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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    Great info! Thanks! - 11/26/2017   8:22:02 AM
  • 236
    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!! - 11/10/2017   1:24:03 PM
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    This sounds odd. The body goes into shock because you change your workout. I don't believe this. - 10/23/2017   2:09:51 PM
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    Good to know - 7/9/2017   9:39:47 PM
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    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. - 4/4/2017   8:15:41 AM
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    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! - 1/6/2017   10:42:53 PM
    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. - 7/28/2016   2:42:20 PM
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    Very helpful! Thanks. - 9/5/2015   5:39:40 PM
    Thank you so much for this motivation blog. I started my workout, but at the starting moment I observed the stretch marks and scars on my body. It was horrible. I searched on this and I got to know about the cellublue. It is the cellulite sucker which sucks the fats of fat cell and as a result it gives the gorgeous skin. I had ordered it from www.cellublue.com Just use it and share your experience here with others. - 7/25/2015   2:31:51 AM
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    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. - 8/4/2014   12:40:57 PM
  • 227
    I am so relieved to read this. Is it true then, spark people tracker, tells me I can eat more if I burn more? - 7/6/2014   2:26:38 PM
    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! - 4/5/2014   10:01:16 PM
    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 - 3/18/2014   2:46:48 PM
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    Encouraging! Thanks - 2/3/2014   10:06:44 AM
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    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
    - 9/26/2013   12:49:57 AM
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    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. - 8/5/2013   7:22:40 AM
    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 - 7/25/2013   2:10:13 PM
    OH MY GOSH! Thanks for writing this! I really needed to read this! - 6/21/2013   10:28:20 PM
  • 219
    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. - 5/27/2013   9:10:18 PM
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    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. - 5/3/2013   9:32:27 PM
    hard to tell cos steroids make you weighty too! I was swollen after getting a liitle over-enthusiastic about 3 days ago - stiff too. - 4/20/2013   5:46:22 PM
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    That explains why I gained a pound last week - 4/10/2013   11:39:22 AM
    the information in this article definitely rings true for me. I always gain a few pounds when I'm sore! - 4/1/2013   5:28:22 AM
    I have to agree with many others commenting - this article came at a critical time for me. I have been increasing my exercise and more carefully monitoring my food intake for the past two weeks (I'm usually slightly below the minimum caloric intake cuz my appetite has decreased a bit - YEAH!). Yet my weight loss progress has stopped and/or regressed. I have joint problems and yup, I have been sore. I guess I'll keep at it a couple more weeks and see if things change. - 3/26/2013   3:43:19 PM
    Thank you for the information. I was trying to keep my head up but was definitely discouraged. I have been working out hard and keeping track of my nutrition. This explains the temporary increase on the scale. - 3/11/2013   9:47:16 AM
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    I noticed that i gained about 3 lbs this week from last and i guess its cause i increased my weight i am using for my strength training routine. Very good information. Glad to know that the bloat has a reason. This will give me the motivation to just keep going. - 2/23/2013   8:15:34 AM
    I try not weigh more than once a month. It's easy to get discouraged if you are looking for instant loss, even after a tough workout. - 2/13/2013   4:26:19 PM
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    I decided to train for a half marathon and up to that point had been losing weight nicely with moderate exercise. A couple of days into training I put on weight, by the end of the second week I had put on 3.5 pounds. It stayed with me for three months and even with good eating habits never moved. Around this time I caught the flu and had to take the week off. I lost 4 pounds without doing anything!!!!! Started training again and overnight put on 3.5 pounds. It was disheartening but slowly realised I had lost quite a few inches around the middle and hips and my clothes were comfortably loose, some in fact are no longer attractive but hung on my body (yay). So if you are like me, keep at it, your body will reward you in some way. - 9/18/2012   4:49:46 PM
    So happy I found this I was really discouraged! Before I started Chalean Extreme I was losing 1.5 pounds a week with diet and cardio I decided I wanted to throw in strength training into the mix after seeing rave reviews. This is my first week of doing Chalene Extreme and I started freaking out when I saw I gained almost 2 lbs from the very 1st workout. I had thought I was consuming too much sodium and retaining water, so all week I have been watching my sodium intake and making sure I ate plenty of veggies at each meal and even still I only went down a tad. Today is my "Burn it off and Recharge " day so I am excited to continue now that I know this is a fairly normal reaction. - 4/6/2012   4:55:42 PM
    This is good to know, and really should be more widely publicized. - 2/23/2012   10:27:51 PM
    I'm actually incorporating more exercise into my routine this week. I hope I don't see a jump on the scale, but I'll keep with it knowing that this may happen temporarily! - 7/7/2011   3:47:44 AM
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    Makes a lot of sense. Thanks! - 5/24/2011   1:40:46 PM
    Very informative blog! thnx 4 dis info - 4/21/2011   2:05:39 AM
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    i found this to be true and came across another article where chalene explained this, which made me feel so much better about what i was doing. i'd never let a few lbs gain derail me (it'd probably do the opposite for me!), but i've definitely felt down about a slight weight gain after hitting a new program hard. i keep this in mind if i see weirdness on the scale.
