Phoenix Ignition Fitness Company

Fitness by the Fire: Signs your training is working, even if you think it isn't!

by Ron Kennedy • February 12, 2019
It is almost Valentine’s Day, and with yet another holiday celebrating indulgence and excessive eating, this holiday signifies another time of the year for us fitness enthusiasts; The official end of the new year’s rush! By now most people have abandoned their new year’s resolutions and replaced them with excuses and blame for why they did not make any progress for yet another year.  I’m sure you know someone who fits into this category. “There’s just not enough time. I am too busy paying off bills from the holidays, I can’t be distracted with fitness. I tried this new diet, but it was much too difficult to stick with, so I just quit. “
I’ve been a fitness professional for over 16 years, and the one absolute that I have learned over my career is the more things change the more they stay the same. That is not to say that success stories are not in the works, since they most certainly are, and of course I’m not counting those of us who have already reached a peak level of fitness and our simply maintaining those results. Yet this is typically the time that separates the pretenders from the contenders so to speak, that is until about two weeks before bikini season starts, and people make another push to end up with the same result as before.
If you are reading this that means the previous two paragraphs do not apply to you, as you are working with our team and pursuing your health and wellness goals. Cheers to you! Aside from that, it is not uncommon during this time of year for those of us who have committed to serious dynamic changed with our fitness to be a little frustrated, if not flat out discouraged, that we have not fully realize our goal.  The good news is not only are you not alone in your frustration of typical unrealistic expectations for realistic timelines, and the topic of this article is to teach you to look for signs that you really are making success in your efforts. 
“I’m not losing weight.”
This is the goal that over 80% of our clients contact us for/ and is also what most people judge their fitness success by. When I conduct a consultation for a prospective client, weight loss goals are usually one of the first thing they mentioned to me. I do believe that maintaining a low body fat percentage is a staple for health and wellness success, but far too often people use their weight and what it means in the grand scheme of things as negative and misinterpret the process. 
You’ve no doubt heard the old saying “there’s a huge difference between 5 pounds of fat and 5 pounds of muscle.” Personally, I’ve never been on the cutting edge of mathematics, but I’m intelligent enough to acknowledge that 5 pounds is 5 pounds no matter what the material. The saying should be dictated more along the lines of “5 pounds of muscle has significantly more density than 5 pounds of fat” and once people begin to understand that truth, most should come to peace with the conversion their bodies are undergoing. You see when you exercise you are directing your circulatory system to send blood to certain muscle groups which causes them to contract. With enough constant contractions the muscle fibers begin to tear, then repair themselves in your recovery phase. When the muscles repair themselves, they do so in preparation for the next time they will face stress/resistance, but your muscles aren’t going to have the same results and reaction to that resistance, they intend to overcome and become stronger. So, what happens during your recovery phase is the muscles fuse back together to make a thicker and larger mass to better prepare for the next time they will be called into action. Larger and mass are the keywords in that statement. In order for muscles to be larger they need to increase their density, and since muscle mass has more density than fat, your overall body weight typically increases during the first few weeks of a strength training program!  So, if you begin your fitness journey at 165 pounds and your goal is to drop down to 145 pounds, as well as become stronger, the first thing that’s going to happen during your program is… you guessed it… gain weight. That certainly doesn’t mean the program isn’t working, or that there’s something wrong with you as you are the only person in human history that is exercising and getting in worst shape.  Far from it. 
Allow me to put your fears at ease. Muscle mass grows much faster than fat dissipates. When the muscles contract and grow it causes an increase in muscle mass, which from a scale’s perspective means you are heavier than you were when you began.  Yet, this is just one of the first steps of the process! Muscles generate more body heat than any other substance in your body, and when they grow, they still grow underneath the fat, you simply can’t see it yet, but that doesn’t mean it’s not working. Once the muscles start to peak and break through all those layers of fat, you will see the definition that you could only feel and be informed of by the scale.
Stay off the scale!
