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Help, I’m exercising but not losing weight!

Probably the most common concern I get from people starting a new program is that they are exercising but not losing weight.  In fact, many become alarmed because they are actually gaining weight. Gaining weight when you start a new exercise program is very common and usually something you don’t have to worry about. Your body and you want to lose weight, but first it must defend you, from you. I say that the scale tells you less than the tape measure. Watch the inches more than the pounds. For the “why”, read on.

DOMS: a good reason why exercise won’t help us lose weight initially

During the initial stages of any extreme exercise program when you aren’t losing weight, especially ones such as P90X, Insanity, ChaLEAN Extreme or TurboFire, your muscles are experiencing a phenomenon known as DOMS, or delayed-onset muscle soreness. While the exact cause isn’t completely known, it is believed this is a response to tissue breakdowns or microscopic tissue tearing. So how is your body responding to this?

It fills with water, which means you don’t lose weight initially. This is where the weight comes from and as soon as your muscles adjust to the new regimen, the swelling and water will disappear. DOMS is usually most pronounced within one to two days after you begin a new exercise program. This effect is more noticeable when your muscles are unfamiliar with the workout. I know in the first two weeks of my first trip through P90X my muscles were simply screaming, and didn’t lose weight at that point either.

The fluid that your muscles are retaining can add up to 4-pounds of weight. This weight will drop as soon as your muscles become accustomed to the exercise. Don’t forget that in many of the Beachbody exercise programs your muscles will be “confused” again, and for yet another week you may see a couple pounds in water weight put back on. However, this weight is always temporary and will always come off.

It is still possible to have DOMS without much soreness. Our bodies are amazing machines that know how to protect themselves and will do so when put in extreme circumstances. Remember, these programs you’re doing are typically extreme, and you’ll get extreme results, but it still takes some patience, commitment and determination – especially in those first couple of weeks – for your muscles to not only adjust, but for the weight to start shredding off.

Eventually, under a constant extreme exercise program, this effect becomes minimized and you probably won’t notice it. If after a couple of weeks you see no weight loss or even a slight gain then it is time to look at another possibility.

Diet: one reason why you are exercising but not losing weight

While DOMS explains the majority of cases of initial weight gain, it is not always the culprit, sometimes you are. This other less common cause to initial weight gain has almost nothing to do with your exercise, but everything to do with your taste buds. Yes, it is what, and how much, you eat. If you are gaining more than 5-pounds and you don’t see it coming off, you need to take a close look at what your diet.

Nutritional science has come a long way in the last few decades but there remains one core fact: your weight is determined entirely by calories consumed vs. calories expended.

Your body breaks down most components it receives into what it can use. What it can’t immediately use goes into storage. While eating healthy will always insure your body is getting all the nutrients it needs, taking in too much over what is being put out will still result in that extra needing to be stored. That storage is usually in the form of fat.

Most Beachbody programs result in weight loss, if you follow the program. This is even the case with weight training programs – as you have heard before, “muscle burns fat”.  If after a couple of weeks of a new program you’re not seeing that weight loss, check your diet.

Muscle, Fat, Exercise and Weight

It’s important to remember that muscle weighs more than fat.  That is per volume.  Please do not tell me “no, a pound is a pound”.  No kidding, but six square inches of muscle weighs more than six square inches of fat – and that’s a good thing. That means you can actually weigh MORE but be more fit, have a smaller waistline, a toned body and in better shape than before you started.  As you can see here, the size of two equal weights of fat and muscle are extremely different in size. Would you rather carry around an extra five pounds of fat or muscle? Think of the fat as the before picture, and the muscle as the after picture. You may not see a weight difference at all, but you will definitely look better. I sometimes have to remind myself that most of the extreme Beachbody program catalog is aimed at giving you extreme fitness, extreme health, weight loss is simply a by-product of those two.


Just keep looking at the mirror and the tape measure, especially in those first four weeks of a new program. Be consistent with your daily actions and focus on your “why”.  Follow the program and stay disciplined, determined and committed and you WILL see results and you will never have to ask again why you’re exercising but not losing weight.


Tony Horton – How to Keep Going!