By way of background, my husband and I kind of ‘let ourselves go’ a little bit, with three kids in six years and the general chaos that ensues. Both our diet and fitness levels suffered as a result, and the weight slowly but surely crept on. In August we decided to make a change, and started exercising regularly and eating better (although we still indulge in wine, cheese, and the like on weekends, but we’re pretty good during the week). Fast forward four months, and here is where I have amassed a bunch of questions, listed below.

1.    In general, I’m exercising three-four times a week, for 60 minutes each session. I always have some mix of weight training and cardio, maybe two group classes and two solo workouts. In the first two months of joining the gym I lost ten pounds but this past two months, however, I haven’t lost one more pound. I can definitely see in the mirror better muscle definition, and whereas my jean waistband is getting really loose, in the thighs my jeans are starting to get tight. I guess my question here is whether I should be satisfied with that progress, or if the lack of any extra weight loss is a red flag that maybe I’m slipping back into old habits? It’s really hard to know whether to trust body fat scales (my body fat continues to drop), and if so, what realistic goals around body fat loss should be, or even what my target should be. 

Well this depends on what you really want. Are you satisfied with your jeans getting tighter and not seeing any weight loss come off? If so, then sure you can be satisfied with that but if you are wanting to lose body fat, then I would say no. You see, your body fat percentage can change without losing a pound of fat. How? By adding muscle. If you weigh 140 pounds and have 30% body fat you will have 45 pounds of body fat on your body. But if you gain 5 pounds of muscle, your body fat drops to 29% yet you have gained 10 pounds. This is why your jeans are getting tight.

You can lose body fat by strength training alone, but only if your diet is on point. That means your idea of eating well throughout the week, but indulging on the weekends, isn’t going to get you to where you want to be. And don’t think you can “cardio” off your fat either. You have probably heard this before but you can’t out run a bad diet. 

2.    I haven’t been switching up my workouts, and I’m assuming that is okay since I continue to be sore the day after my workouts, which I’m taking as a sign that I’m still working my muscles enough. Agree, or do I need to investigate new exercises? 

Switching your workouts isn’t as important as ensuring the intensity of your workouts continues to increase. You need to keep yourself at your higher threshold levels to ensure you are continuing to challenge yourself because if you stop challenging yourself you will stop improving. For example, if you always lift the same weight, how will your body get stronger? Or if you are always running at the same speed, how will you run faster? Not only will you not improve, you will burn less calories because your body is more efficient, therefore requires less energy to do what you are asking it to do.

3.    I don’t currently do anything to improve my flexibility and balance (such as Pilates or yoga). If I added that it, it would come at the expense of one of my current workouts, since four times/week is my max. Should flexibility be a priority, or is it okay not to care about it?

You absolutely should care about flexibility! And don’t underestimate the challenge of Yoga or Pilates. I used to be just like you and have the same attitude of “I don’t want to waste a workout”. But this past year I started to explore yoga, and my body has never been better. It is leaner and stronger and it performs better in all of my other activities that I love doing, like running and mountain biking. This means that when you are doing your regular workouts you will be able to push your body harder. Get yourself to one yoga class a week. I love Flow, Power and Hot Yoga as it is more like a “workout” than stretching, but if you have an extra hour in a week absolutely add in a nice Yin or Hatha class to your repertoire. Your body will thank you.
4.    Finally, I keep seeing people at the gym with these foam roller things, rolling around on the floor on top of them or under them. What’s the deal?

Think about foam like a way to sit and chat with your friends while hanging out at the gym. You can gossip about the latest current events without looking like you are standing around. Yes, foam rolling serves a huge function (if you know what you are doing and focus while you are doing it) but most people use it as a self-massage or as a way to give a little bit of love back to some sore muscles. Nothing bad comes from foam rolling so give it a try. And there really is no way to do it wrong.