Saturday, January 17, 2009

Why do you sometimes gain weight when starting a new exercise program?

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, Turbo Kick, Turbo Jam, Hip Hop Hustle, you name it! 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 loss. 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 with 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 in those first couple of weeks 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 with absolutely every single woman (and man) in our group, the weight increase was temporary and never lasted more than 2 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.

For those of you who are following the ChaLEAN Extreme phase plan, 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 10K's. I don't do it very often, maybe 1 or 2x 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. Its 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 our selves. 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) which 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! You're food (or calorie laden beverages). Newsflash 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, have gained weight that's not coming off, it's time to take a close and honest look at your food intake. It's time to find out what you're burning in calories each day. Have your RMR or BMR tested. This can be done for less than $50 and the information is invaluable. It takes out the guess work. Google "hydrostatic body fat testing _______ " and insert the name of the big city you're closest too. Companies that do HBFT also do BMR testing. Knowledge is king.

I'm gaining weight, but I'm sure it's muscle:
Possibly, but if you're following ChaLEAN Extreme correctly, you should be losing fat and gaining muscle and the fat loss should be much more substantial than the rate at which you can physically put on muscle. This is even true for they guys. Of the 70 plus people in my test group, every single one of them lost body fat and gained muscle and not one of them gained weight. I believe the average weight loss after 4 months was 28 pounds with many people losing 40 plus pounds. Even the men, who as you can see put on a lot of muscle, were seeing huge drops in the scale. We tested their muscle composition at the beginning and at the end and 100% of the participants maintained or gained muscle while achieving substantial weight loss. That's the key to keeping weight off long term, i.e. muscle. Muscle burns fat. But you've heard me say that before.

Moral of the story:

Be patient young grass hopper. You'll be lean and mean in no time!

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naptress said...

Thanks for writing this..I'm experiencing with a 2-3 pound I decided to try on some of the tightest/smallest clothing that I own and I was able to put on and zip up! so something is tightening up,so I decided not to stress on it...but I have to say getting enough calories eating RAW/vegan is a challenge maybe you could provide some insight on that!

~Allie. said...

Thank you so much for breaking this down for me. I am one of the people who gives up after the weight gain but you have put everthing into perspective. Thanks!

Krista Moretz said...

Chalene, For the past 6 months I've been struggling on a fixed plateau. I was working out 5 days a week yet the scale wouldn't budge and the tape measure never changed either. I've completed 5 weeks of ChaLEAN Extreme and I'm happy to say that I've finally lost 5 pounds... 0.7% body fat... and 4 inches overall! YEE! HA! I'm a happy girl! :D Everyone's different... but our results are coming! Just wait and see... ~Krista

Nina said...

Gaining muscle is an important part of getting toned and healthy. Thanks for discussing this!

btw, your twitter link is mispelled: could be hindering followers.

Kassandra Bragg said...

Chalene thank you soooo much for this post and for not deleting me from your friends list after all my whiny messages LOL! I am in Push Phase week 2 and I can't believe how heavy I can go. I did 40lbs for my squats today!

Anyway, I wanted to let you know that I figured out my problem. It was my eating but not in the way I thought it would be. I was eating 1400 calories a day and the scale and measuring tape would not budge.

Well for shiggles I wore my heart rate monitor during yesterday's and today's workout. Oh my gosh talk about a light bulb!

I burned 228 calories JUST doing recharge! I did Push Circuit 1 today and I honestly thought it was impossible to burn more calories than with P90X.....I BURNED 860 CALORIES!!! Geez, no wonder I haven't been losing weight! My body was starving!

I have upped my calories significantly as advised by my Coach and the FA and I'm sure I'll see some results this week!

So people reading this, if you are stalled and like me eating clean and doing everything right, maybe you need to eat MORE not less! I guess I'm a lot fitter than I thought!

I never thought I could be considered an advanced exerciser because I am overweight but boy was I wrong!

I can't wait to see how I look 3 weeks from now!

Thank you so much Chalene for this awesome program!



TurboMer said...

That's great info Chalene- I agree completely. The first 2 days I did Extreme the scale went up a pound- now it's down 7 1/2 in 2 weeks and my size 12's that were busting at the seams are actually feeling LOOSE!
Love you Chalene- what a great program!

Kelly Stevens said...

