Is Your Workout Not Working? Maybe You’re a Non-Responder

Research and lived experience indicate that many people who begin a new exercise program see little if any improvement in their health and fitness even after weeks of studiously sticking with their new routine.

Among fitness scientists, these people are known as “nonresponders.” Their bodies simply don’t respond to the exercise they are doing. And once discouraged, they often return to being nonexercisers.

But an inspiring and timely new study suggests that nonresponders to one form of exercise can probably switch to another exercise regimen to which their body will respond. And a simple test you can do at home will help you determine how well your workout is working for you.

One of the first major studies to report the phenomenon of nonresponders appeared in 2001, when researchers parsed data from dozens of previously published studies of running, cycling and other endurance exercise.

The studies showed that, on aggregate, endurance training increased people’s endurance. But when the researchers examined individual outcomes, the variations were staggering. Some people had improved their endurance by as much as 100 percent, while others had actually become less fit, even though they were following the same workout routine.

Age, sex and ethnicity had not mattered, the researchers noted. Young people and old had been outliers, as had women and men, black volunteers and white. Interestingly, nonresponse to endurance training ran in families, the researchers discovered, suggesting that genetics probably plays a significant role in how people’s bodies react to exercise.

Since then, other researchers have found that people can have extremely erratic reactions to weight training regimens, with some packing on power and mass and others losing both.

And a study published last year concentrating on brief bouts of intense interval training concluded that some people barely gained endurance with this type of workout, while others flourished, greatly augmenting their fitness.

These studies, however, were not generally designed to tell us whether someone who failed to benefit from one form of exercise might do well with another.

So for the new experiment, which was published in December in the journal PLOS One, researchers from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, and the University of Ottawa decided to focus intently on whether a nonresponder to one form of exercise could benefit by switching to another.

They began by gathering 21 healthy men and women and determining their VO2 max, a measure of how much oxygen the lungs can deliver to the muscles; heart rates; and other physiological parameters related to aerobic fitness.

Then they had each volunteer complete two very different types of workouts. Each training regimen lasted three weeks, and the researchers waited several months before starting the next regimen, so that volunteers could return to their baseline fitness.

One three-week routine involved typical endurance training: riding a stationary bicycle four times a week for 30 minutes at a moderately strenuous pace.

The second type of exercise revolved around high-intensity intervals. Each volunteer completed eight 20-second intervals of very hard pedaling on a stationary bicycle, with 10 seconds of rest after each bout. The intervals were brutal but brief.

At the end of each three-week session, the researchers again checked each volunteer’s VO2 max and other fitness measures.

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.

About a third of the people had failed Read more Is Your Workout Not Working? Maybe You’re a Non-Responder

What female athletes need to know about menopause

From The Washington Post

Story by Bonnie Berkowitz, graphic by Aaron Steckelberg
Dec. 20, 2016

Menopause is when the monthly waves of estrogen and other hormones that women have been surfing since puberty finally ebb for good. Periods cease, of course. But all kinds of other biological processes change as well, including some that affect sports performance.

You’re still an athlete, you just have to figure out your new normal.

“Just because you hit a certain age, your body doesn’t stop,” said Stacy T. Sims, a nutrition scientist and physiologist at the University of Waikato in New Zealand who has studied women’s performance for 25 years. “The fitter you are, the less of a problem these are. When you are competing, that’s when you really you feel them, because you are, like, ‘What is going on?’ But when you’re a general woman and you’re keeping fit, then all these things are [easier to handle].”

But what if you’re not very fit right now?

“It is definitely not too late — that’s the greatest thing about this,” said Monica Serra, a research scientist at the VA Maryland Health Care System who has written about post-menopausal competitive athletes. “If you start exercising, you can build your bone mass, you can build your lean mass, you can lose the fat mass, you can improve the quality of your muscle. . . . Research says people who exercise have a better quality of life.”

This graphic shows the major changes that occur as female athletes age. They sound bad, but don’t worry: As you’ll read below, there’s always a “but . . . .”

Sleep quality suffers

Sixty-one percent of post-menopausal women report insomnia symptoms, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Many things conspire to disrupt sleep: the decline of estrogen and progesterone, which help you fall and stay asleep; a dearth of melatonin, which regulates body temperature for sleep; hot flashes and night sweats, which wake you up; and the stress hormone cortisol, which estrogen helps control.

But: “Physically active people have better sleep patterns,” Serra said, which is good because a lot of muscle recovery and rebuilding occurs during sleep. Exercise early in the day promotes better sleep. Sims recommends keeping your bedroom cool and trying a small, frosty glass of tart cherry juice before bed to help cool your core and boost natural production of melatonin.

The engine slows

Aerobic capacity, which is your cardiovascular system’s ability to convert oxygen to energy, can drop 5 to 9 percent each decade beginning in your 30s. (This happens to men as well.) Much of this is because your heartbeat slows a little each year. That means oxygen-rich blood is being pumped to working muscles a little less often.

