Ask The Fitness Jewell: Why Haven't I Lost Weight?

The old saying 'muscle weighs more than fat' is cold comfort when you're trying to transform and the scale just won’t drop. Here's why you should keep the faith—and keep lifting!

A few weeks ago I finally started a weight-training program. I feel stronger, but my weight hasn't budged. Should I drop one weight session each week and add some extra cardio instead?

You're not alone. Did you know that the average woman who strength trains 2-3 times per week for at least two months will gain nearly two pounds of muscle, in addition to losing 3.5 pounds of fat? Compared to men, women have 10-30 times less of the hormones that cause muscle growth. We don't develop massive muscles naturally. But especially if you're coming to strength training for the first time, you can definitely expect some gains, especially in the short term.

I can hear you now: "Did you say gains? How does that fit into the equation?" Mention gains to one of your friends, and you'll get the old refrain: "Muscle weighs more than fat." But that doesn't capture what's going on. The truth is that as you build muscle in the short to medium term, you set yourself up to burn fat and lose weight more effectively right around the corner!

The Fat-Burning Power of Muscle

Gaining weight is not the primary goal for most of us, but don't go running for the elliptical just yet. As your lean muscle increases, so does your resting metabolism. You know what that means, right? In addition to having a leaner, tighter appearance from your new muscle, you'll burn an extra 35-50 calories each day for every pound of muscle you gain. That may not sound like much, but over time it can add up to pounds of body fat getting burned off.

I totally understand how tempting it can be to head back over to the cardio machines for a hard and sweaty hour. The elliptical is synonymous with "thin" in a lot of people's minds. While it's true that cardio training provides a multitude of health benefits, don't believe that it's a substitute for weight training, especially when it comes to weight loss!

The problem with that long cardio session is that its post-workout caloric burn is minimal compared to that of weight training. If I pedal on the stationary bike for 40 minutes or so, my body may burn 400-500 calories during the actual workout. For a limited time following my session, my body will continue to burn calories—somewhere around 40-80, depending on the individual and the intensity of the workout.

But a similar session of weight training not only torches calories during the workout, it also boosts my metabolism for up to 36 hours post-workout. I'll burn while sleeping, working, and sitting in the car on the way to work!

You may not see huge results from this process on the scale right away, but keep at it. The numbers will come. And then, one day just over the horizon, you'll look in the mirror and see a body that doesn't need a number to validate it.

Summer of Muscle

If you're worrying about the scale in springtime, it might be because summer—and swimsuits—are really on your mind. This is another area where a good weight training program is your best option. Strength training helps you re-shape your body, not just make it smaller.

Stick with your workouts, and you won't need to worry about beach cover-ups and sarongs this year. Weight training can help you build a lean, shapely, firm booty that actually makes the dreaded event of bikini shopping fun! Remember: You want that two-piece to fit you, not hang off of you!

It's easy in winter and spring to think that summer is all about looking good, but it's worth reminding you that it's also about having fun and being active. Not only will you be proud to show off your efforts in the gym, but your athleticism will increase, too. You'll be stronger, faster, fitter, healthier, and ready for action, all because you stuck with strength training for just a few days each week. So don't give up now!