Does my trainer know what she's doing?
October 11, 2010 7:03 AM   Subscribe

Does my personal trainer know what she's doing? Or am I doing things wrong?

A bit of background (some also found at my previous question ). I joined Weight Watchers in August of 09. Since that time I have lost 110 lbs. I still have about 100 - 120 to go to achieve my ideal weight. In the past few months my weight loss has slowed to a crawl. Whereas I was averaging just under 2 lbs per week, now I'm averaging well under 1 lb per week. I know plateaus happen, but I'm following the program to the letter and becoming frustrated. I knew that I had followed the diet portion but exercise was never something that had come easily to me, and my thinking was if I added a regular workout to the diet then the weight would resume falling off. To that end, I hired a personal trainer.

I meet with her 2 to 3 times per week. I told her up front my primary goal is weight loss, with toning being a strong secondary goal as some areas of me now hang a bit too loosely since the weight loss.

I have been working out with her about a month, and the workouts aren't quite what I expected. She has me almost exclusively doing strength-training exercises; some freeweights and mixed in with that squats, leg presses, push-ups, etc. She tries to work each muscle group, arms, legs, and what she calls "core" (which may be the proper term but I've never heard of it, referring to abs and other stomach and back muscles). She says that through muscle building my metabolism will raise, thus my body will burn calories more efficiently, and my weight loss will speed up.

However in this month I've found my weight loss coming to a halt. After working out I'm incredibly sore for a couple of days; usually the day after a workout I'm fairly laid up and Advil is my only respite. I don't mind pushing myself, I'm all for "no pain no gain" but given that I'm putting forth maximum effort and getting no results, I have to wonder if this personal trainer is doing things right...

She has proscribed no cardio between our workouts, though I sometimes will on our "off days" go and hit the treadmill for 30-45 minutes, or walk outdoors. She says cardio is good to do as well, but focuses solely on the weight and strength training.

So I turn to you mefits, some of whom I'm sure are more knowledgeable about fitness than I am. Ideas? Because honestly I'm becoming so frustrated right now that giving up sometimes seems viable.
posted by arniec to Health & Fitness (24 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
However in this month I've found my weight loss coming to a halt.

At the moment you are probably burning fat but also building muscle mass at the same rate. Muscle is denser than fat so you might try measuring yourself in various places to see if you are getting skinnier yet remaining the same weight.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 7:11 AM on October 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

Muscle is good and if you're just starting to gain it (and it sounds like something's happening if you're sore...and sore is also good), you'll lose less weight just because muscle weighs more than fat.

How do you feel? It sounds like you're doing healthy things; I wouldn't be over-focused on the numbers (but congratulations, by the way!).

You could also talk to her and tell her your concerns. She can probably explain her thinking.
posted by dzaz at 7:12 AM on October 11, 2010

Without being ANY kind of expert on fitness, I can tell you that if you're starting to build up muscle tissue, then this could initially cause weight loss to slow down, because muscle tissue is denser. What your trainer is saying sounds logical to me.
posted by bardophile at 7:14 AM on October 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

About the soreness, do you have access to a sauna? If so, use it for 20 mins or so after working out - your muscles will thank you.
posted by Neekee at 7:14 AM on October 11, 2010

Weight training + diet is pretty much the best way to go for weight loss and body recomposition. More muscle = higher metabolism = more calories burned even when you're not working out. As others have said, it sounds like you're building up muscle while burning fat, which'll explain the weight loss not going down. Rest assured you're still losing fat. Beginners at weight training tend to make significant gains rather quickly.

The muscle soreness is normal. A cool-down after your workout may help things. Try going for a walk, yoga, or even light stretching afterwards to help ward it off. Really though, the best cure is to keep moving, and keep doing the things that you're doing. It's just your body responding to brand new stresses put on it.

