Back to Lifting? Is your weight up?

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Regularly stepping on the scale isn’t necessary to measure your progress, but many people do it to get data about how their bodies change over time. 

There are plenty of times that you may step on the scale and see the number go up, even though you’ve been in a caloric deficit.

Fear not! Increased weight does not automatically mean that you’ve gained fat. Chances are, it’s only water weight, and you might be surprised with the factors that can cause you to retain water. 

Lifting weights

One common reason for water retention is lifting weights.

If you’ve come back to lifting weights and noticed that the number on the scale is up, I want you to remember that this is normal, good, and necessary.⁣

⁣LOTS of our 1:1 clients see an increase in their weight, then feel a momentary sense of panic and confusion.⁣ They expect that if they’re lifting weights, the number will go down, not up.

Don’t worry. Science has answers for you!

What’s happening

Getting back to heavy lifting is a bit of a shock to your body.⁣ Similar things can happen when you switch up your programming or try something new.⁣

You can also expect the scale to spike if you’re brand new to lifting weights.⁣

⁣You might notice that the scale is up a few pounds, and you’ll likely experience some soreness, too - this is a sign of micro-tears & inflammation (the good kind).⁣

⁣BUT FEAR NOT!⁣ The increase in weight is just water.⁣

And lucky for you, your body is an adaptation machine. 

⁣As your muscles get used to your lifting program (whether you’re back after a break or brand new to lifting), they’ll become more efficient with energy resources and recovery.⁣

⁣More efficiency means less water retention!

Unhappy hormones

Hormones regulate all kinds of things in your body, including water retention. 

Have you ever heard someone say that they’ve gained weight because they’re stressed? That doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ve been eating more. It might be that being stressed has caused a hormonal imbalance that resulted in water retention. 

When you’re stressed out, your body’s “fight or flight” mechanism turns on.  

But you aren’t fighting or fleeing. You’re stressed out. 

The stress could be caused by prolonged dieting, excessive cardio, arguments with your partner, or your boss being a dick. Regardless of the cause, too much chronic stress can increase your cortisol levels, leading to water retention and, therefore, a spike on the scale. 

Stress eating

Are you a stress eater?

Or is your appetite gone when you’re stressed?

Either way, your eating habits can exacerbate your stress and water retention. 

If you’re a stress eater, you might be overeating, which can lead to a weight increase for two reasons:

  • Water retention
    Some foods, particularly carbs, cause the body to hold onto more water. This isn’t to say that carbs are bad for you (because they aren’t). It just means that you may hold on to a bit more water than if you didn’t eat them. Remember, water weight is not the same as gaining fat!

  • Food volume
    Duh! Food weighs something! If you’re eating more food, there’s more food sitting in your body which will be reflected on the scale. A good bowel movement might be all you need to see that number go back down. 


Those who undereat can also see a temporary spike in the scale. This weight increase is because undereating is stressful to your body. 

As mentioned before, more stress leads to higher cortisol levels, water retention, and a weight increase. 

Your eating habits will impact the number you see on the scale. Whether you’re overeating or undereating when you’re stressed, your body will respond, and the scale will show it. 

Once your stress levels return to normal, the number on the scale will too!

Your takeaway:

Don’t stress out about what’s happening on the scale! The scale is not the only (or the best) way to measure progress.

Remember, the only way to gain fat is to consistently eat in a calorie surplus, so if your nutrition is in check and you’re lifting weights, the weight increase is probably just water. Don’t make matters worse by stressing out about the damn scale. 

Your body is incredible. Trust that it’s doing what it’s supposed to do, and focus on your gains!