Great post! I never knew that muscles used fluid retention for protection. Hopefully this knowledge will keep me from being discourage in the future if I experience a slight weight gain when starting a new program.

ChasingPavement said...

Great Blog! I needed to read this, Ive gone up 1 1/2 pound since starting the program 34 days ago. BUT when I did my 30 day stats over the weekend I went from 18.6% body fat to 17.4% and I lost 1.75 inches all around! I just posted my 30 day pics this morning on my blog. This has been the best work out program I have EVER done. And its helping me get the body I want for my wedding coming up on 4-25-09.

Thank you for being such an inspiration to me Chalene.

HouseofMsMyTPen said...

Chalene, can you detail what I'll need to get started outside of the dvds. After investing money in the dvd set I'll have to be cost conscious with the weights. Getting deluxe set with all the extras is also out of my price range. Bands are definitely in the price range :-) Right now I have the standard Beach Body Tubes and one set of 20 lb dumbells. If I can use bands, how much of a weight range would I need?

emily said...

Hi Chalene,

I just started your ChaLEAN Extreme workout yesterday, and I was wondering if the 2 rest days were movable, or would you not recommend us moving them to other days (instead of the 2nd and 7th day)?

Mrs. Brandi Shepherd said...

My husband and I are on week 2 of Burn and LOVING it! Couple questions: I'm not a big meat eater nor egg eater. Would yogurt or protein bars be ok for breakfasts? I averaged out all numbers for the food guide. As long as I stick to that, will we be OK? Is sodium a huge concern (i.e. soups for lunch). ALSO, are there any free sites out there you recommend for meal planning? This is our biggest challenge-we've been faithful, but it is SO time consuming. Thanks for all you do!

L.L. said...

Hi Chalene.

I saw your twitter post about not eating after seven. I usually cut myself off around then, but I'm also wondering about something else. I normally eat some sort of rice or pasta with my dinner. If I wanted to see some bonus results, would I be better off maybe eating that stuff at lunch and sticking to more protein and veggies at dinner?


Marshall's said...


I have had 5 children (one of them c-section) and want to get my body back into shape for the summer so badly!! I am about 15-20 pouds overweight. I purchased Turbo Jam at the end of 08, but have just started hitting it hard the last 2 weeks.

My question is - Is it possible to get my stomach back after all my kids with out plastic surgery and if so, what do you recommed besides Cardio Party? I will also be training for a marathon this lots of running too! I just get discouraged and want to feel good about my body again.

Thanks for being a postive role model!


Mark said...

"Be patient young grass hopper. " I tend to agree! :)

CMB1984 said...

I thought lifting heavy weights will make you more bulky?

jan said...

This post was exactly what I needed to hear at the exact moment I needed to hear it. I've been on a fitness/health regimen for 4 weeks and at first I lost 10 pounds and then I gained 2 of it back and I was really pissed and discouraged. But I'm going to take your lesson to heart and be patient. Thank you, Chalene.

akhomeschoolfun said...

Thank you Charlene for explaining the mystery gain midway through Ramp It Up of Slim in 6. I'm finishing that program this week and will be starting Turbo Jam Max to keep the fat loss/muscle gain going while adding some fun.

Arellys said...

I posted a link to this blog on our Sparkpeople ChaLEAN Extreme team and everyone is thanking me...when they should be thanking you!! Thank you for the information :)

CT Olson said...

Excellent explanation - now we'll have something more to tell people than just "you're gaining muscle". That's kind of true but this is much more specific information!

Anonymous said...

Chalene, first of all... love the Chalean Extreme program!!! My husband and I are on week 2 of the Burn phase.

Also, thanks for this explaining, since I'm up 4-5lbs and was starting to wonder.

Now... here are my questions. I'm a runner, running 4-5 days a week with a long run on weekends (training for a 1/2 marathon). Total amount of training during the week is about 4-5hrs (roughly 2000-2200 cals). I also do some pilates and yoga once or twice a week. If I'm following Chalean Extreme, am I overtraining? Should I be eating more? I know (good) carbs are important for runners - or so I've been told by a dietician (5-7 servings of grains was recommended). I'm just concerned that following the Chalean Extreme diet program doesn't allow for enough carbs, or calories overall. The reason I'm concerned is that in the past I've always had difficulty losing weight when restricting my caloric intake to 1200-1300cals/day, especially when exercising 5-6 days/week. I've had better luck just making healthy choices overall. Could my body be, or have been, in starvation mode? I don't have much weight to lose - maybe 10-15lbs (I'm 5'4", 135lbs).