Keep up the good work!
posted by swashedbuckles at 7:29 AM on October 11, 2010

I am not a trainer, but your trainer's advice is identical to my trainer's and also to my nutritionist's. I am also significantly overweight, to the tune of roughly a hundred pounds. Weight loss will slow down as you build muscle, but that muscle mass will absolutely help you increase your metabolism and your fitness level in the long term.
posted by KathrynT at 7:32 AM on October 11, 2010

Really, there are two aspects of weight training that will help with your weight loss beyond the calories you burn while exercising. First, your body will have to spend more calories rebuilding the muscle cells that you've destroyed with your workout as well as building new cells. Second, you're adding muscle cells. These cells need more energy from your body, hence, your body burns more calories even while you're resting.

The soreness will become less severe once your body starts to acclimate to your new routine.

Another thing that will help with the soreness, and this is a wonderful fact of biology, the best way to get muscle sore from use to heal is to some more exercise! That's right, if you're muscles are sore from doing push-ups, the best thing for you to do is more push-ups! On your off days, doing some stretching and light exercise will help the muscles loosen up. It won't feel good while you do it but you will feel much better much faster. You don't have to do the same exercises but you want to want to work the same muscle groups. For example, you could do some squats with no weight.

I have two thoughts about the cardio. First, most of the cardio you can won't really be helped by the trainer. You don't really need the trainer's help to use the elliptical machine, there isn't really any technique she can help you with. Second, cardio just takes too long. Have you ever looked at the calories burned on the elliptical after 30 minutes? Burning calories that way seems to take for ever, at least it does for me. She probably just doesn't have time to do cardio workouts or she feels her time is better spent doing weight training.
posted by VTX at 7:35 AM on October 11, 2010

She knows exactly what she's doing.

The muscle soreness will ease up a bit over the course of the first month or two. Make sure you do some stretching After your workout and that you warm up a little before your workout.

Cardio actually isn't very efficient for burning calories. I don't have the details with me to quote the actual number but suffice to say that, for example, 30 minutes of working with weights will burn substantially more calories than 30 minutes of cardio. The only real reason to do cardio is to improve your cardio-vascular fitness. If you're trying to burn calories and want to do the most efficient exercise for that then, yes, you should actually be lifting weights.

While it's true that muscle mass burns more calories than fat, the effect is not as huge as people (fitness magazines etc) generally state. But it is true.

Core is the correct word for the band of muscles around your mid-section and includes not only the abs, obliques and lower back but the hard to work, and impossible to see, smaller muscles in the same section. Having good 'core strength' is key to posture, balance and stability and will help anyone to avoid/limit lower back pain etc.

I'm sorry that your weight loss has come to a halt but are you keeping track of all your measurements as well? You should measure everything (waist, hips, chest, shoulders, upper arms, lower arms, upper legs, lower legs, ankles, wrist...) and set goals for yourself. For all you know, you're losing inches all over the place that you just don't notice right now.

And the whole process does slow down once you've been improving for such a long amount of time. I'm amazed that you've actually seen consistent weight loss for over a year, that's very impressive. What you will find as you keep this up is that you might have a month where you lose no weight, no inches, and then suddenly in one week you'll drop 5 pounds and then nothing again, or you might drop a size without any loss of weight.

Of course, this all begs the question of whether your diet is still correct: diet and exercise combined are great for losing weight but, seriously, diet constitutes about 75%, if not more, of the equation here. Make sure you're not cheating with your portions or perhaps just change your diet up a bit to shake things around and get your body 'thinking' again.
posted by HopStopDon'tShop at 7:39 AM on October 11, 2010 [5 favorites]

Congratulations on the 110 pounds lost!

Getting stronger is good for your overall health as long as you work with good form and sleep enough hours to recover and rebuild muscle. You will feel pretty sore in the first few weeks, but if that muscle soreness doesn't progress to joint pain, you will be less sore with time.

Have you been keeping track of your measurements rather than just your weight? Your weight may be stable, but you may still be losing enough fat and gaining a bit of muscle to make clothing fit differently without seeing much change on the scale. You may or may not see an immediate change in measurements from weight training, or you might see a tiny, temporary increase, but staying in a moderate calorie deficit, weight training, and some cardio should put you on the path to sustainable weight loss.

