Fitness Tips

See Some Exercise in Different People Get Different Results

Catherine F. Wagner 

Are you not getting the results of your training program? This is what it can do that is backed by science.

There is no universal approach to training. Two people doing the same workout can achieve very different results. A person can work hard in the gym for months without much progress, while his training partner gets stronger with each session.

Are you not getting the results of your training program? This is what it can do that is backed by science.

There is no universal approach to training. Two people doing the same workout can achieve very different results. A person can work hard in the gym for months without much progress, while his training partner gets stronger with each session.

In Practical Research1, there is a term for someone who does not get the expected results for a particular type of exercise: Unresponsive person. In one study after another, some participants improve strongly and others do not improve at all, even if they use the same program.1

It can be frustrating for those who put in the effort and don’t see the desired results, but we can learn from the research in this area to make sure everyone benefits from exercise.

Here is an example of the Variation between individuals in response to a particular training program.

One hundred and twenty-one matures participated in a 24-week walking program and trained five times a week. Before the start of the studies2, they were randomly divided into three groups:

A low-intensity, low-intensity group that walked an average of 31 minutes per session at an intensity that would be considered moderate according to exercise guidelines. I call it the lower group.
A high and low intensity group that followed the same intensity, but in each session approximately twice as long (58 minutes on average) as the first group. I call it the intermediate group.
A high-intensity, high-intensity group who walked at high intensity for about 40 minutes in each session. I call it the tall group.

Cardiovascular fitness was measured several times throughout the study. After six months, this is how each group fared:

  • In the lower group, 62% of the participants improved their body condition.
  • In the intermediate group, 82% improved their body condition.
  • In the high group, 100% of the participants improved their body condition.
  • If you look more closely, there are a variety of changes in the body shape of the body, even within groups.

These diagrams show how each person’s body condition changed after the end of the program. Each bar represents a Person’s Response. You can see that some people have improved a lot, others a little and some people have lost weight.

  • In the weak group, the range of reactions varied from an 8% decrease in body fitness to a 30% improvement.
  • The average group had a range from a 10% fitness loss to a 43% improvement.
  • In the high group, the least receptive participant improved by only 7%, while the best-performing respondent improved by 118%.
  • Remember that these people followed the same training program within each group, but that their results were very different.

This study3 focused on resistance exercises for cardiovascular fitness, but this also happens in other types of exercise studies, including interval training and strength training.

In a 4 strength training study, for example, the same 12-week program resulted in strength changes ranging from no improvement for one person to a 250% increase for another person. There were also significant differences in muscle growth between individuals, with one person decreasing their muscle size by 2%, while the most reactive person increased by 59%.

This effect5 has also been observed in nutrition science, people following the same diet experience very different weight losses and sometimes even weight gain.

The reasons for these differences are not obvious. Of course, factors such as sleep, stress, diet and random bodily activity can influence a person’s reaction to an exercise program.

Researchers are trying to take these things out of the equation by asking participants to follow a standardized diet or allowing them to wear activity trackers when they’re not in the lab, but it’s not possible to completely control them.

Genetic factors certainly play a role, and research6 indicates that about 50% of the response to cardiovascular training is due to genetic differences.

What can we learn from this?

If you’re one of the lucky ones who respond well to a particular training program, great! If not, don’t worry. Although these results seem daunting at first, there is good news. If we continue to dig deeper into the research, it seems that there are no real non-respondents. Everything is getting a little better.

If you are not getting the results you expect from your training program, you should keep the following points in mind.


When it comes to movement, consistency is the key

The most effective program for you is probably what you are going to do on a regular basis.

In the walking study, the researchers only reported the improvements in body fitness of people who attended at least 90% of the workouts during the six months.

Not everyone who completed the study managed to complete 90% of the sessions. When the researchers withdrew and included those who participated in at least 70% of the sessions, the percentage of people who improved their body condition decreased by about 4% in the low and medium groups and by about 12% in the high groups.

I’d say 70% is still pretty consistent. This means that these people exercised an average of 3.5 sessions per week for six months. Most of them have improved their body condition. However, more consistency is preferable. People who attended 4.5 sessions per week (90% of the total) were even more likely to improve.

Regularity is probably the most critical factor to benefit from the benefits of exercise. Do something, everything, every week. If you have problems with consistency, focus on setting small achievable goals and creating sustainable training habits before worrying about the details of the program you are currently doing.


Have the other elements of a healthy lifestyle in place.

Get enough sleep, drink enough water, eat lots of nutritious foods, exercise as often as possible during the day, and manage your stress.

If you don’t master these things well enough, you won’t know if it’s the workout program you’re not responding to or if something else in your lifestyle is holding you back.

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