No one-size-fits-all fitness. Mix it up to meet your goals.
Ready to ramp up your fitness routine and rack up real results? Try replacing your old workout regimen with a completely new routine.
For years, fitness experts and human-movement scientists have known that people respond to exercise in different ways. In fact, some individuals classified as “non-responders” have shown that exercise doesn’t provide the same boost in cardiovascular fitness (as measured by heart rate and other key fitness metrics) as it does in other people. While all the reasons for this are not completely clear, some scientists suspect genetics may contribute to this diagnosis.
New evidence suggests that an individual’s response to exercise may depend on the type of workout — and that switching from one program to another routine could make a significant difference.
Published in the journal PLOS ONE, a study conducted by researchers from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, and the University of Ottawa followed 21 healthy men and women as they completed two types of workouts during two separate training periods, with a break between periods that lasted several months.
Half of the research participants did endurance training in the first period, then switched to interval training; the other half of the study subjects did the reverse. All participants exercised four times per week through each three-week period.
The endurance-training protocol consisted of 30 minutes of cycling on a stationary bike at a moderate level of exertion (about 65% of maximum heart rate). For the interval-training protocol, research participants pumped up their pedaling intensity with eight 20-second sprints, resting 10 seconds between each sprint.
Prior to the start of the experiment and after each training period, the researchers tested the participants to assess heart rate, VO2 max (the maximum amount of oxygen the body can use), and other key measures of cardiovascular fitness.
Researchers found that both workouts improved the fitness level of the group overall, by approximately equal amounts. But when the researchers looked more closely at the individuals, they noted that some people experienced greater improvements after endurance training than interval training; while other subjects gained better results from interval training than endurance training.
“What our study shows is that if you’re doing one type of exercise and you’re not getting the optimal result, you can switch to a different stimulus and that may help you,” says co-author Brendon Gurd, PhD, associate professor of muscle physiology at Queens University School of Kinesiology and Health Studies.
This is encouraging news for individuals feeling frustrated at the gym. Simply put, maybe you are just a non-responder to your current workout program. So, the question becomes: how do you find an ideal routine for your body?
Pay close attention, says Todd Astorino, PhD, a professor of kinesiology at California State University, San Marco, who was not involved in the new study: “The typical exerciser needs to be very aware of how they adapt to the particular regime that they are following. And if they do not feel that they are adapting, they need to change something.” That change might be the type of exercise, the length or intensity of your workout, or how often you do it.
If you need more proof that it might be time to switch-up your schtick, Dr. Gurd suggests two tests to check your present fitness level.
The first test: walk or run on a treadmill at a set pace for a certain amount of time. “So, say you pick 3 miles per hour at an incline of 2, and you jog at that for 10 minutes,” Gurd says. Then record your pulse.
The second test: measure your speed over a set distance. For example, he says, you could record the time it takes you to run 5 kilometers.
After collecting these results, proceed with your usual workout routine. Several weeks later, perform the two tests again. “If your heart rate at a set speed isn’t getting lower, and you’re not able to run faster, then those are two pretty easily measured things in a gym that would indicate that you’re not responding,” Gurd concludes. At that point, it’s time to change up your routine to achieve even more.