The scale is like an evil ex; they mess with your head just when you think you’re starting to get things right.

I’ve seen the scale cause more heartache and confusion with weight loss than just about anything else in the gym. I’m sure that I can speak on behalf of a number of personal trainers we HATE the scale because it can be so misleading of your results.

BUT… even I admit it is a necessary evil in the fitness industry; in particular for those just starting out.

Let me explain. When you, or just about anyone for that matter, starts out on a weight/fat loss journey the initial success of your journey is based on what the scale says AND that makes complete sense! You want to lose fat, so if the scale goes down that means you’re losing fat, right? Not necessarily but that is for another blog.

That is ONE way you can measure progress, but it’s not the best way to measure success with your transformation and fat loss goals.

I’ve written several blogs about that HERE and HERE, but back to the point at hand.

Why is it the scale when up when you started working out? Did you put on muscle in a few days? Are you bulking up and going to look like a man!? Ohhhh hell nahhhh….!

There are so many reasons why the scale fluctuates, and this can range from water retention, monthly hormonal cycles (this can happen to men), changes in bowel movements, the list can go on, so there are a lot of possible explanations.

With that said, here are the three most common reasons that I’ve seen from my experience.

 

Inflammation

When you start working out you’re going to notice muscle soreness, not everyone does but most will, and with muscle soreness comes inflammation.

DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) is an inflammatory reaction due to micro damage to a muscle, in your case from a hard workout. When you notice muscle soreness, as in after a hard leg workout, it’s very common for the muscle to become inflamed and with inflammation comes fluid retention for up to a few days.

This response is VERY common, and the inflammation process is something that we do need to occur for many physiological reasons so that you can notice a several pound increase.

Here is another example, take a look a half and marathon runners. Since that race is so demanding it’s not uncommon for the athlete to notice a 4+ pound increase the day AFTER a race due to all the fluid retention from the inflammatory response to repair the muscles. No, they didn’t gain any fat, it’s just water.

 

Dietary changes in food

When, or if, you start lifting heavy and hard you’ll note that you WILL have to eat better and in some cases MORE food. Not more junk calories but more food that is designed to aid in your goals (lean meats, veggies, healthy fats and some complex carbs).

When your body is not accustomed to eating 1600+ calories (and in my opinion, this is very low for most people starting a weight training program) it’s not uncommon for the body to soak up the extra macro and micronutrients like a sponge. When this happens, the body puts those to use such as repairing internal tissues, filling up energy stores and even some water retention and thus we may notice an increase on the scale.

Before you start to freak out and think that you’re putting on body fat you have to remember that people don’t get fat on lean meats and veggies; your body is putting to use the calories that it probably has been needing, so again you may notice a scale shift.

Side note: To all those technical people, YES you can put on body-fat with lean meats and veggies. But the amount of food that you would have to eat to do would be painful to your gut that you’d end up sick before you could finish AND this would take many days, if not weeks, of eating like this to see any fat gain. It would be like trying to O.D. on Advil. Sure it’s possible… but you would have to go in on a mission for that to occur.


Timing

Did you weigh, not only at the same time but after a workout? I’ve found that when people weigh first thing in the morning and late at night there is a significant variance in what the scale says on the days AFTER your workout

During non-workout days I’ve seen fluctuations from 1-2lbs from morning to evening, and on workout days it can be over 5lbs for some people from morning to evening.

It varies depending on the person, but after a workout, your body is like a sponge soaking up calories to repair itself, AND the inflammation process begins which can cause water retention.

Also are you about to start a menstrual cycle? Ladies, you know your timing better than anyone, and fluid retention is VERY common which is why we recommend not stepping on the scale until your cycle has finished.

 

What can I do?

Stop worrying about the scale for one :-p

Two. Use something else besides the scale to measure weight loss success. Here at RTC we use an inBody System for our clients that gives us a breakdown of bone weight, water weight, muscle weight and fat tissue so we can see SPECIFICALLY what is increasing and decreasing. I understand that not everyone has access to this but I would encourage you to find something else. Pictures, how your clothes fit, even a pair of skin calipers can make the world of difference and will give you a better gauge of your success.

Again, it’s very common to see the scale go up for a few weeks after starting a hard workout regime and typically it’s one of the above reasons that this happens so don’t worry about scale increases for a few weeks. Usually, after two weeks you’ll see the numbers stabilize then, assuming you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing, a steady drop will begin.

Learn to measure weight loss in weeks, not days. As from the last blog the scale IS GOING TO change daily, and you can’t measure fat loss success on the daily, you need to measure your success over the course of weeks and months.


 

In Health and Awesomeness,

Travis Merritt, BS, CPT, (and other cool letters behind the name) is the Owner of Rowlett Transformation Center in Rowlett, TX.

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