Why the Scale Goes Up When You Start a New Workout Plan


By: , SparkPeople Blogger
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By Chalene Johnson

Probably the most common question I get when I release a new exercise program is, "Help! I'm gaining weight! Am I doing something wrong?" This is a common phenomenon with any new exercise program, such as Turbo Kick, Turbo Jam, Hip Hop Hustle, or others! It's especially common (and temporary) with intense strength training programs like ChaLEAN Extreme or Tony Horton's P90X.

The motivation to start a new exercise program is almost always to lose weight. However, what most personal trainers know--and most at-home exercisers do not--is that a new exercise program often can cause an immediate (and temporary) increase on the scale. (Notice I didn't say weight gain! I'll explain.) This common increase in the scale is also the reason why perhaps millions of people start and then quickly quit their resolution to get fit.

The temporary weight gain explained:
When someone starts a new exercise program, they often experience muscle soreness. The more intense and "unfamiliar" the program, the more intense the muscle soreness. This soreness is most prevalent 24 to 48 hours after each workout. In the first few weeks of a new program, soreness is the body trying to "protect and defend" the effected or targeted tissue. Exercise physiologists refer to this as delayed-onset muscle soreness, or DOMS.

This type of soreness is thought to be caused by tissue breakdown or microscopic tears in muscle tissue. When this happens, the body protects the tissue. The muscle becomes inflamed and slightly swollen due to fluid retention. This temporary retention of fluid can result in a 3- to 4-pound weight gain within a few weeks of a new program. Keep in mind that muscle soreness is not necessarily a reflection of how hard you worked. In fact, some people feel no signs of muscle soreness, yet will experience the muscle protection mechanisms of water retention and slight swelling.

Most people are motivated enough to put up with this temporary muscle soreness. Yet, many, especially those who really need immediate weight loss to keep them motivated, become discouraged and quit!

When I worked with a group of 70 test participants during the development stages of ChaLEAN Extreme, this happened. Who was the most upset and discouraged? You guessed it... the women! I'm happy to report absolutely for every single woman (and man) in our group, the weight increase was temporary and never lasted more than two weeks before they started to see a major drop in the scale. However, these people had the advantage of working with someone who was able to explain to them why this was happening and assure them the weight would come off if they stuck to the nutrition plan and stayed true to the program.

If you follow a multi-phase exercise plan, such as ChaLEAN Extreme, keep in mind that when you start each phase, your body will be "in shock" again. Don't be surprised or discouraged if you experience a temporary gain on the scale the first week of each phase.

My own personal example of this is running 10Ks. I don't do it very often, maybe once or twice a year. Even though I run on a regular basis, when you run a race, you push much harder. It's natural for me to be insanely sore the next day. It’s also very common for me to see the scale jump 4 pounds the next day from forcing fluids post race and the resulting DOMS. Even though I know the cause of it, it's still a bummer. We're all human and hard work should mean results. Hard work equals results, but our bodies are amazing machines and they know how to protect us from hurting ourselves. Soreness forces you to give those muscles a break. Ultimately you will lose the weight and you will change your metabolism in the process.

The key is understanding that this is a normal and temporary and stick with the program!

When to be concerned:
If you experience a significant weight gain (exceeding 5 pounds) that does not begin to decrease rapidly after the second week, guess what it is? I'll give you one hint... you put it in your mouth and chew it. You know it! Your food (or calorie-laden beverages). News flash, friends… exercise doesn't make you gain weight. Consuming more food than you burn makes you gain weight!

So if after two weeks you are not losing weight and have gained weight that's not coming off, it's time to take a close and honest look at your food intake. Start using SparkPeople's Nutrition Tracker regularly, and be honest.

Moral of the story:
Be patient young grass hopper. You'll be lean and mean in no time!

To read more of my blogs, click here. And be sure to read my first guest blog post on SparkPeople, The True Story behind the Turbo Jam Workouts.

Editor's note: SparkPeople has partnered with Powder Blue Productions and Chalene Johnson to co-promote each other’s products and services.

