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Why Did I Gain Weight In The Beginning Of My Workout Program?

This is a frequently asked question from new clients at our Charleston personal training studio. It’s a subject that’s full of misconceptions and half-truths which I’ll look to clear up for you in this article.

As a personal trainer early on in my career I’ll be honest and admit I really didn’t know what was going on when a new client would see the scale go up after their first week or two of working out.

It didn’t always happen as some people would understandably lose weight. None-the-less, I was determined to find the answer to how this could be happening and started digging through the research. I didn’t take me long to find out there’s some physiological explanations.

One thing that’s always bothered me is the typical answer I hear a lot of personal trainers giving clients on why they’ve gained weight when starting a resistance training program. This is a real pet-peeve subject of mine. Here’s the standard explanation…

“Muscle weighs more than fat and you’ve gained lean muscle.”

In the first week or two with doing resistance training, really?

I don’t think so! There’s no way this is possible. Any trainer who worth their salt should know that hypertrophy or lean muscle growth does NOT happen in the first few weeks of just starting to work out.

The strength improvements are a result of improved neural recruitment. Of course with the right intensity and variables in place, lean muscle development can contribute to the body mass equation later on, but not in the first few weeks.

Just know this is a B.S. answer and cannot explain the reason why you’ve gained weight early on in a resistance training program. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s look at what really may be behind the scale going up.

The truth is there are actually a couple of factors that can lead to weight gain when you first begin working with weights or start back after a prolonged break. The technical name for this is something that’s called “Exercise Induced Weight Gain.”

I know it sounds like an oxymoron as you wouldn’t expect the words “exercise” and “weight gain” to be together. Make no mistake about it though, there’s a legit physiological answer for why this is possible.

The first reason for weight gain could be due to water retention within the lean muscle tissue.

Here’s what happens…

When you first start working with weights you’ll experience some pretty significant muscle soreness. The soreness is a result of small micro-tears within the muscle from being worked with an overload stimulus. The muscle fibers are actually being broken down.

When this happens, the body responds through a protective and repair mechanism by pushing water into the muscle cells. In essence, you experience inflammation as a way to help you heal and rebuild the damaged tissue.

As you know water makes up about 60% of the human body. With increased water retention in the muscles it’s easy to see how you could gain a few pounds due to inflammation. This doesn’t last long as when the inflammation in the muscles goes down, so does the water weight retention.

In short, there’s likely little need to be concerned when you see this happen early on in the game. It’s a natural response of your body adjusting to the new workloads. As you progress with your weight training you’ll notice how you’re not always sore like you were in the first week or two. This is because your body has adapted and improved with the rebuilding process.

Every now and then with a high volume, or heavy workload you’ll be sore, but it won’t be as frequent or as long as you experienced in the beginning of a resistance training program.

Ok, so water weight retention can certainly be a variable resulting in early “exercise induced weight gain.” The second factor is something that will require attention to your diet.

The other variable in exercise induced weight gain from a physiological standpoint has to do with an increase in your metabolism and hormonal responses.

When you start exercising there’s a natural increase in your metabolic rate. This could certainly result in you being hungrier more often. This is a good thing in the overall big picture of things, but if you didn’t pay attention to caloric intake weight gain could definitely occur.

Basically, exercise triggers some individuals to over-consume calories. This may be physiological due to hormonal and metabolism responses, but it could also be psychological. For some people there’s a faulty belief system that since they’re “exercising” they can justify cheating more with their diet. This is obviously a complex issue but here’s what I recommend.

In the first few weeks of starting an exercise program you should look to keep a detailed food log and track your nutrition. There are several free on-line programs and apps that work extremely well for this purpose. The one we use at Shaping Concepts is called “myfitnesspal.com.”

I feel so strongly about the benefits of journaling your nutrition in the beginning of an exercise program that we incorporate this practice into our Charleston personal training programs. I can’t begin to tell you how valuable this in on several levels. I know it may sound like boring, tedious work, but experience has shown me time and time again that people who journal are far more successful than those who don’t.

Bottom line with all of this is if you’re paying attention to your diet and not over-consuming calories, there’s nothing to freak out about if you see the scale go up 2-3 pounds in the beginning. This is likely due to water weight retention and you should see the scale level back out fairly quickly.

Women tend to see exercise induced weight gain more than men in the beginning but I’ve seen it on both sides. Just remember ladies that you can have several pounds of water weight fluctuation due to hormonal shifts throughout the month. That’s why it’s important NOT to use the scale as the only measurement of progress. Go by a combination of the scale, your body fat percentage and your measurements. Easier done is to gauge things by how your clothes fit.

I’d rather you not get on the scale for the first week or so anyways. Remember body fat loss is going to take time so avoid the temptation to look for instant gratification. There are plenty of quick-fix gimmicks that can deliver that. Take things one step at a time and give yourself affirmation for making the commitment to exercise and eat healthy. The results will come if you stick with it.

Shane Doll is a certified personal trainer, fat loss expert, speaker, and founder of Shaping Concepts Fitness Training Studios. If you’re looking for a personal trainer in Charleston, you can receive a no-obligations personal training trial and consultation without risking a dime. Over 1000 Charleston area residents have transformed their bodies following our unique burst training workouts and simplified nutrition programs. Experience the Shaping Concepts difference today.

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Category: Fitness Training.