Why Exercise is Making You Gain Weight

Tell me if this sounds familiar:

You've committed to an exercise program. You started eating better. You're going to the gym 3 - 4 times a week doing a mix of strength training and cardio, especially after reading my last post, nudge nudge, wink wink.

It's been a month and after all the sweating, early mornings, and walking like a duck post- squats, you are ready to step on the scale, eager and excited to see all of the awesome progress you've surely achieved.

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You've - gained 2 pounds?

How could this be? Have they been lying to you this entire time? Are you a genetic anomaly like the evil mutant Blob from X-men?

No. You're actually pretty normal (well, you might have the x-gene, I'm not a doctor).

Before I answer your question of why exercise has seemingly made you fatter, let me try and clarify things a little bit

First things first, losing weight might not be exactly what you are really after. When most people say they want to to "lose weight", what they mean, whether they realize it or not, is that they want to look (and feel) better. Losing weight is just the cultural norm of what we are told will accomplish that.

In honesty, purely losing weight probably would make a lot of people look and feel better, and more often than not definitely wouldn't hurt, there are other factors we need to consider.

Your body is an amazing piece of software - it will quite literally adapt to whatever situation it needs to. The thing is, that software is a tad outdated and is best suited for feast/famine scenarios - for example, when food plentiful in the summer, it will store energy as fat so it can be used when food is scarce in the winter. Theoretically.

What our bodies have not adapted to is the fact that for most of us, there is no more "famine". If you're not burning off your excess energy, it stores everything, as fat, diligently waiting for that famine.

Back to the weight gain. When you lift, pretty much any object that weighs anything, repeatedly, your muscles adapt and get bigger and stronger. This is why construction workers who use a jackhammer all day have giant forearms or why cyclists usually have really defined legs. Their body, upon realizing this activity will be a frequent occurrence, reacts accordingly to make it as efficient as possible.

This also works with other things other than hypertrophy, which is why people who sit a lot get ridiculously tight hip flexors, a hunch in the upper back/neck and a weak core - the body adapts to being in these positions for nearly 16 hours a day.

But enough about other people, back to you my friend. You've worked really hard. You couldn't smoothly sit on the toilet for 3 days after squatting, coughed up a lung on the Airdyne bike and choked down your broccoli whilst resisting the temptation of Ben and Jerry, so where's your just reward?

The reason you've gained weight (provided you did things well, especially nutrition, right - if you're working out like crazy but eating an entire cake every night, I can't help you) is that your body has adapted to it's stimulus.

Normal people, who have never lifted weights before, get what the fitness world often calls "newbie gains" (which have become more and more exaggerated as the years go on but I digress. This means that you have a very small window, usually about 1-3 months in my experience, where you put on muscle quickly, and (incoming guilt trip) if you read my last post, you know that muscle is much denser than fat.

Do not freak out! This is usually only an initial 2-3 pounds and the fat loss comes shortly after that.

When it comes to your progress into a healthier lifestyle, do not make the mistake of only looking at the scale - it is only one unit of measurement. It's extremely important to have others, such as measuring inches, taking before and after pictures and for the love of god, just learning to relax.

When you see yourself every single day, it's quite hard to notice change especially when it's so minuscule on a day to day basis.

If you find after the first few weeks you're not losing weight even after putting in an honest effort (side note: I've had this conversation with people and been baffled, until I saw them work out. Browsing instagram on a recline bike is not working), check your measurements. If they haven't changed, in which case I'd honestly be surprised, take a good look at your eating habits. There's always a reason.

But for the vast majority of you, keep up the good work, limit your scale use, and for your own sanity please try to relax and enjoy the process. What you want will come, it just takes a little time and consistency. In the meantime, enjoy yourself. As much as one can while they're eating broccoli. Vile weed!

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written by: Karl Gellert, CESP
Personal Trainer and Coach at Infinite Fitness