And quick fixes to start shedding pounds again.
Have you been working out consistently for months (maybe even years) and yet the scale is creeping up? Here are five ways your workout could be keeping you from losing weight, and what our experts' recommend to start shedding pounds again:
1. Your workout routine is making you eat too much.
Is your workout causing you to use the "I burned it, I earned it," excuse when it comes to your diet? "Studies show that people tend to eat more calories when they take up exercise," says Michele Olson, Ph.D., professor of exercise science at Auburn University Montgomery, and creator of the Perfect Legs, Glutes & Abs DVD.
Think your 45-minute morning run was enough to burn off that slice of chocolate cake on the dessert menu? Consider this: the average, 140-pound woman burns about 476 calories (at a 10-minute mile pace) running for 45 minutes. The average restaurant dessert clocks in around 1,200 calories (or more), so even if you only eat half of a slice, you'd still easily eat away your run—and then some—in less than 10 minutes.
The solution: Make your workouts count by pairing them with a healthy diet that stays within the appropriate calorie range your body needs in order to lose or maintain your weight. Olson recommends writing down what you are eating to keep track of calories consumed, and then subtracting the calories you burned, for your true daily number.
2. Your workout completely wipes you out.
That 5:00am killer boot camp class seemed like a great way to get in shape, so why aren't the pounds dropping off? If your workout leaves you feeling completely drained, exhausted, sore, and just wanting to lie on the couch for the rest of the day, it could be doing more harm than good, says Alex Figueroa, a personal trainer and fitness instructor at the Sports Club/LA in Boston, MA. While your workouts should be challenging, pushing your body too hard can have the opposite affect on your body. Over training can cause everything from sugar cravings, a weakened immune system, and insomnia—all of which could contribute to weight gain.
The solution: Figueroa recommends following a workout plan that is appropriate for your current fitness level—one that will still challenge your body without completely draining it. Not sure what's best for you? Try scheduling a session with a personal trainer to review your goals and the best plan of action to reach them.
3. Your workout burns fewer calories than you think.
Feeling pretty righteous when the treadmill says you've torched 800 calories? Not so fast, cautions Olson. An unusually high calorie burn reading is rare, Olson says, and most machines overestimate readings by as much as 30 percent.
"Many machines do not require you to put in your body weight and, therefore, the calorie output is often based on a ‘reference weight' often used in science of 155 pounds," Olson says. "So, if you weigh 135 pounds, for example, you would not burn the same calories as someone who is at the reference weight."
And even those that use heart rate readings may not be accurate either. "Machines that incorporate arm activity (such as the stair stepper or elliptical) can cause a higher heart rate compared to a leg-only machine like a treadmill, but this is not usually because you are burning more calories," Olson says. "Research has shown that at the same level of calorie burning, the heart rate will be markedly higher when using the arms versus the legs, and you may even be burning fewer calories despite a higher heart rate."
The solution: Try using a ‘distance covered' read-out to more accurately gauge how many calories burned, Olson says. "For instance, if you want to burn 300 calories, jogging 3 miles, walking 4 miles, or cycling about 10 miles on a bike are known to burn this amount."
4. Your workout's not balanced.
Sure, we love Zumba just as much as you do, but that doesn't mean it's all you should be doing to stay in shape. "Variety is not only the spice of life, but the key to getting a better, leaner, stronger body," Olson says. "There is not one single activity that can give you everything you need."
Doing only cardio workouts or the same strength workout over and over means you are sacrificing the opportunity to build lean muscle mass and challenge your body in new ways (translation: burn more calories doing something new), and you may plateau because of it.
The solution: Create a weekly program that rotates through different modalities of exercise (cardio, strength training, flexibility, core) in order to keep your mind, and body, engaged and changing. Olson recommends fitting in at least three strength sessions and three to five cardio sessions per week for best results.
5. Your workout is totally stale.
Have you been taking the same body-sculpting class using the same 3-pound weights week after week? Grab some heavier dumbbells to boost your calorie burn and build more fat-blasting muscle, recommends Sonrisa Medina, group fitness manager for Equinox Fitness Clubs in Coral Gables, Florida. And while you're at it, try a class you've never done (like yoga or Pilates) to stimulate your body in new ways.
Why is it so important to switch things up? Doing the same workout routine over and over means your body doesn't have to work as hard to perform it after a few weeks. "We 'learn' how to do any activity and movements," Olson says. "The more ‘learned' we are, the easier the activity is to our bodies, which means you will actually burn fewer calories than you did when the activity or your routine was new to you."
The solution: Whether its trying heavier weights or adding more resistance during cycling class, changing up the intensity and style of your workout can help kick up your calorie burn to start losing weight again. Even adding workouts like yoga and Pilates that don't typically burn a large amount of calories, if they are new to your body, will create some nice changes in your physique simply from being a new challenge to your movement and workout patterns, Olson says.