Personalized Workouts

Florence Comite, MD | Nov 18, 2020

As we inch closer to the holiday season, New Year’s resolutions are just around the corner. We all want to start the new year with a clean slate. A few usual suspects appear on the list every year – people want to lose weight, to go to the gym more, to eat better. Afterall, what better time than the new year to become a healthier version of yourself.

In fact, the top resolution in 2020 according to a YouGov poll was to exercise more.

And yet, despite the best intentions, people fall short of their lofty goals. While about 60% of folks make New Year’s resolutions, only 8% of those people actually achieve their goal. It can be especially frustrating when you feel like you are working out consistently, but are still not seeing the results you want.

But, before you throw your hands up and swear off exercise for the entirety of 2021, let’s keep something in mind. There is no one in the world like you, which means your health needs are just as unique. That extends to your exercise routines.

So, before we ring in the new year, let’s take a dive into the world of personalized exercises!

Not Every Workout Is For Every Person

You may be surprised to know the Comite Center for Precision Medicine & Health actually has a clinical term for those who don’t see improvement even after committing to a workout plan. They are called “non-responders.”

However, this doesn’t mean that all hope is lost for non-responders. The trick is to find an exercise that suits them better.

An experiment published in PLOS One speaks to this. 21 healthy participants completed a VO2 max test. This is a functional treadmill (or bike) test that measures how much oxygen the lungs can deliver to the muscles; heart rates; and other physiological parameters related to aerobic fitness.

Then, each volunteer completed two different types of workouts for three weeks:

  • Endurance type cycling four times a week for 30 minutes at a steady pace
  • High-intensity interval training on the stationary bike

At the end of each three-week session, the researchers checked the volunteers’ VO2 max and other fitness metrics. The responses varied considerably from person to person.

About a third of the people had failed to show much improvement in the endurance cycling workout. Similarly, about a third did not experience success with interval training. However, those who didn’t respond to the endurance workouts responded tremendously to intervals, and vice versa.

The study goes to show that each unique person will respond differently to certain exercises, underscoring the need for individualized workouts and health strategies.

Why Do Certain Exercises Not Work For Me?

Let’s dispel some of the mystery around why a non-responder may not see results with a particular exercise.

There are specific genetic variants that influence the type of muscle fibers a person has. You may be hardwired to have more fast-twitch muscle fibers, making you a better sprinter. Or, you might be someone whose genes are better suited to aerobic exercise like long-distance running.

There are also genes that influence the speed at which each person responds to a workout. Just because you don’t see results in a week, and your neighbor did, doesn’t mean you are a non-responder. It may just take you longer.

You may be wondering if your genes provide the entire picture for your optimal workout regimen. The answer is: no. It’s important to remember that your genes are a single piece of your overall health. Metabolism, sleep, stress, lifestyle, hormones, personal and family history, and even your environment can influence the type of workout that suits your makeup best.

So how can I determine the best form of exercise for me?

1. Examine your personal health history and any restrictions

Do you have bad knees? Perhaps swimming would be kinder on your joints than high intensity running.

2. Consider your lifestyle.

Are you very busy and can only squeeze in a workout or two on the weekend? In fact, a study shows that “weekend warriors” or people who only workout on the weekend, have much improved health over non-exercisers. Getting your heart rate pumping routinely throughout the week is of course ideal, but the data confirms something is better than nothing.

If you are someone who can only workout one or two times a week, you will have to exercise much more intensely than someone who is exercising regularly. Circuit training, or “metabolic” CrossFit style workouts, is a good option for people who can only exercise on the weekends. They work the entire body and incorporate both cardiovascular and weight-resistance training.

3. Measure your fitness.

To get a sense of where you are starting, you’ll want to establish your baseline number. You can do this by briskly walking up several flights of stairs for a few minutes. Then check your pulse by hand or with a wearable or fitness app.

Once you have this baseline number, start working out. Aim for a moderate to high intensity exercise. It should feel difficult, and you shouldn’t be able to carry a conversation with your favorite workout buddy.

Tip: Keep an eye on your form! Compromised form can negatively influence results.

After about six weeks on your program repeat the fitness test. Your pulse rate should be slower now, and your workout sessions should be feeling easier.

If not, you may be a non-responder to your current exercise routine.

4. Don’t stagnate!

Even if you had success with your last workout routine, it is a good idea to switch up your workout every 6 weeks.

That doesn’t mean that if you like weight training at the gym you should suddenly hit the yoga mat. Try switching from free weights to cables.

Maybe you’ve been doing high reps at a light weight, so try low reps at a heavy weight. If you’ve been jogging on the treadmill, try running outside or on the elliptical.

Don’t feel to restricted by the 6-week timeline. Sometimes six weeks is too long to stick with a program. If you haven’t been sore for a while, or it’s taking you a while to get tired, it’s time to switch up your workout.

Florence Comite, MD