Mary* came in for an exercise visit last month. She was less than two months post weight loss surgery and she hit a plateau. Her weight would not budge. Although this is normal, she began to worry she was doing something wrong.
We had spoken about strength training since before surgery She had not started it yet though. We reviewed how muscles are the largest contributor to metabolism. The muscles you are not using during weight loss down-regulate, to help your body conserve energy. She decided it was worth giving strength training a try to see if this was part of the weight loss plateau.
We reviewed a basic program, designed to help her use as many muscles as possible by ‘teaching’ them to work together in movements, rather than exercises for each muscle group. This way she was learning to move better too. We put some extra tools in place to help give strength training the best chance for helping her metabolism.
- Presence: since your brain is what controls muscles, you need it to help you use as much muscle as possible while doing strength training. The more muscle used, the more chance of raising metabolism. Lifting weights while your brain is doing something else, like watching TV, lessens your chance of using as much muscle mass as possible during strength training. Your brain is one of the most important parts of your body for building strength.
- Consistency: The metabolism effects of strength training last for about 24-48 hours. Doing strength training every other day helps you keep that metabolism benefit all week long, even between strength training days. She set an alarm on her phone to go off right after her favorite morning-time TV show. She has consistently been doing it when the alarm goes off on Monday, Wednesday and Friday
- Gradual: Like a plant, your body changes slowly. Doing too much too soon is a sure-fire way to feel sore, strain your body and tell your brain to avoid exercise at the first chance it gets! We started by reviewing how the body moves, how the core is part of all movements, and how the brain and nerves control it all. She spent the past month focused on using light or no resistance in this muscle memory building phase. By resisting the urge to ‘jump start’ her strength with heavy weights, and found she felt great, and actually enjoyed strength training.
Mary came in today for a follow up after doing strength training in this way for a month. Her weight was down eight pounds! The scale told us that this was just what her body needed, to re-activate muscles that had gone dormant to help her conserve energy.
Most importantly, she is feeling great and moving better. She has really embraced strength training with a sense of curiosity and engagement with her body and how it is designed to move. I believe what made the difference is those three factors – paying attention rather than multitasking, a dedication to consistency, and patience while her body and brain worked together to learn how to move well.
“I always thought of strength training as going to a gym and lifting heavy weights. I never thought it could be this simple to do at home”
There are many factors that cause a weight plateau. Strength training is just one part of the toolbox of things to try to help your body when weight loss stalls. The beauty is in the details though. How you do strength training determines if it will tell your whole-body to be strong and function at its best during each stage of your weight loss journey.
Keep Moving, Be Well,
*patients name changed to protect privacy