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How Do You Know Your Strength Training Program Is Working?

Woman lifting dumbell into curl position

After bariatric surgery, you will hear us talk a lot about how to exercise. This is because most of our patients think that cardiovascular activity is sufficient to lose the weight they need. Most patients find this is not the case, and they must balance cardiovascular conditioning and strength training to maximize their results. Yes, it’s true; cardiovascular exercise does burn more calories in the moment. However, strength training is your best friend for longer-term weight loss. Why? Strength training increases the size of your muscles, and muscles need more calories to burn. The bottom line: your body will consume more calories, even at rest, than before.

Many patients need some training to know what to expect when going to the gym. And while every person is different, and their bodies will react differently to their strength training program, here are some universal tips to ensure you’re doing it right.

Start Slow

First and most importantly, you start slow. You can’t jump in hard if you want a long-term sustainable strength training program. It may feel good initially to lift the heaviest weights right off the bat, but it’s a quick way to get injured and sideline yourself for weeks or months. The net result is that you will lose muscle rather than build it. So, this is a crucial first step – set the right expectations.


Balance, your cardio, and your strength training. If your entire workout is strength training, whatever your calorie burn calculator says is likely an overestimate. Remember that strength training involves stops and pauses between the workouts. This means you are not getting a solid 30 minutes of exercise if that’s how long you stay in the gym. To burn calories, you must weave cardiovascular activity into your strength training. You can do cardio at different times of the day or right after your strength training – whatever suits you best is the way to go. Just remember that you don’t want to overwork your muscles while doing cardio, and if you’re doing cardio before your strength training, your muscles may not give what you expect from them.

Think of How You Look

Diet and cardio alone will help you shed some pounds and burn fat. However, shape changes in the body will come slower. You’ll get that from your strength training if you want that hourglass figure or a muscular look. Look at yourself in the mirror and, even better, take some pictures. You’re on the right track if you see that your shape is improving month-to-month.

Don’t Obsess Over Weight Gain

Once you start building muscle, you will begin to gain weight. Your muscles retain water as they grow, and muscle is denser than fat anyway. This will be more pronounced in the early days of your exercise routine. You will probably gain weight.

A quick way to ensure your weight gain is from muscle building and not overeating is to take periodic waist measurements. No matter how much muscle you put on, your waist should not grow. It should probably shrink just a touch or stay the same early on. If your waistline expands, you’re probably drinking or eating something you shouldn’t.

Track Your Calories

There are so many apps, free and paid, that can help you track your caloric intake. Some will also allow you to input how much water you’re drinking. These are very useful, especially in the beginning, to train your mind on what to do throughout the day, especially when working out. There is a tendency to eat something highly caloric or drink something sugary after your workout as a reward. Even something like juice can contain as much or even more sugar than a can of soda. Keeping track of your calories also keeps you accountable.

Be Sure to Drink Plenty of Water During and After Your Workout

Doing so reduces the likelihood of eating or drinking something you shouldn’t. You can decide what to eat later once you are back and fully hydrated. If you find yourself craving food immediately after your workout, and you’ve eaten recently, more than likely, you are dehydrated and did not have enough water. A note on sports drinks: sports and energy drinks are often full of natural or artificial sweeteners. These are unlikely to be your best options for a bariatric patient or anyone wishing to lose weight. If you need flavor in your water, consider fruit essence. Otherwise, you could drink coconut water sparingly. You may also want to time your protein shake within an hour after your workout to maximize the absorption and usefulness of the protein you consume.

Judge Your Sweat

Sweating is a sign that our bodies are working hard. If you go to the gym, you’ll likely be in an air-conditioned environment. If you are sweating, it means that you’re probably expending an appropriate amount of energy. If you leave the gym bone dry, you may wish to reconsider your workout. This is not to say you haven’t burned calories, but you may need to do a few more reps or throw some cardio in to balance the workout. Speak to our office if you find that your workout isn’t as intense as you expect.

Lastly is a cautionary tale about obsession. If you find yourself obsessed with the gym and can’t slow down or follow a defined workout program, you may be going at it too hard. We want to see moderation in everything you do, regardless of whether you’ve had bariatric surgery. As such, if you see that moderation goes out the window, you need to work with us or an exercise physiologist to develop a more defined plan that increases your workout step-by-step rather than going full-bore. We do not want you to injure yourself, and we also don’t want you to burn out, two things that are very common for those starting or restarting a workout regimen.

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