My other question is - how do I shrink my leg size? This had always been my problem area. I have legs that are disproportionate to my body... i.e. have a hard time finding pants, since they're always too tight on my legs and loose around the waist. I'd love to be able to shrink them down a bit.

Any words of advice for me?

Sorry for the super long email!! Looking forward to your response.

Iamfat said...

You can eliminate weight naturally with help of some herbs/Diets , its worth try

Melissa said...

Wow! Great blog entry!! I will be sure to remember this!! Eventually, I want to get "Chalene Extreme". It probably won't be for a while yet. I'm still trying to push myself through Turbo Jam. I'm getting stronger, and once I lose some more of my "excess" I will be in better condition to try something tougher. :) Thanks Chalene!! :)

speds said...

THANK YOU! I was seriously in full blown panic mode. I'm in week two of the first phase - and lifting MUCH heavier than I am used to. Today I went to put on a jacket which I wore last week and the arms were TOO TIGHT! I freaked out - seriously freaked out. I haven't weighed myself (don't plan to until the end of the phase) but if I did, I think would have been committed for a psych eval. This post really helped me put things in perspective - I'm working harder than I ever have and really eating clean - so now I just need to cool down and relax a little...Thanks again!

bookieboo said...

I'm so glad you posted this. I lost over 100 lbs. after my first baby, but after this baby the weight is coming off ALOT slower, even while breastfeeding. I actually gained weight last week after a couple of days on your program. This makes me feel alot better. Thanks!

bookieboo said...

Just to update were absolutely right! After 30 days on your program, I'm proud to announce that I've lost 10 inches, 7 lbs. and 2 dress sizes! Woo hoo!

Caryn said...

I am about to enter week 4 of the burn phase. I have been a big turbo fan and through your encouragement in those videos learned how to really increase my intensity. Now, I'm addicted to the intensity and just am not satisfied w/an ok workout. I love the intensity you bring out in me through Chalene Extreme. I can feel rock hard muscles when I run my hands down my legs, or in my buns when I'm running up the stairs, and I can see my arms changing. I am quite good at following the meal plans, too. But, today I swear the butt of my pants was tighter, and it really discouraged me. I haven't gotten on the scale too often through this because for some reason that number can just really disappoint me all day, if it isn't what I anticipate. I do know the scale doesn't show that I've lost any weight yet.

I have really pushed myself and lifted heavy, trying to fail on every exercise in each workout. I've really pushed myself in the cardio portions as well, following each of your cues to go lower and push harder. I also focus on the muscle I'm working and don't just flow through the motions.

Is my experience typical or is there maybe something else going on? I really want to get some more flub off this body, especially my abs, buns, and thighs. You said to trust you and go heavy and so I am! I so enjoy your infectious positivity in the videos. You feel like a dear friend, and I love it!

Any advice you can send my way would be very appreciated. Hope you are well,
Caryn at

Nikki P. said...

I'm a little late commenting on this post but I just have to say that I absolutely love your Chalean Extreme program. I'm one week away from being finished with the Push Month and the results are amazing(not just physically, but mentally, too!) You really did an amazing job putting this program together and I tell everyone about it when they tell me how great I look now. I went the whole first 6 weeks without weighing myself and when I finally did, I had lost 5 pounds and 2 pants sizes! Thanks, you're a real inspiration!!

Amy D. said...

Thanks Chalene! I just finished week 3 of ChaLEAN Extreme... I didn't lose any weight at all the first 2 weeks, but this week the scale has dropped 2 lbs!! Yay! I am down 4" in the waist and 1/2" off my hips in those 3 weeks!

Anonymous said...

I feel so much better after reading this post.
I am on the 4th month of Chalene Extreme and after I start each phase I noticed my jeans were much tighter, but by the end of the phase they were loose again.
Thanks for the explanation:)

Lisa @ Crazy Adventures in Parenting said...

Thanks so much for this excellent information, great to know that the weight gain is only temporary and that it isn't something one is doing "wrong" :)