But: Athletes of all ages have better aerobic capacity and blood volume than people who don’t exercise.

Heat is harder to handle

During hot flashes and whenever the body begins to get too warm, blood rushes to the skin surface to offload heat — which is annoying for athletes, who’d prefer that the blood feed working muscles. In older adults, sweating, a key part of cooling, begins later in a workout. As if that’s not enough, the thirst mechanism dulls with age, so dehydration is more likely.

But: Good hydration and a little bit of caution can keep you from danger. And for 92 percent of women who get them, hot flashes will go away.

‘Menopot’ happens

Older women aren’t as efficient at processing carbohydrates, so they tend to store the excess as fat. And they tend to store fat in their bellies rather than in hips and thighs as they did when they were younger. This visceral fat is associated with higher risk of heart disease and diabetes.

But: Studies show that women who exercised four to five times a week have less total body fat than sedentary women of the same height and weight, Serra said. And their visceral fat stores were similar to sedentary women a third their age.

Your stomach rebels

Women become less efficient at processing carbohydrates, so athletes may find that their beloved bagels and pasta can send blood-sugar levels soaring. In particular, the ability to digest fructose in processed foods declines. So energy gels may suddenly cause mid-race GI issues.

But: Eating more fruit and whole grains and less processed sugar can keep stomachs and blood sugar steadier. (Fructose in whole fruit is not a problem.) Look for race-day food that doesn’t contain added fructose.

Bones get thinner

Estrogen works with calcium and vitamin D to strengthen bones. In the five to seven years after menopause, a woman’s bones can lose up to 20 percent of their density, Sims said.

But: Athletes start out with denser bones because weight-bearing activity (running, walking, tennis, etc.) puts stress on bones, which spurs the body to strengthen them. Regular strength training and a diet rich in bone-building nutrients — fish and yogurt are good choices — can shore up key areas such as hips and spine.

Flexibility decreases

Age makes all of us less flexible, which means a greater risk for muscle pulls and strains. Runners get very tight hamstrings. People who sit a lot get tight hip flexors and lazy glutes, which can alter gait and range of motion.

But: A little effort can make a huge difference. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends flexibility exercises two or three times a week while muscles are warm, such as after a workout or bath.

Muscles shrink

Testosterone and other growth hormones plunge along with estrogen, so building and maintaining muscle is tougher. Fat begins to marble the tissue, reducing its ability to generate power. The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn, even at rest.

But: Exercise will help you keep muscle and build more. Strength training, interval training and consuming protein within half an hour of hard exercise will help, Serra said.

Mojo wanes

Fluctuating levels of estrogen can make you cranky, edgy and even at risk for depression until brain chemistry stabilizes after menopause. “Brain fog” can make it harder to concentrate and remember things, and sleep problems make you tired.

But: Exercise is a known stress reliever and mood booster. Research has found that people who exercise are better able to deal with the ups and downs of aging, Serra said. “You feel better about yourself because you’re accomplishing what you can ... and that makes you more able to deal with these other stressors, both physical and mental, in your life.”

How Long Does It Actually Take to Get Out of Shape?

From Greatist

This One Small Change Makes It So Much Easier to Stick With Your Fitness Routine
Don’t let anybody tell you different—everyone has skipped a workout at some point. At Greatist, we’re firm believers in cutting yourself some slack and taking time off from exercise when you need to. But we also know how easily three days off can snowball into six, then 10. Before you know it, you’re asking that question we’ve all asked when the gym feels like a distant memory: How long does it take to lose my fitness? First, it’s important to remember that taking time off now and again is a good thing—exercise inflicts a degree of stress on the body, and any good workout program includes a heck of a lot of rest days, especially if the exercise is very intense. And there's a benefit to both "active recovery" and complete rest. That said, “use it or lose it” is pretty much the rule. But exactly how much fitness you’ll “lose” depends on the length of your break and how fit you were to begin with.

If You Exercise on the Regular

It’s a lot easier to bounce back from time off if you’re someone who exercises five or six times a week, or if you’ve been exercising for a while. Generally speaking, if you’ve been working out several times a week for more than a year, your muscle memory is solid . In fact, with that strong of an exercise habit, scientists are quite willing to drop you in the “athlete” category. And for athletes, your fitness can deteriorate at different rates depending on whether you're looking at strength or cardiovascular losses.

Strength Loss

For most people, strength loss occurs after about two and a half to three weeks of inactivity, says Molly Galbraith, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and co-founder of Girls Gone Strong. But it depends on why you take the break. “If you are sick, your body is overstressed, so you’ll start to lose strength after two to three weeks," she says. "If you’re not sick, and especially if you’re able to get in some movement and light exercise, you can probably take three, four, even five weeks off without significant strength loss.” Science agrees. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercisepublished a review of several studies on the subject that looked at runners, rowers, and power athletes. For all of these groups, muscular strength fibers appear not to change, even after a month of inactivity. But here’s the kicker: While general strength doesn’t change much in that period, specialized, sport-specific muscle fibers start to change in as little as two weeks without a workout . For example, endurance athletes lose a significant amount of the extra slow-twitch muscle fibers that they worked so hard to accumulate, and the same thing happens for the power athletes and their hard-earned fast-twitch muscle fibers. Basically the body likes to hold onto strength for as long as it can, but skills that are very specialized for certain sports will decline faster. We're generalists, what can we say?

