Ever think to yourself, “I’ve been eating right and exercising regularly but I still haven’t lost the weight?”
You’re certainly not alone!
Many people are fighting their own personal battles to lose weight in spite of their healthy diets and exercise efforts. Problem is, while weight loss is primarily a function of calorie management through a combination of dieting and exercising, there are many other factors that can greatly influence your ability to lose weight.
In relation to exercise, one of the most common factors involves ‘routineness’.
Believe it or not, neglecting to regularly modify your exercise routine will eventually lead to weight loss plateaus. This occurs primarily due to the body’s natural tendency to adapt to repetitive training stimuli. In fact, it only takes the body around 2-3 months to adapt to any exercise program, whether it involves cardio activity or weight training.
So, why does this happen?
Well, simply put, the body inherently has a highly adaptive survival system that responds to physical stress.
Now, when you think of the term “stress” you probably associate it with work or school, conflicts with family or friends, or even driving on the highway during rush hour. But, in physiological terms, stress is essentially any stimulus that causes an adaptation in the body’s survival system.
For example, the adaptation to the stress associated with a cut of the skin (stimulus) is a scab followed by creation of a fresh new piece of skin to replace the piece that was damaged (adaptation). Likewise, an initial adaptation to trauma (stimulus) involves swelling and pain as the healing process begins (adaptation).
Believe it or not, exercise is a form of physical stress and is treated no differently by the body when it comes to the stress-adaptation response. For instance, the metabolic rate (the rate at which the body naturally burns calories) adjusts whenever any of the body’s systems are forced to work harder than usual. This holds especially true for the cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems.
Adding to this, muscle cells possess a ‘memory’ of sorts, which enables them to adapt to normalcy. This is one of the reasons why walking rarely results in significant weight loss. Think about it. Most people have mastered the skill of walking since the first year of life (some even younger) so there’s not much ‘newness’ to this activity.
Due to the adaptive nature of the body’s systems, the two factors that can most hinder successful and sustained weight loss are:
- Memory cells within muscles that become unresponsive if they aren’t occasionally shocked with a change in routine. The consequence: Less muscle mass is maintained and fewer calories are burned for the same level of exercise.
- A metabolic rate that continuously adapts to consistent physical stimuli. The consequence: A reduction in the amount of calories the body burns at rest and during any given type of physical activity.
Collectively, these adaptations can not only hinder weight loss, but, in some instances, they may even lead to unwanted weight gain.
So, how can you stop this from happening?
Well, luckily, adding a little variety to your exercise routine will help the body to remain physically challenged. The goal in doing so is to introduce the body to new ‘stressors’ from time to time. Not all ‘stress’ is bad stress. Even the perfect exercise routine can become stale after a while so it’s important to regularly shake things up.
If you’ve been walking for six months, it’s time to change the pace. Speed it up, tackle some hills or include some running intervals. Maybe even try some new activities like cycling, rollerblading, stair climbing, swimming or even water walking.
It’s also important to regularly switch up your weight training routine.
If you normally limit yourself to machines or Pilates classes, try implementing free weights like dumbbells, barbells or kettlebells into your workouts. If you already use free weights and generally perform 10-12 repetitions with 10-15 pounds for some exercises, change it up by adding more load (20-25 pounds) and performing fewer repetitions (8-10).
I also recommend breaking away from ‘traditional’ exercise activities on occasion. Go for a 4-mile hike, play a game of tennis, or do some kayaking. Such activities are equally as effective as structured exercise. Adding such variety will also increase your motivation and progress.
At the end of the day, if you’re finding it increasingly difficult to lose weight in spite of your exercise efforts, you’re probably just too comfortable with your routine. While it’s great to have an exercise routine, you don’t want to have routineness during exercise. As you modify your exercise habits, you should also re-evaluate your diet to ensure your eating habits aren’t the hidden culprit.