    http://dragonfly180.wordpress.com / - 3/5/2011   12:21:50 PM
    I also just started the 28 day boot camp and thought I was really doing good with my food tracker and guess what a l pound weight gain.That sent me spiralling downward, first thought ....what,s the use......now I have an answer.Thank you - 2/1/2011   11:32:05 AM
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    Thanks, sweetie!
    I've been working out like a fiend! I started the 28-Day Boot Camp, and I'm doing 1 hour Zumba classes 3 nights a week, and I gained a pound, but I'm cool with it. No, I'm ON FIRE! I trust my body, I trust the math (less calories in, more calories out). Nothing, not even a weight gain is going to blow out my flame!
    -Caren - 1/22/2011   8:33:25 AM
  • 201
    OMG, thank you! I was so worried that I was gaining weight when I started P90X (on week two now) and I thought I was doing something wrong. What a relief! - 12/22/2010   4:08:19 PM
    That was really helpful - it's not often I come across information that I'm completely unaware off so its refreshing and therefore motivating! - 11/22/2010   4:15:33 PM
  • 199
    Thank-you! I already knew that muscle weighs more than fat & that people building muscle will have a bit of a gain, but I was unaware why there's often an increase or no loss right after starting a new workout. This has greatly encouraged me & helped to boost my efforts to keep going, even though I've not had a significant loss since I started back with SP 28 February 2010. - 5/17/2010   1:57:29 PM
  • 198
    thank you thank you for the information
    I know this has to work, just not sure when it's going to start - 2/16/2010   9:16:24 PM
  • 197
    TONY HORTON'S P90X is awesome as my sons do that workout. - 1/29/2010   8:17:52 AM
  • 196
    I maintained this week then realized I had been exercising more intensely. I will cut back a little and see if it goes down. Thanks for the reminder! - 1/29/2010   6:17:16 AM
  • 195
    I wish I would have seen something like this at the beginning of the month before I threw in the towel and gave up on forward progress. I started working out at the beginning of December and quickly lost my motivation after gaining 4 pounds in the first 2-3 weeks. Partly I got frustrated because my boyfriend--who can be very logical (and blunt) in his thinking--kept insisting I was obviously eating way too much food if I was working out that hard and gaining weight. It got to be too frustrating to work that hard and feel like my effort went unnoticed so I quit. I think this is great motivation but I feel bad that I'll be basically starting over again. - 1/28/2010   10:48:51 PM
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    Oh my gosh, I am so glad to know there is a reason behind that. I just started p90x, and am working SO hard that it would be really devastating to just think I'm doing something wrong! Yay, Thanks!!! - 1/28/2010   1:11:27 PM
  • 193
    Whew !! Good to know. (Still need to pay atttention to what goes in my mouth).
    - 1/28/2010   11:31:40 AM
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    Well that makes sense, LOL. Wondered why my weight was kind of up and down for the first couple of weeks. Now am in my fourth week straight and yesterday I was actually down 1.6 kg. Hopefully my next weigh in will be in the same direction.Thanks for all the info, very informative. - 1/28/2010   9:43:29 AM
    that helps since right now I have gained 2.5 pounds in the last 2 weeks. I started a new exercise plan and am hopeing that I will lost the weight next week on the sscale.
    - 1/28/2010   8:28:19 AM
    I've learned to accept periods of no loss but it is nice to have another positive thing to think about when it does happen. - 1/28/2010   12:29:21 AM
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    Oh...thank goodness! I just started with a trainer after two years of working hard and hitting the wall for months. So, I was half crazy after two weeks and gaining 4 pounds. All that money to gain weight was heart breaking. I'll keep at it and wait it out, now. - 1/27/2010   9:11:53 PM
    Thank God! I always got discouraged when I started working out and put on pounds.. now I know why! :) - 1/27/2010   6:03:21 PM

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