(Photo courtesy of Chalene Johnson)

Have you ever experienced weight gain when starting a new workout program? Did it come off after a few weeks?

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  • 184
    This Blog entry was very helpful.I just started to step up my exercise program so, it was good to know the science behind seeing a slight gain before seeing the scale go down again.I know Now, if I am stuck at this weight next week, after stepping up the exercise last week, That it's my Food intake that needs tweaking. - 1/27/2010   6:54:11 AM
    This explains a lot. I have always noticed a weight gain when I embark on a new exercise programme but I always attributed it to "muscle weighs more than fat". Nice to know that the weight will come off if I can stick with the programme. Love the fitness and nutrition trackers here at SP; they help so much. - 1/27/2010   4:09:03 AM
    Read the right blog at the right time! Used both the nutritional tracker/fitness tracker last week.... gained two pounds and got mad as all get out. Regrouped and back on the bandwagon this week. - 1/26/2010   10:44:27 PM
  • 181
    Thanks for the great info! It does make sense though, but thank goodness that it does go away! - 1/26/2010   7:43:43 PM
  • 180
    Thank you so much for posting this! Great information here. - 1/26/2010   6:38:14 PM
  • 179
    I really, REALLY needed that info. I had no idea. . .that helps me immensely. Thanks so much! - 1/26/2010   2:24:50 PM
    This is a great reminder to not get discouraged and keep exercising. The important thing is feeling healthy, not the number on the scale! - 1/26/2010   9:54:49 AM
    This article came just in time! I was getting very discouraged by my 4 lb weight gain since starting cardio everyday. I was about to say the heck with it and go back to 3 times a week.

    Thanks to Wachee who located the article and sent me the link! I feel better! - 1/26/2010   8:01:41 AM
  • 176
    Thanks for the information. I knew muscle weighs more and doing strength training could increase weight as well. Its hard to face the reality that sometimes it is what you are putting in your mouth that keeps the scales from moving. - 1/25/2010   12:32:02 PM
  • 175
    Now I understand why I was so thirsty... after cancer treatment I have just got back into exercising regularly, and found I needed to drink lots more water, the weight is not coming off yet but I am feeling great, this gives me hope that it will happen soon! - 1/25/2010   11:46:15 AM
  • 174
    Thanks! - 1/25/2010   11:27:49 AM
  • 173
    I'm glad that this article was posted this is exactly what i have been experiencing. - 1/25/2010   11:01:47 AM
    Thanks for this info. I always gain after excercising especilly after taking some time off, was very discouraging. This was very moviating! To know I was not doing something wrong. Just started a new routine this will keep me moviated to stick with it. - 1/25/2010   10:57:34 AM
  • MONIE39
    This was a great article!! I also feel more hungry when I work out and eat more so now I have to figure out if it is because I ate more or the exercising?? - 1/25/2010   6:50:30 AM
  • 170
    Thank you! Thank you!! Thank you!!! I really needed to read this! I've been working out everyday for almost 2 weeks. It's very discouraging to get on the scale and, for me, not see a change in my weight. I'll be patient. My clothes are fitting better and I'm able to wear things I couldn't even get on a month ago. - 1/25/2010   2:12:25 AM
    Thanks for the info! I will only do monthly weigh-ins from now on. - 1/24/2010   4:59:53 PM
  • 168
    This happened to me, 3 years ago. I had just started doing strength training on my Total Gym, after like a month of just doing basic cardio. Almost over night, I gained 9 pounds!! This put my weight just 2 pounds UNDER my starting weight. I was freaked, to say the least!!

    The scale, finally began its decent back down, EXACTLY 6 weeks later. So, in this aspect, I do have to DISAGREE with Chalene's 2 week cut off point, before panicking. It takes some of us women much longer than that, to lose the excess fluid build up.

    BUT, good news is...all the new muscle DID turn me into a fat burning machine and I dropped 43 pounds, without suffering a single plateau, in just under 5 months time!

