If Exercise Doesn't Do Anything for You, You May Be Immune

January 6th 2017

Lucy Tiven

Feel like working out isn't working out? It might not be all in your head.


A December study published in the journal PLoS One offered an explanation for people who don't physically benefit from their exercise routines.

Fitness scientists call these individuals "nonresponders," The New York Times reported.

Major research on immunity to exercise dates back to a 2001 study published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.

The authors reported vast disparities in how people were affected by endurance training.


A single training regimen improved some study participants' endurance by 100 percent. But other people actually became less fit as a result of the same workout, researchers observed.

Researchers theorized that genetics and upbringing — and not age, sex, or ethnicity — played a role in the differences.

The authors referred to a person's phenotype — his physical characteristics, behaviors, and health conditions, which result from genetics and environmental factors, according to the Personal Genetics Education Project.

It's possible that people respond to certain kinds of workouts but not others, the PLoS One study theorized.

Study participants spent three weeks on endurance training and three weeks doing interval training (sprints of intense exercise), with a break of several months in between.

The endurance training involved 30 minute rides on exercise bikes. The interval training consisted of sets alternating between high-intensity bicycling for 20 seconds and 10 seconds to rest.

Spin Class

The Times reported:

"About a third of the people had failed to show much if any improvement in one of the measures of fitness after three weeks of endurance training. Similarly, about a third 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. But, importantly, no one had failed to respond at all. Every man and woman had measurably improved his or her fitness in some way after one of the sessions, if not the other. Those who had shown little response to endurance training generally showed a robust improvement after the interval sessions, and vice versa."

The study authors determined whether the workouts were effective by measuring heart rates and how much oxygen was delivered to the muscles.

The researchers concluded that everyone responds to some form of exercise.

But they weren't able to provide a blueprint for determining what kind of workout will benefit a particular person.

The only way to find out what form of exercise benefits your body is by working out and seeing how your body responds, Science of Us reported. You have to hit the gym in in order to eliminate the types of exercise that don't do anything for you.

Tired after a workout

"There is no one-size-fits-all approach to exercise," Brendon Gurd, an associate professor of kinesiology at Queen's University and one of the study's authors, told the Times. "But it does seem as if there is some size that fits everyone."

Some fitness gurus believe that biofeedback can tell you if a workout is effective. Doing short trial runs of workouts such as cardio or weight training, then bending forward at the waist, can tell you if the workout is effective by demonstrating your ability to increase your range of motion, Bustle reported.

The workout that results in your being able to bend the farthest is the one that will benefit your body the most, according to Bustle.

(Read The New York Times story here.)