It’s far too easy to check your weight every few days expecting some sort of miracle and be discouraged time and time again. If you must weigh yourself, restrict it to once or twice in a month. You do want to make sure it’s in alignment with your overall goals, but especially if you are just beginning a fitness regimen please understand that the body has to prepare itself for the progress to come, which typically involves building muscle mass or improving underdeveloped muscle mass. 
“My clothes feel are feeling tighter.”
This could be a good or a bad thing depending on your goals and the effort you’ve been putting forward. Save for morning kisses from my children, almost nothing feels better to me than putting on my shirt after a shower and a bad ass chest day and feeling my pectorals popping out along my shoulder line. That experience makes most shirts rather tight. Unfortunately, many people feel their clothes tightening as an indicator that their weight loss is not taking effect and their fat is expanding. Remember, muscles are going to grow before fat burns away. So, if your leg measures 26 inches in circumference before you begin a strength training program, when you start to gain muscle mass your legs are going to get bigger, which in turn will make your pants feel tighter. This is also temporary. 
 If you are not used to muscular contractions or soreness this is especially noticeable, and far too often discouraging. I know it can seem frustrating, but please keep in mind that just like a seed planted in the ground that begins to sprout and break through the dirt, your muscles are undergoing the same process. The tighter pants, shirt, or sports jacket means muscle mass is building but the fat has yet to melt away. Keep up with the process and after a few more weeks not only will those clothes feel loose once again, they more than likely won’t fit from the different dimensions your body will produce from sticking with a consistent regimen. Fitness is a lot of things, but fast and easy has never been a selling point.
I’m constantly sore and tired.”
I call this the universal test of fitness. I use this analogy when I’m working with clients, but I feel it’s very appropriate for this topic, so allow me to share once again. Think of the first two minutes of the day when you wake up. Your body is stiff from laying in one position for several hours, your eyes are foggy and blurry, hell... some of us can barely remember our first name in the morning. Muscles are achy and sore, you’re hungry, thirsty, making every effort to get out of bed and get moving. Now imagine you’ve been asleep for several years...
When you begin a concentrated exercise program, that’s the feeling your muscles have the first few weeks of a routine. Barely awake, stiff and nonresponsive, and all they want to do is get back in bed. Of course, this reaction is different from person-to-person, and it’s much easier transition if you’ve done this before or had a background in sports when you were younger, but all of us deal with acclimating our muscles to training when we first began. The first couple weeks are the most difficult, but once you get past them you should start to notice the soreness be less and less noticeable as well as your recovery improve. You just have to keep going with the program until your body fully adapts.
 Regarding programs becoming easier, my professional approach is “If it’s that easy, then why do you need me?!” I joke of course, but the truth is if you have mastered anything within a few weeks, least of all a fitness program, it is not going to have a lasting effect. My job as a fitness professional is to create programs and routines that are always a few steps ahead of you regarding challenge, but the challenge IS designed to be overcome. My infamous laugh has been heard from coast to coast, and I certainly love the thrill of pushing clients to the limits they didn’t think were possible, but I always do it safely and with their best interest at heart. If I wasn’t, I wouldn’t be doing my job in the first place. The same should apply to you and your health and wellness goals. If a 15lb dumbbell curl is easy, you owe it to yourself and your goals to increase the weight, if not the intensity from faster or more contractions. It’s ok to slow the progression, but if you simply replicate the same exercises as you have completed so many times before, your muscles will remain stagnant, and not progress.
Now is the time to truly make gains in your health and wellness. Forgo the conformity of 80% of the world who committed to real change come mid-December and washes out near the end of January time and time again. Don’t let any of the afore mentioned distractions keep you from continuing your path. These tests are there for a reason, just like with anything else you pursue in life. They must be there, otherwise no one would push harder to accomplish higher goals. Let the systems do their work and be patient that they are working. No program is perfect and most need an adjustment from time to time, but they do work if you honor your commitment to them and keep faith that you are advancing towards your ultimate goal!