Have you been eating more now that you're more active?

Trainers often advise clients against lots of cardio because that can work against muscle gain. It doesn't sound as if she's actually forbidden cardio, just that she hasn't asked you to do anything specific.

Why not just ask her about this? For example, tell her that you'd like to aim for an overall deficit of 3500-7000 calories a week. On paper, this should result in 1-2 pounds lost a week, but this is not an iron-clad guarantee. What combination of mindful eating, weight training (and the small but real after-burn effects and slightly higher resting metabolic rate from increased muscle mass), and moderate cardio maybe 3 times a week can help you reach your goal?
posted by maudlin at 7:45 AM on October 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Having been exactly where you are not that long ago I can understand your frustration... now that you are weight training as well here is my suggestion.

Stop using a scale.. take your measurements and you will be surprised that in a week or two that shows no weight loss on a scale you are smaller :) As was mentioned above, muscle weighs more that fat so the scale will no longer give you a true picture of your progress.

Congrats.. on making it this far and having the strength to persevere!!!!
posted by Weaslegirl at 7:45 AM on October 11, 2010

oops ... should have previewed...Maudlin has it!
posted by Weaslegirl at 7:46 AM on October 11, 2010

I joined Weight Watchers in August of 09. Since that time I have lost 110 lbs.

Let's say you've been at this for 60 weeks. In that time, you've lost an average of about 1.8 pounds a week.

You are doing this PERFECTLY and should be commended for your strength and conviction.

Just keep on keeping on. Seriously, everything is fine.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:47 AM on October 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

Your trainer is giving you excellent advice. If you focus solely on weight loss the end result will probably not be pleasant to the eye (I could tell you from experience). Focusing on building muscle will allow you to look and feel better in a much healthier manner that will benefit you in the long run.
posted by The1andonly at 7:48 AM on October 11, 2010

You posted all the wrong details.

What do you eat every single day and what is your approximate weight?
What is your exact lifting routine while you are training?

Taking a guess from what you've already said it seems like your trainer is doing a decent job though. I definitely didn't see you post any red flag words that some crappier trainers use.

Cardio is good to help speed up your recovery and light cardio on "off" days is the best time to do it when doing a structured lifting program. So that sounds good to me too.
If you're solely trying to lose weight I recommend 30mins to and hour of fasted cardio in the morning (drink some water after waking up, don't eat anything and immediately do your cardio) Your glycogen stores will be more depleted since you didn't eat anything during the night which will allow your body to go straight to burning fat for energy.

"Core" is not some technical term and is appropriate for what your trainer is discussing.

Don't listen to the bounds of people that tell you, "You're just building tons of muscle! That's why your weight loss looks lower! Muscle weighs more than fat!"

Whenever people are aiming to lose weight they aren't going to consistency be able to be in a caloric restriction and pack on muscle. You sure as hell aren't going to be losing a lb of fat and replacing it with a lb of muscle like clockwork.

Optimistically, if you were lifting very heavy and eating 500-1000 calories over maintenance with at least a gram of protein per lb of lean body mass you would put on around 1lb of muscle a week for maybe 3-6months while still being able to lose fat. After that you are looking at gaining fat and muscle at the same time with it being about a 60\40 split.
My experience with someone eating to lost fat is they will be pretty lucky with about .25lb of muscle gain a week.
This isn't bad though! That will add up over time and will increase your metabolic rate as well as fill out your frame once you cut all the fat.

Take front, back, side picture every month, on the same day, in the morning before you eat. This will allow you to track progress better than anything.
posted by zephyr_words at 7:58 AM on October 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

You're building up muscle. Muscles are dense and will make you hold steady or gain weight in the short term but long term they'll burn up more calories at idle than the fat did. Fat just sits there and stores calories but muscle mass will always be consuming energy to stay alive. So this is a good thing.