    So keep up the strength training, Ladies...it WILL pay off BIG TIME, in the end!! :) - 1/24/2010   1:16:21 PM
  • 167
    So I have a "laws of physics" question. In this scenario, we all are truly losing fat, but our muscles are gulping up as much water as they can to protect the new muscles we're working out. So In theory, let's say I'm doing only bicep work (I'm not, but you'll see where I'm going). My biceps should be getting bigger due to water retention, but my overall body is getting smaller because I'm losing fat. So the sleeves of my shirt may be tight, but the pants are getting looser, or something like that.

    Since we're focusing on our whole bodies with lifting, essentially what this means is that the fat is getting replaced (volume-wise, if not location-wise) with fluid. Once our muscles get over the initial injury, the water gets flushed. Does this all jive with your explanation? - 1/24/2010   12:48:53 PM
  • 166
    I feel so much better!!! THANK YOU!!! - 1/23/2010   10:11:31 PM
  • 165
    The thought came to mind....being a scale hopper....that when I DO get busy on serious strength training, I will stay OFF the scale for the next month!!! I KNOW I will show a weight gain, and better not to get discouraged! - 1/23/2010   1:12:35 PM
    Great Info.........the last week I have increased my exercise 2x-3x in hope of seeing better a weight lose.........but to my surprise I was gained 1 lb per day for the first 3 days and then held steady for a few days. I became very frustrated becasue my increased intensity was not producing any results. After a few day more those 3 lbs were gone and now I hope to see better results.........so I'm going to fight off the frustration and keep grinding! - 1/23/2010   10:47:33 AM
    this was so informative. thanks! makes me see the light - 1/23/2010   10:12:41 AM
  • 162
    This came just in time for me. I've been doing all the right things, but just weighed in for the week, and have made no progess at all. (I do think my clothes are fitting better, so that gives me hope!) It would be discouraging to go week after week without losing weight, but I don't think that's possible. If you watch what you eat, control portions, and get regular exercise, you have to lose weight--as lots of people on these boards demonstrate. - 1/23/2010   8:15:07 AM
    Excellent article-this will keep me focused and stop me panicing now! - 1/23/2010   5:05:35 AM
  • 160
    This is another thank you comment. I had always known that muscle can contribute to initial weight gain during a new program, but did not realize that is due to fluid build-up surrounding the inflamed muscles. I love learning something new, especially the specifics, it definitely inspires me to keep going. Especially with body weight resistance exercises like kickboxing--- since it utilizes your own body weight in the active motion, this fluid thing makes soooo much sense now. - 1/22/2010   8:35:40 PM
  • 159
    Thank you! This is very motivating!! I was especially have a discouraging day.. - 1/22/2010   8:04:11 PM
  • 158
    Thankyou so much for this article! As many have said, it has come at the perfect time - I bought a bike a week and a half ago and have been riding it most days, at least an hour at a time, plus on wednesday I rode to the zoo, walked around for 3 hours and rode home. I was starting to get frustrated that I haven't seen the scale move at all this whole time. Thankyou for explaining this to me!
    At least I have noticed that my skin looks and feels firmer on my legs. I now hope to see the scales move sometime in the next two weeks. - 1/22/2010   6:09:03 PM
  • 157
    Thank you for this blog!! I really was getting scared. I have been working out so hard, and while I haven't gained any weight, I am not losing. I am on a 14 day streak with my workouts-and I have even received warnings from SP to up my calorie intake because I am burning too many. However, the scale hasn't budged yet! Sooo frustrating. I am VERY sore, so I know now, what's going on. Thank you again! This was just the news I needed to keep me encouraged, and motivated to continue with my streak!! - 1/21/2010   10:53:47 PM
  • 156
    Thank you, this info was critical to my weight loss journey. I started a new routine and gained 2 lbs. I was so discouraged! - 1/21/2010   5:43:50 PM
  • 155
    Best blog ever! Thank you! :)
    I have long suspected this, and it's nice to have it confirmed :) - 1/21/2010   5:34:56 PM
