Are You Getting Enough from Your Workout? 3 Tips to Make You a High(er) Responder.

By Marina Aagaard, MFE

Unfair?! Some exercisers are exercising very little and are still getting fantastic results, while others are working out hard and often with almost no results …
During a talk I gave the other weekend, I was asked: In a tv program the other day, I saw, that some people are non-responders; does it pay to exercise then?
The answer is: Yes – always!

Træningsrespons træningseffekt og responder type

Within medicine a nonresponder is:
A person or cell, which does not respond to a treatment or substance.

Within exercise these terms are used (there are no exact definitions):
(High) responders and non responders (or low responders); persons, who respond either well or poorly to (cardiovascular) exercise.

In a group of people following the same exercise protocol, there will be both responders, those who get excellent results and non-responders, those who get very limited or insignificant improvements.

Personally I think the expression ‘non responder’ is misleading: low or slow responder is more precise, because as soon as you start to exercise – from day one – you will get an effect, minor or major, in more areas, e.g. motor skill, muscular and metabolic improvements.
So yes, it is always of benefit to start exercising.

Note, that the term non-responder has been used in connection with cardiovascular exercise studies, in which maximal oxygen consumption was not improved significantly, while other health-related areas improved significantly …

Research has found, that the genes do determine how a person responds to exercise; e.g. the Heritage Family Study shows that both maximal and submaximal cardiovascular fitness are related to the genetic makeup.

However, before you blame your genes for less than optimal exercise results and call yourself a ‘non-responder’, the message from some of the leading sports coaches in the world is, that your training effort can lead to incredible results.

My own observations are, that many exercisers ‘undertrain’; train too little, exercise with too little weight or too low resistance, use too small movements, use inefficient exercise techniques and exercise with no or little focus.

Most exercisers – beginners and advanced – could get much more out of their genetic potential with a just a few improvements.

3 Tips to Make You a ‘Higher’ Responder:

  • More goal-oriented with a specific program with more effective exercises
  • More focus; 100 % concentration during exercising and short (timed) breaks
  • More intensity, higher load – with good exercise technique

Enjoy your new improved workout!


Bouchard C, Shephard RJ, Stephens T, Sutton JR and McPherson BD (Eds.), Exercise Fitness and Health (pp. 147-153). 1990. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics

Couzens, A. What Type of Athlte Are You? 17.3.2013.

Feitosa, MF et al. Major gene effects on exercise ventilatory threshold: the HERITAGE Family Study. J Appl Physiol. 2002. vol 93 no 3 1000-1006.

Green HJ, Jones S, Ball-Burnett M, Farrance B, Ranney D. Adaptations in muscle metabolism to prolonged voluntary exercise and training. J Appl Physiol. 1995 Jan;78(1):138-45

Saltin B, Nazar K, Costill DL, Stein E, Jansson E, Essen B, Gollnick D. The nature of the training response; peripheral and central adaptations of one-legged exercise. Acta Physiol Scand. 1976 Mar; 96(3):289-305

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