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

By , SparkPeople Blogger
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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RACHNACH 7/21/2021
Thanks Report
good to know Report
Thank you so much! Now I understand! Report
Thank you for this!!!! I am discouraged by my weight gain and not any weight loss but I am doing everything right. I will stay the course and hide my scale for two weeks. Report
MUGABI123 1/28/2021
Great info, I have seen this slight weight gain or no lose in the past. Report
TRAVELGAL417 1/4/2021
excellent article. I have experienced this. Report
CECELW 12/5/2020
i think i read this before Report
LONEPALADIN 11/10/2020
Thanks for explaining. This is my first time to hear about and learn about DOMs. I also expected there would be some weight gain from added muscle mass. But learning that it takes two weeks to see some weight loss is a comfort, so that I won't freak out the next time I weight in. Really enjoyed your article. Report
JANIEWWJD 10/30/2020
Very informative article!!!! Thank you so much for sharing!!! Report
BONNIE1552 9/14/2020
Good to know. Report
DMEYER4 8/17/2020
thanks Report
Good information Report
Very helpful Report
Great article, explains a lot Report
Thanks! Report
Great info! Thanks! Report
Thanks! Report
Good to know. Report
Thanks for the great article! :) Report
I thought muscle soreness was because the muscle was not used to being used. Report
Thank you Report
Awesome...thanks... Report
Great information. Report
wow, thanks for info. helps to keep me positive. Report
Thanks! I needed this! I started a new workout routine (body pump) recently. I've been attending twice a week and am up 3 lbs. I was feeling discouraged. Hopefully that gain will drop off soon. Report
Thanks for sharing! Report
Thank you! Report
So glad to read this right now. For the first time in my weight loss journey I started to gain and I definitely did not like the feeling. However, I started a tougher exercise regimen which includes strength and arm, leg workouts. The scale started going up and, even though I was losing inches, I wasn’t a happy camper. This helps me put it into perspective. I will put my patience back in place and wait for the scale to catch up. Report
Absolutely great Report
Interesting. I hadn't heard this before. Report
Great info! Thanks! Report
Wow! It is like SP is reading my mind! I gained a lot this week after returning to heavy duty workout plans! I'll be patient & wait for the loss now! Thanks!! Report
This sounds odd. The body goes into shock because you change your workout. I don't believe this.

Could have mentioned how burning fat releases water, but they didn't. Seems shaming people for eating is becoming a thing with SP. Report
Good to know Report
I think someone should point out that if someone is experiencing rapid weight gain NOT attributable to overeating or starting a new exercise routine, they may have a medical condition and may want to consult a doctor. Report
No I have never experienced weight gain from starting an exercise program. I have experienced it from over eating. When I reached my goal weight I wasn't as careful about what I ate and it hurt me in the long run. I have started 2017 out right and I am very careful about what I eat. I have made it through one week and I have done an awesome job! Report
This explains so much! I've never heard this before now, but I've experienced it and always wondered what I am doing wrong to GAIN instead of lose. What an interesting piece of biology. Report
Very helpful! Thanks. Report
thanks for writing this blog. I really needed the motivation today. The scale has shown an increase in weight for me, but I will hang in there. I just started really pushin myself harder and loanger in my workouts. I have even added in some new things. Report
I am so relieved to read this. Is it true then, spark people tracker, tells me I can eat more if I burn more? Report
I knew this was true, but I just had to read it again. I have been working out really hard for 3 weeks and I have gained 4 pounds! Every workout I push harder and lift heavier weights. I am sore each time. My clothes are fitting better, but it is so discouraging to see that higher number. I'll keep at it! Report
just want i wanted to read.... was super discouraged, been working out and eating right, starting writing doen wat i eat n counting calories coz was soo discouraged, then after reading this i realised last monday i started with heavy weights n decrease cardio, coz cardio was all i was doing before and some body weight. and boom over the week i gained 4-5 pounds. and feel sore too. hopefully it is DOMS, m going to cont doing what m doing and not worry about scale for next week or soo Report
Encouraging! Thanks Report
i have added about 400 minutes of activity a week - a mix of strength, cardio, hIIt training- great for my heart, general well being, endurance etc etc - but I have gained 2 lbs per week for the first 2 weeks - i FEEL great, everyone is commenting on my appearance (I look so well, so glowing, yadaya) - I have to trust I will eventually see results on the scales - in the meantime, feeling so good, don't care what the scale reads
Thanks for this information. I have always heard that "muscle weighs more than fat", so I thought the weight gain was permanent. The information in the article makes a lot of sense, and it is good to know that extra exertion, like running a race, results in extra weight gain. Report
Thank you for your post. I just started a boot camp and cut calories, and gained 3 pounds. I'm used to loosing water weight rapidly the first week , usually 2-4 lbs. So I knew something was wrong, but still got discouraged and used sore muscles as excuse to skip boot camp. My wright came back down and my muscles are recovered. Time to start boot camp again. Thank you again for this helpful post Report
OH MY GOSH! Thanks for writing this! I really needed to read this! Report
This article exactly describes my weight loss situation. I would start a program and stop as soon as I see the number on the scale go up. Next, I am back to not exercising and over eating. Charlene...thank you so much for posting this article. I am going to start over tomorrow with my plan and this time I will not give up. Report
SO true! I've been working out HARD 6 days a week including 2 with a trainer and I've only lost 17lbs BUT I'm down 3 sizes. Report
hard to tell cos steroids make you weighty too! I was swollen after getting a liitle over-enthusiastic about 3 days ago - stiff too. Report