    I was so happy to read your explanation because each time this happens to me I'm tempted to just give up.Now I'll just keep plugging away. - 1/21/2010   11:03:46 AM
  • 153
    I was so encouraged by the title of this blog... however, in reading the entire post I did not find the answer I have been desperately searching for! My lack of weightloss has resulted in a 9 month plateau... I started running (well - jogging!) in May... gained about 4 pounds and then hit that dreaded plateau. It's been nearly nine months. I have considered stopping running but it's something I enjoy now and don't think I can really 'blame' running... I have been measuring and tracking, working out like crazy - and no change... most days I press through with a good attitude - but man - some days it's not to easy! Still - my size jeans or the number on the scale are not what defines me!
    Spark On!
    ~Karrilee~ - 1/20/2010   5:07:35 PM
    I have only noticed a gain when I have added weighs but not cardio. Thanks good information! - 1/20/2010   2:48:37 PM
  • 151
    Thanks as I started working out this year after a hiatus. Quickly dropped ten pounds and this week I put on 2 pounds which is so discouraging. I will keep at it as I have 34 mor pounds to go to reach my first goal by June 1st.... Thanks//// - 1/20/2010   12:48:58 PM
  • 150
    That's interesting. I have never experienced weight gain after adding in new workouts though. - 1/20/2010   11:53:24 AM
  • 149
    Thanks for the info! Very helpful! - 1/20/2010   10:52:47 AM
  • 148
    Fascinating. I always knew that soreness and fatigue had to do with muscles repairing themselves and flushing out lactic acid, but I had know idea that it might result in a small temporary weight increase. Thanks for the info! - 1/20/2010   10:43:47 AM
  • 147
    This makes sense, but I wonder why this has never happened to me before. Every time I have cut my calorie intake by a lot and started exercising I've dropped weight fast. This time nothing. - 1/20/2010   10:17:42 AM
  • SUNSET09
    To advoid the muscle soreness or limit it, I usual go to the sauna as my reward after a workout which really refreshes me as well as not allow the soreness to be so intense. I also noticed a weight (scale) gain as when you work out with weights, muscle weighs more than fat so to not allow yourself to become discouraged, measure the bust, waste and hip areas as that will reflect the change. Good luck! - 1/20/2010   10:06:33 AM
    I was very happy to read this... I worked out harder than ever this past week and when I weighed myself this morning I had gained .8 pounds... I was starting to think it was pointless until I read your blog. Now I know that I will lose as long as I stick with it and don't give up out of frustration. - 1/20/2010   9:33:31 AM
  • 144
    This is EXACTLY what I need to hear after gaining 3 lbs last week but working my tail off in the gym and being very very sore. Wasn't sure if it was muscle gain or water retention, and this blog really helped me! - 1/20/2010   9:09:05 AM
  • 143
    Thank you for sharing. I am going to give this information to others as well. It is so easy to get discouraged and not understand what is going on with our bodies during a time of change. We work so hard and nothing happens, but there is something happening inside and the change will come.

    - 1/20/2010   8:44:32 AM
  • 142
    make sence now. :) - 1/20/2010   8:37:54 AM
  • 141
    Oh, no wonder!! Thank you! - 1/20/2010   8:08:32 AM
  • 140
    I have never heard this put so clearly. Thank you!!! - 1/19/2010   11:36:39 PM
    WOW thank you for the article! I really needed to read this now, because this happened to me the past couple of weeks! but now this week I did loose some weight. Thank you! - 1/19/2010   10:08:50 PM
  • 138
    Wow! GREAT information! Thank you! - 1/19/2010   10:04:19 PM
  • 137
    This is a great article. I need to keep it in mind when I really work hard and see no result at my weigh-in. - 1/19/2010   8:37:26 PM
  • GINA812
    Thank you for explaining this! I have been tracking my food and working out almost every day... only to gain weight. I feel better about this- and will not give up! - 1/19/2010   7:26:09 PM
  • 135
    whoa! 2 weeks? Thanks for letting me know!

    I knew that it was common to gain in the beginning or to be stuck at this weird plateau right away, but I didn't know how long it could last! - 1/19/2010   6:47:51 PM

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