Why exercise isn't working for you (and what to do about it)—according to science

You go to the gym at least four days per week; you spend 45 minutes to an hour on the treadmill or elliptical; and once in a while, you follow it up with the same weight routine you’ve been doing for years. Routine is good, right? Well, not if you’re not seeing results.

According to a small study conducted by the American Council on Exercise, the solution for "non-responders" (people who see no clear results from exercise that produces significant results for others) is a combination of cardio, resistance training, and functional training.

Now you may be thinking, “I’ve heard this before,” but this study shows that individuals who mixed all three types of training into their fitness regimen saw improvements in their VO2 max, or maximum oxygen intake (the higher the number, the more oxygen you’re getting to the muscles, which can help you go faster and farther); high-density lipoprotein (or HDL) cholesterol levels; triglyceride and blood glucose levels; and a lower body-fat percentage. And when comparing the test group that did cardio, resistance, and functional training to the test groups that just did one type of training or none, the group that did all three saw the best results across the board.

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That said, if you don’t follow this model to a T, it doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t make any positive changes to your health or your body. Each type of training—cardio, resistance, and functional—all offer individual benefits.

Benefits of Cardio Training

Cardio is any type of exercise that increases your heart rate and respiration during the same pattern of exercise. Think: running, using the elliptical, or jumping rope. "Cardio is not only good for losing weight and burning fat, but it is also good for your heart, lungs, and your circulatory system," says Luke Lombardo, RRCA certified running coach, Ironman triathlete, and master trainer of Lagree Fitness in Los Angeles.

“All in all, a moderate amount of cardio will keep you lighter, healthier, and help you live longer.” What cardio alone won’t provide: injury prevention, added muscle tone (which ultimately equals more calorie-burning power), additional strength, coordination, or flexibility—proof of why cardio alone doesn’t cut it.

Benefits of Resistance Training

If you're working out with a dumbbell, kettlebell, barbell, resistance band, or any type of force that is resisting against the body, that qualifies as resistance training. It's also known as strength training. "In addition to facilitating weight loss by building muscle—which in turn, helps your body burn more calories and increases metabolism— resistance training also helps maintain and build muscle mass, as well as bone mass," says Lombardo. Unlike cardio, though, resistance training doesn't provide the same benefits for your heart, lungs, and circulatory system.

Benefits of Functional Training

Wait, what training? Functional training is exercise that helps train and strengthen the body to perform activities in daily life (ADL)—hence the word functional. “These exercises and movements are done both with and without weights,” says Lombardo. “Functional training is necessary for injury prevention and is also beneficial for one's strength, overall mobility, flexibility, core strength, and more.” Functional training makes life easier by helping you do normal activities like walking up the stairs, picking up grocery bags, or bending down to tie your shoe correctly without risking injury. But—and there’s a pattern here—functional training alone doesn’t tackle everything you need to see results.

Your Weekly Plan to Combine All Three Exercise Types

We asked Lombardo for a weekly workout plan that incorporates the trio. If you hit a plateau, feel bored with your routine, have new goals, or just want to switch it up, stick to this plan for 4 to 6 weeks to see if your body responds positively.

How to use this plan: For each day of the week, aim for 30 to 45 minutes of exercise. For cardio, perform your favorite activity or try a combo of these bodyweight exercises. Include core exercises on functional training days. On resistance days, be sure to start with a dynamic warm-up and end with functional stretching. You'll rotate through an upper-body focuslower-body focus, and total-body training

Monday: Cardio + Functional Training including Core
Tuesday: Dynamic Warm-Up + Resistance Training (Upper-Body Focus) + Functional Training Stretches
Wednesday: Cardio + Functional Training including Core
Thursday: Dynamic Warm-Up + Resistance Training (Lower-Body Focus) + Functional Training Stretches
Friday: Cardio + Functional Training including Core
Saturday: Dynamic Warm-Up + Resistance Training (Total-Body Focus) + Functional Training Stretches
Sunday: Rest Day or go for a brisk walk