October 31, 2018

When Weight Training Backfires And Slows Your Metabolism

Weight training has tremendous benefits. It has been studied to help prevent osteoporosis, improve strength, and lean mass. These are just a few of the great benefits to taking up weight training.

Many pursue weight training because at some point they were told that if they lift weights, their lean mass will increase and so will their metabolism. But what is left out of this seemingly simple “equation” is that this only works if you are “healthy”.

When I use the word “healthy” I mean a few things (but not subject to just these 12):

  1. You are functioning at a normal body temperature 98.6

  2. You have consistent quality sleep and wake up rested

  3. You move your body everyday

  4. You nourish your body everyday with a variety of foods that not only refuel your body and brain, but also bring enjoyment

  5. Your stress is low to manageable

  6. You cultivate honest, meaningful and fulfilling relationships

  7. You haven’t restricted or dieted for years and suffered any metabolic compromises

  8. Your skin is glowing

  9. You poop everyday and it isn’t effortful

  10. You stay hydrated

  11. You get sunshine daily

  12. You limit your screen time

If you’re healthy and can check off many of the things listed above, you may thrive off of a weight training program where you do in fact have a positive metabolic response.

However, have you ever walked out of your workout feeling worse?

Ever noticed the scale go up instead of down week after week? You’re more fatigued, irritable, you’re cold all the time, you can’t focus at work and you just start feeling unwell #metoo.

I spent years obsessed with weight training. I would workout on average 7-10x/week. I trained hard, then harder, and then harder twice a day.

You see, our brain has the capability to manage stress. However, for many of us, our “stress bucket” overflows when we continue to accumulate stress. Remember exercise is a stress on the body.

For many of us, the type of stress we manage day to day (lack of sleep, disrupted sleep, long commute hours, sedentary jobs) already makes us compromised breathers, and thus movers. We were meant to move and move without limitations or restrictions. Yet, many of us experience doses of discomfort (whether that is low back pain, GI discomfort, headaches, neck pain, eye strain). Moving our already fragile bodies under load induces a metabolic shut down.

We are cold all the time, our progress in the gym has stagnated, we feel more anxious/depressed, we lack compliancy when it comes to fueling our bodies and find ourselves craving everything that has sugar (note: the brain needs glucose to function, a peak in sugar cravings or even binge behaviors is your bodies way of telling you that something is “off”), we feel worse instead of better.

Because traditional weight training (squats, deadlifts, push/pull) methods have us moving in ways that are “calculated”, structured and less novel. This in itself is stressful on the brain as the brain craves new and original movements.

Adding load to a foundation (our body) that lacks a clear movement map is also very threatening to our nervous system. Think of it this way, our brain is hardwired for survival. Our brain survives via prediction. Any part of the body that is not moving well, we end up having a blurry movement map, which in turn creates poor prediction. Poor prediction increases stress and can increase pain, injury, our heart rate, muscle tension, and anxiety/depression. These are all stressors that can slow metabolic function. Lack of quality movement and too much stress (weight/load) equals an unhappy and unwell body.

For many of us, we improve our metabolism by swapping weight training for:

  1. Walks

  2. Hobbies ( Blog: “How Hobbies Can Help Kickstart Your Metabolism”)

  3. Restorative Yoga + Respiration Training (Blog “Air Be and Breathe: Metabolism and Breathing)

  4. Focusing on habit building strategies on stress management

  5. Sleeping in

  6. Days, weeks, or even months off from weight training

  7. Adopting a “Less is More” approach

  8. Practicing Self Compassion and Gratitude

  9. Meditation

  10. Playing (picking up a new or old sport again)

  11. Eat and error more towards food enjoyment (Blog “Eating Healthy Doesn’t Mean Ditching Your Favorite Foods”)

  12. Hangout with friends and reconnect

While lean mass occupies less space so we comfortably fit into clothes, allows us to make one grocery bag trip from the car to the house, and can help us strengthen our bones, weight training is also a stressor on our body.

You’re not alone if weight training has left you feeling worse in your body.

I started slow by taking a day off, then a couple days a week off, then slowly but surely add weight training in for when my body is ready and capable for the demand.

Pace yourself. And remember Less is more.

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