Is Your Workout Routine Sabotaging Your Metabolism?

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Editor's note: The following is a guest post by Emily Booth, National Indoor Cycle Program Manager at Life Time.

If you're like nearly 80 percent of the "resolution crowd" who abandons their New Year's resolution fitness goals by the second week of February every single year, you know sticking to a hardcore goal is difficult.

While there are many complex factors that contribute to this cycle, one of them is frustration with a lack of visible results. Although the health benefits gained by any kind of increased activity for sedentary individuals cannot be overstated, for those who desire to see a change in body composition (fat loss) it can be incredibly frustrating to work so hard for "nothing".

Often, it leads to the conclusion that "it's just my metabolism, I'll never be able to change, so why bother". However, in some cases, it is the very way we are working out and eating that is sabotaging our metabolism (and our goals). Your metabolism is highly individual and complex, and while there is no "one way" to eat or exercise that will work for everyone, here are a few tips to keep your metabolism working at top speed.

HI(I)T it hard… sometimes

High intensity interval training (HIIT) has gotten a lot of attention in recent years for good reason. Time efficient and effective, workouts that feature short bursts of very high intensity effort with incomplete rest have been shown to improve both VO2 Max and insulin sensitivity, as well as the potential to help to reduce visceral (abdominal) fat.

That's great news! However, it's important to remember that high intensity exercise is a form of stress — and that all stress takes a toll on your body. Too much of this good thing and you could find yourself fatigued and fighting an uphill battle with stress hormones like cortisol. To avoid the potential downside of these workouts, limit HIIT-style workouts to no more than three times per week. Mix in some lower intensity cardio, yoga, and strength training (more on that to come!) for the rest of your workouts. Try TCX or an interval-based indoor cycling class like EDG Cycle at Life Time.

Don't get in a rut

Your body is an incredible adaptation machine — meaning it rapidly becomes efficient doing what it does most, whether that's sitting on the couch or pounding out miles on the "dreadmill". What that really means is that it's important to add variety to the types of workouts you do to stimulate change.

Keep in mind that whatever you do initially will likely get you some results, and that's where many of us get into trouble. We see initial results from one type of workout or class (and we get really good at it) then fear changing to something else.


One of the most common examples of this is running. It's not uncommon to see someone actually gain weight while training for a marathon. Typically, runners pile on miles, week after week, at the same pace with little variation and then, understandably, eat more and more calories (as they should) to fuel that activity. Unfortunately, if their goal is weight loss, they may be sabotaging it by eschewing other types of activities or by not varying the intensity.

Bottom line, if your goal is body composition change, it may require stepping out of your comfort zone to challenge your body in a new way. New stimuli force new adaptations and those new adaptations come with a metabolic (energy) cost.

Lift (Heavy!)

The benefits of strength training are so well known these days that it is hard to believe that anyone is still afraid to pick up the weights. However, the importance of including some type of regular resistance training into a workout program can't be ignored. Not only does resistance training stimulate new metabolically active tissue, the recovery process from lifting heavy weights also costs calories, revving up metabolic function. To make it work, you will have lift heavy enough to actually stimulate change, not simply maintain.

In other words, your muscles should be at or near failure at the end of your sets. Aim for two to three strength training workouts per week to be effective. Strength training can be intimidating at first, so for extra guidance seek out the guidance of a certified personal trainer or take a class like Barbell Strength at Life Time.

(Photo: Shutterstock)

Fuel for success

As you know, the best exercise program in the world will not elicit fat loss without proper nutrition. But many people sabotage their metabolism by not eating enough (yes, not eating ENOUGH) — specifically by not consuming enough of the right nutrient-dense foods to support body composition change.

Many new exercisers attempt excessive caloric restriction while trying to follow a vigorous workout program. This is doomed to fail for a number of reasons. Not only will you not have enough energy to get a quality workout, you will also impede your recovery and potentially slow down metabolic function.

In addition to the quality of the foods you eat and their impact on your blood chemistry, part of supporting an efficient metabolism is timing your nutrition effectively after you work out. Eliciting the help of a trained professional in this realm can be especially beneficial. At Life Time, we have nutrition coaches to help you individualize a plan that works for your body, your goals, and your lifestyle. If you can take out as much of the guesswork as possible, you will greatly improve your odds of success. Which leads to…

Get assessed

If you really want to take the guesswork out, consider getting a metabolic assessment. By working with a trained professional, you can actually find out a lot more specifics about what is going on under the hood. Because your metabolism is so individual and can be impacted by so many factors, one of the best things to do is to be tested. With a resting metabolic assessment, you can learn just how many calories you burn at rest, so you know how much you need to fuel your life and your workouts to still get results.


Active metabolic assessments can also be done to help determine how efficient your body is at using fat for fuel when you are working out. Both types of tests can help you individualize a plan that is designed just for you.


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