Call or Text: 303-444-8707 | 2955 Baseline Road Boulder, Colorado 80303 | Email:

Exercise and Your Brain

Exercise and Your Brain

Your New Year’s resolution is making you feel like a failure. You’ve been faithfully exercising four times a week – that’s HUGE – and now, three weeks in, you have nothing to show for it. It’s just not getting any easier. No wonder your resolve is waning and you’re inclined to hit the snooze button.

As therapists, we’ve all heard people say that yes, they are doing their exercises, but those exercises aren’t making one bit of difference. Jogging never gets easier or the shoulder exercises are a waste of time.

Exercise and Your Brain
Guess what…you’re not tired!

There’s a name for individuals like this: non-responders – people who show no improvement after weeks of training. Years back, we didn’t know how to fix the problem; we just knew there was a problem. Now we have some insights that will help.

Studies demonstrate that with any exercise, there’s enormous variation in individual responses. Some folks show little improvement, while others get stronger and fitter with relative ease. However, even those who show no gains from low intensity exercise will get stronger and more fit if they push harder. (Mayo Clinic proceedings Nov 2015).

Why can more intense exercise make such a difference, even with non-responders?

It has to do with who’s in charge and, as it turns out, who’s in charge might surprise you!

We’ve always thought that our muscles got tired and felt weak when we ran out of oxygen or fuel – which caused toxic by-products to accumulate forcing us to stop moving. And if you’ve seen any movie about Everest climbs, that’s exactly how it seems. Climbers are exhausted and each step is a supreme effort. But study after study shows normal oxygen levels in climbers until they reach an altitude of 23,300 feet. Lactic acid levels are normal too. What could be happening?

Something else stops you, and it’s your brain. Even if muscle fuel (glycogen and ATP) diminishes with exercise, the fuel tank doesn’t run out. Instead, your brain acts to protect your body from over exertion, and it errs on the side of caution. Fatigue is a sensation or emotion the brain uses to protect you. So while your body feels like you can’t go another step or complete another rep, it’s your brain making that decision. Exercise and Your Brain

One way to help your brain adjust to higher exertion levels is through interval training. When you exercise at high intensity for short bursts, the brain stops sending alarm signals. It no longer diverts blood from working muscles and it gives you less of an emotional response to exertion. Gradually, you start to get used to 
a harder work out. That’s called a training response.

We’ll go out on a limb and say there is no such thing as a true non-responder. But if you feel like every exercise aspiration ends in defeat, let’s talk. A number of things could get in the way of your success: how you train, your posture, even your breathing. Make a PT appointment today. 2017 could be the start of something good.


Leave a Comment