Mears agrees, saying, "You have to dedicate some time to see if you like something. If you were to come to me and say, 'Let's start training for a half marathon!' I am going to hate it. I know I hate running. I find it very boring. After some time, say two months, I would probably like it, after I felt the change in my cardiovascular fitness."

One Test To Determine How To Train

There's this nifty little test some gym-goers use to determine what their training should look like that day. It's called biofeedback.

With biofeedback, you do mini trial runs of your workout options and then immediately determine how your body is responding. To use biofeedback, fold forward at the waist and bend over until you start to feel any kind of tension. Then, perform your first workout option for a few reps without weights (or if it's some type of cardio, do it for a few seconds). Bend at the waist again and see if you're able to go down further.

Next, perform a few reps or seconds of your other workout option, once again bending over afterward and seeing how far you can go before you feel tension.

Which exercise allowed you more improvement in your range of motion? According to the biofeedback method, that's the exercise you should do at that moment.

There's lots of good news here. If you feel like you've hit a dead end with your fitness routine, there are plenty of things you could try changing to better it. "Improving [your] health is not simply the exercise that [you] do alone. There are multiple elements of improved level of activity, i.e. exercise, improved nutrition and supplementation, as well as rest and recovery," Crutchley says. And importantly, have fun! "First thing to look at, what makes you happy?" asks Mears, later adding that it's important to check in with yourself to see how you feel.

That's the goal — because feeling amazing is... well, amazing.