Cardio Loss

So what about all the cardio lovers out there who are more concerned with the strength of their heart and lungs? Sadly we lose this kind of conditioning a little more quickly than we lose strength. One study of endurance cyclists found that four weeks of inactivityresulted in a 20 percent decrease of their VO2 max, which measures a person’s maximum capacity to take in, transport, and use oxygen during exercise . The results were more or less confirmed by another study, which found that after 12 days of inactivity, VO2 max dropped by seven percent and enzymes in the blood associated with endurance performance decreased by 50 percent . But keep your chin up. While your cardio conditioning does fall faster than your strength, it’s easier to regain, Galbraith says. So get back on that horse, cowboy.

If You’re Newer to Exercise

Congratulations on your new-ish exercise habit! But if you’ve hit pause on your trips to the gym, don’t take too long to hit play again. Consistency is key for building new habits, and it’s as true for the body as it is for the mind: If your body hasn’t been enjoying exercise for long, it can be easier to lose the progress you’ve made.

Strength Loss

As far as strength goes, it’s best not to be too concerned about losing your headway, as those famous “newbie gains” make it somewhat easier to retain strength. For example, previously untrained folks who took a three-week break in the middle of a 15-week bench press program finished the course with similar strength levels as those who didn’t take a break at all . One study even showed that six months after quitting a 4-month strength training program, up to 50 percent of the original strength gain was maintained . It's also worth noting that among newbies, eccentric strength, that is, the strength used when lengthening a muscle or lowering a weight, may be harder to lose than concentric strength, which is when the muscle is contracted. A study of 13 previously untrained guys found that three months after ending a three-month training program, they had maintained their eccentric strength gains, but not their concentric strength .

Cardio Loss

Once again, cardio is a little more sensitive to time off. One of the best studies of the effects of detraining on recently acquired fitness gains found that VO2 max gains that were made in the last two months are completely lost after four weeks of inactivity .

Other Factors

While your fitness level is key to how quickly you get back to your fitness baseline, there are a few other variables that also come into play. First, age plays a role in your bounce-back time . When looking at 41 people who were either 20 to 30 years old or 65 to 75 years old, the older subjects lost strength almost twice as fast as the whippersnappers during a six-month “detraining” period in one study . And again, why you’re taking the break is also a factor. When scientists injected inactive volunteers with hormones that mimicked the stress of trauma or illness, they had a 28 percent decrease in strength over 28 days—a higher rate than average .

4 Ways to Make the Most of a Fitness Break

Whether you're on a relaxing vacation or stuck on the couch with an annoying chest infection, there are a few ways to stay strong during downtime.

1. Do Light Cardio

“If you’re able to take plenty of brisk walks, keeping your heart rate in the 120-ish range, then you should be able to stave off losing conditioning for a little longer,” Galbraith says. Indeed, training a little will do a much better job of maintaining your gains than totally stopping, especially if you’re able to squeeze in the odd cardio session that’ll train you at the upper end of your VO2 max, like some quick intervals .

2. Incorporate Some Resistance Training

There are plenty of reasons for taking a break, but if you have a localized injury, say in your ankle or wrist, don’t use it as an excuse to completely stop exercising. Cross-train through injuries, if you can. Do some bodyweight exercises, or see if you can try swimming, which is the go-to exercise for a lot of injured athletes. Even a four-minute tabata or two will make a huge difference in maintaining your strength. “Light, dynamic warmups are also a good way to help keep the body from getting too stiff and to slow the loss of mobility without putting too much additional stress on an overstressed body,” Galbraith says. But if you’re sick from the neck down—think achy muscles, chest congestion, fever—it may be best to rest, she adds.

3. Eat Right

Exercise helps to control junk food cravings, so you may need to try harder to avoid crappy food while you’re not working out. Get lots of protein, healthy fats, and low-GI carbs, and your body will thank you. Eating well will help you avoid any weight gain, which would make restarting fitness all the more challenging. And nutrient-dense foods will also speed up your recovery if you’re injured or ill. Galbraith also suggests raw honey for its antibacterial and antimicrobial properties, homemade bone broths for hydration, and garlic to lessen the severity of cold symptoms if you're under the weather.

4. Love Yourself

No, not like that. But it’s important not to judge yourself or lapse into self-loathing on account of taking some time off. The gym will be right there waiting for you when you’re ready for it, but for now, do what you can and do what makes you happy. If it’s seeing what life is like without exercising so darn much, you do you! Look in the mirror, say a body-positive mantra, and know that you’re perfect—no matter how often you hit the gym.