Concentrate on what you've already achieved. Giving up will make you backslide and reverse your hard won victory. You might want to focus on other metrics, such as body fat percentage or waistline measurements.
posted by chairface at 8:38 AM on October 11, 2010

Your trainer is exactly right, listen to her.
posted by unixrat at 9:03 AM on October 11, 2010

In re. "what she calls "core" (which may be the proper term but I've never heard of it" -- for what it's worth, I have had some physical bothers in recent years and have ended up seeing three pleasant, competent physiotherapists; all three stressed the importance of the "core," and used the term "core" frequently.
posted by kmennie at 9:29 AM on October 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm going to be the lone voice that somewhat disagrees with the chorus here. More muscle mass makes only a small difference in metabolism. Weight training is fantastic for all the reasons outlined above, but adding cardio will help you lose weight quicker. Not because it is "better" but because you can do more of it - at least some every day.

Assuming you weigh somewhere around 225 lbs., 45 minutes of the elliptical trainer will burn 500+ calories. A brisk 45 minute walk will burn 400+. Those burned calories offset the food you eat and will greatly accelerate your weight loss. The more cardio you can enjoy doing, the healthier your heart and lungs will be and the more weight you will lose.

So yes, listen to your trainer, she knows exactly what she's doing, but you need to fill in the gaps that she's leaving with a good mix of cardio that you enjoy.
posted by letitrain at 10:27 AM on October 11, 2010

Just a quick note about the muscle soreness. It's normal to be a bit sore, but I have found a few things that help.
1. Drink plenty of water. I am sure you are doing this, as I understand weight watchers advocates this.

2. Use the sauna just after working out, as noted above.

3. Moving the muscles around when they are sore, as noted above. Don't overdo this.

3. An ibuprofen immediately after the workout, as a prophylactic.
posted by annsunny at 12:09 PM on October 11, 2010

She has proscribed no cardio between our workouts, though I sometimes will on our "off days" go and hit the treadmill for 30-45 minutes, or walk outdoors. She says cardio is good to do as well, but focuses solely on the weight and strength training.

You didn't give enough specifics about your program so anyone could tell whether she is knowledgable or not, but you have the right idea. Keep doing your cardio. Losing weight depends much more on the metabolic(caloric) process', not on the neuromuscular. Training both are ideal though.
posted by P.o.B. at 2:53 PM on October 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

There is no such thing as toning
posted by tiburon at 6:17 PM on October 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

Hi arniec - WW vet, here. Have you tried doing the Wendy (or Wendie) Plan? You have been counting points for a long time. To reach your goal, you will probably be counting points for longer still.

I've lost large amounts of weight many times. I have exercised a lot while doing it, and I have exercised a little. My personal experience has been that it is what I do in the kitchen that always has an effect on loss, not so much what I do in the gym. Exercise makes my body fitter, and look better. But it has never had an appreciable affect on the rate of loss. Other people have probably experienced the opposite, but this is what I have personally known.

Do you go to meetings? Have you showed your food diary to a leader recently?
posted by pinky at 6:21 PM on October 11, 2010

Lay off the fucking ibuprofen.

Seriously. Taking Advil or any other NSAID to combat post strength training soreness is like smoking a cigarette to relax after a run. I'm not saying ibuprofen is unhealthy in general, but it greatly decreases the strength gains that you could be seeing -- soreness is good. Learn to enjoy it. After you've been working out for a few months consistently you will miss it.
posted by telegraph at 8:07 PM on October 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Let me correct what I said, then, since telegraph disagrees strongly enough to use fucking. I am hoping you can give a citation, since I have never heard of this. It could very well be true.

I still recommend taking one after a workout, since you say you are incredibly sore. Your muscle soreness should lessen after working out with this trainer for a while. Try taking one, then not taking one, to see if it's really necessary. I agree that some muscle soreness is necessary, and I actually like it to some degree. I always feel way less motivated to work if I am very sore (sore to the point where I have a hard time moving).

Oh, and since I didn't say this before, congratulations on losing all the weight~!
posted by annsunny at 8:32 PM on October 11, 2010

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