5 Reasons You're Working Out But Not Seeing Results

Health & Wellness

Here are a few roadblocks you could be running into if you're putting in the work but not seeing physical results.

Last updated: 25 July 2022
7 min read
Working Out But Not Losing Weight? Here’s Why.

It's frustrating to put time, energy and effort into a new endeavour only to fail to see results after months of hard work.

But this can happen when people start to exercise with the intention of losing weight. While a well-designed workout programme is important for weight management, there are a few common obstacles that can stand in the way of success.

If you're working out but not losing weight—and do want to lose a few kilos—consider these potential hurdles and test-drive these solutions to help make a change.

5 Reasons You're Exercising But Not Seeing the Results

  1. 1.You've Gained Muscle Mass

    Working Out But Not Losing Weight? Here’s Why.

    If you're exercising regularly and doing a mix of cardio and strength training, it's very likely your body composition (ratio of muscle to fat) is changing for the better. If you're gaining muscle while losing fat, the scale may not show any weight change. In fact, it may even show some weight gain, since muscle is denser (takes up less space) than fat.

    Solution: Find a more accurate way to measure your progress. If it fits within your budget, you can buy a body-fat scale that measures your body composition through bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA). A BIA scale provides you with your body fat percentage in addition to your weight. Look to see an increase of lean muscle and decrease in body fat, even if your weight stays the same.

    You can also start paying attention to the way your clothes fit. As you lose body fat and gain muscle, you may notice that your clothes are starting to fit a bit more loosely. You may also notice more muscle definition as you remain consistent with your workout programme.

  2. 2.You're Not Moving Much Outside of When You Exercise

    Working Out But Not Losing Weight? Here’s Why.

    NEAT or non-exercise activity thermogenesis is all of the movement you do throughout the day that isn't exercise. If you've started a new exercise programme that's a bit too intense for comfort, it's possible you've decreased non-exercise-related activity due to fatigue.

    That decrease can be one of the reasons you're not losing more weight even though you exercise regularly, according to a 2012 study in Obesity Reviews. And the findings of a 2015 study in Advances in Nutrition suggest that reduced NEAT is more likely to happen after aerobic exercise than after weight training.

    Solution: First, try using a fitness tracker or a smartwatch to monitor all of your daily movement, not just when you exercise. Some trackers can even prompt you to move if they detect that you've been inactive for too long.

    But you don't need a tracker to be more mindful of your daily movement. This can be as easy as taking the stairs instead of the lift or making it a point to stand up and walk away from your desk periodically. Consider making time for breaks that involve walking, especially if you spend more than an hour sitting down.

    Another option is to modify your workout programme to include more strength training. You'll still burn calories and increase muscle mass, but you're less likely to end up on the couch for the rest of the day.

    Finally, if you find that you're too tired to stay active throughout the day, it's possible that your workout programme may be too strenuous. Schedule recovery workouts throughout the week to reduce your overall workload and see if that helps you maintain daily movement.

  3. 3.You're Eating More Food

    Working Out But Not Losing Weight? Here’s Why.

    When you start a new exercise programme, it's normal for your hunger to increase. After all, your body is working harder and needs more fuel. Some people, especially those who are athletic, increase their food intake in response to exercise, according to the 2015 Advances in Nutrition study.

    While it's imperative that you ensure your calorie intake is high enough to provide adequate fuel for workouts, if you eat too much, you won't lose weight. However, if maintaining your current weight is the goal, then that's fine. Your body benefits from those extra calories!

    Solution: Use a calorie calculator to get an idea of the number of calories you need based on your activity level and weight-loss goal. For instance, the Body Weight Planner from the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) gives you a number of calories based on your current weight and the desired timeline for weight loss.

    If you're consuming the right number of calories but you're still hungry all of the time, take a look at the type of foods you're eating.

    High-protein foods like tuna, poultry and eggs will help you maintain muscle mass while helping you feel full. Foods that are high in fibre (whole grains, leafy vegetables and some fruits) also help you feel fuller longer. And healthy fats can help you feel satiated after eating.

  4. 4.Your Diet Is Too Restrictive

    Working Out But Not Losing Weight? Here’s Why.

    While eating too much food can—in some cases—result in weight gain, not eating enough can also get in the way of weight loss. Some diets, especially crash diets, are highly restrictive and often don't offer adequate nutrition for your body. As a result, your energy levels decline and your workouts may suffer, and therefore, fewer calories are burnt.

    Additionally, some people compensate for extreme diets with episodes of overeating, as per a 2017 study from Perspectives on Psychological Science. Dieting can also mess up the hormones that regulate your hunger. The authors of the study found that even a year after dieting, levels of the hormone ghrelin (the hunger hormone) remained elevated.

    Solution: Finding your calorie sweet spot can be tricky and time-consuming. Calorie calculators work for many, but they only provide estimates, not exact numbers. One solution is to keep a food journal and track your calories and macronutrients (carbs, fat and protein). Then, you'll begin to notice how nutritional changes affect your hunger levels and even your weight.

    You might also want to consider working with a registered dietitian (RD). An RD can take your workout programme, dietary preferences and lifestyle into account to develop a meal plan that works for you.

  5. 5.Your Goals Aren't Within Reach

    Working Out But Not Losing Weight? Here’s Why.

    When you start a weight-loss programme, setting clear, personalised goals that are adjusted on an ongoing basis is associated with weight loss and maintenance, as per a 2021 study published in the International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Health and Well-Being.

    But your goals need to be realistic. When you set goals that are unattainable, you risk setting yourself up for failure. And repeated, unsuccessful attempts at weight loss can negatively affect your ability to believe that you can reach the goals you set out to achieve.

    Solution: Set short-term goals and use them as stepping stones to your long-term aspirations. For example, perhaps your long-term goal is to lose 9kg. At a reasonable rate of 0.5–1kg per week, your journey may last several months—and that's OK.

    To keep yourself motivated, set small goals for each month. During the first month, your goal might be to complete at least four workouts a week. At the end of the month, celebrate your success and increase the challenge. If you didn't meet your goal, use it as a learning experience. Adjust your goal and start again.

    This slow-but-steady approach will help you to stick to your weight-loss programme and maintain consistency and motivation. And give yourself time to reach your goals. When you start to exercise, give yourself credit for every achievement and milestone, whether it's related to weight loss or not.

    For instance, perhaps you started a running programme and were unable to finish a mile during your first week. But on week two or week three, you ran a full mile with energy to spare. Give yourself credit for that success! Even if the scale doesn't show it, you are getting fitter and stronger.

    Need somewhere to start? Consider downloading the Nike Run Club App!

Working Out But Not Losing Weight? Here’s Why.

Go for an Audio-Guided Run outside or on the treadmill with Nike Run Club.

Originally published: 2 February 2022

Related Stories

Should You Work Out If You’re Sick?

Health & Wellness

Should You Work Out If You're Ill?

Tendonitis vs. Tendinosis: How To Prevent and Treat Both

Health & Wellness

Is It Tendonitis or Tendinosis? Here's How To Tell

Exercises for Herniated Discs, According to Experts

Health & Wellness

Exercises for Herniated Discs, According to Experts

The Best Nike CrossFit Gifts

Buying Guide

The Best Nike CrossFit Gifts to Shop Now

Compound Exercises: What They Are and How to Do Them

Sport & Activity

Everything You Need To Know About Compound Exercises