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Exercise Response.

3 December 2015

I have a new trainer. He’s a weightlifter, and my goals are around endurance, so I’m not 100% sure it’s a match from that perspective, but I’m giving it a shot. Our first day was really tough for me. Partly, I’m sure, because I was a little jetlagged, and partly because I’m still restricting calories. And partly because I was trying to impress the new dude. But mostly because he was working me really hard, and I overheated. I needed to lie down for a minute so I didn’t throw up. I’m going back to him today and I’m going to say that I’m happy with the weights and the reps, but I want to build in some recovery time between sets, because holy shit.

But I’m not as sore as I expected, and I’m feeling ready to give it another go. And, truth be told, I have to work hard. I have to work harder than other people to get the same result, when it comes to fitness. There is a class of people who have been called “non-responders” to exercise, because they don’t seem to increase cardiovascular fitness in response to working out. Some estimates put this group as high as 30% of people. There was a documentary out recently that supported this. Though, even in this group of cardiovascular “non-responders” other health processes, like insulin sensitivity, still improved with exercise.

This is somewhat supported by recent research suggesting that people like me, who have close relatives with type 2 diabetes, have inferior genetic responses to exercise than people without that family history. However, an exciting paper was just released in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings, which – despite a somewhat small sample size – seems to show that the way to reduce cardiovascular non-response is by working harder. They took three groups of obese, sedentary people and assigned them to low-amount, low intensity, or low-amount, high intensity, or high-amount, high intensity workouts. By increasing amount and intensity, non-response was completely eliminated in their sample.

I suppose some people will think of this as bad news: it may be used as judgment or criticism of obese people for being “lazy”. I prefer to think of it as personal and hopeful: if I am not getting the results I want, I’m not doomed. I can work harder. I already work pretty damned hard at my fitness, and I’m still overweight. I’m obviously not a “non-responder” because I’ve made huge strides and increased my fitness and lost a lot of weight. But I’m also obviously not in any hyper-responsive group. I put on weight while marathon training. Though, I’ve taken most of it back off and am trending in the right direction.

It may not be fair that I have to work harder than others to get the same results. And it’s really super not fair that some have to work harder than me to get the same results. And some people won’t have the time or capacity – or have injuries, etc. – to work as hard as they have to work to get the results they want, and that sucks. And some people don’t care about fitness, and that’s fine. Condemnation of people based on their bodies and their choices about their bodies is pretty shitty. I’m opposed.

But for people who are looking to increase their fitness, or lose weight, this study seems to me to provide hope. We’re don’t have to give ourselves up as lost. We can work harder. I think that’s great. Now I just need to work harder.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. 3 December 2015 09:01

    You are singing my song! I have to work harder and eat more carefully than anyone I know. I met with a personal trainer in October and am still undergoing Chiropractic care once a week to get straightened out from the one meeting with her!

    When I visit my stick-thin sister, who does not exercise, I find that a week with her, eating as she does, will result in a 5 to 10 lb. weight gain for me. Seriously. Last time it was 8 lbs.

    I think you are a super hero for what you have done with your health. And no, I am NOT being sarcastic.

    • 3 December 2015 09:02

      You are one of my primary inspirations, MC. I read your story over and over again when you did the 25 years posts. And how you came to be an athlete in sobriety was incredible to me.

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