A wave of displeasure often hits people who are on fitness journeys when they realize that their stomach is growing larger instead of smaller after starting to diet and exercise. Some even wonder if their body is having a bad reaction to the changes. So, if you find yourself wondering and asking, “Why is my stomach getting bigger with exercise?” and are tempted to stop, read the rest of this article before you make any drastic choices.
Believe it or not, this is a common phenomenon, and the answer as to why this happens (and what you can do about it) makes a lot of sense.
Why is My Stomach Getting Bigger with Exercise?
To understand why your stomach is getting bigger, you first have to understand how muscles are created and used by the body. Your body will go through three different reactions depending on how you use your muscles, but regardless of what your end goals are, the muscle factors can be broken down as follows:
- Damage: If you’ve felt the ache of your legs after doing squats or been very sore after an ab day, you have put your muscles through muscular damage. When damage occurs, your muscles are triggered to grow larger so that they can do a better job in the future.
- Tension: Tension occurs when your muscles have worked through a full range of motions. Doing slow leg lifts, lifting weights, and holding squats will promote muscle growth.
- Stress: Have you felt the pulsing that can occur in your arms or legs during a particularly hard workout? This is an indication of metabolic stress. This feeling occurs when the by-products of energy burning in your muscles can’t be cleared out fast enough. This stress also signals your body and tells it to promote muscle growth.
No matter what kind of workouts you do, your body will be using tension, stress, and damage to signal muscle growth. When too much muscle growth or strength is built up in one area, it can cause that area, such as your stomach, to grow larger.
How Can I Prevent My Stomach from Getting Larger?
Even though you already know the answer to “Why is my stomach getting bigger with exercise? you may still want to know how to prevent this build up from causing blocky or unappealing muscle growth. There are a few different ways that you can adjust your health routine to prevent excessive growth.
Burn More Overall Fat
Try adding workouts that help your entire body burn fat rather than focusing on ab- or stomach-specific moves. While those exercises are important for building strength, changing to compound moves that work the entire body will ensure that you are removing fat while building muscle, leading to more satisfying final results.
Focus on “Still” Movements
Some exercises, such as crunches, are flexion-based, so your abs will grow outwards because of the way that they are used and flexed during this type of workout.
Instead of doing flex-type workouts, try finding moves that are more still and steady like planks, very slow versions of movements, and iso-holds. They are a great way to work your muscles without encouraging outward growth. Also, rather than triggering muscle growth, these moves focus on improving muscle strength and making muscles more efficient, leading to a toner result.
Watch Your Water Intake
In addition to the change in size that can be caused by muscle growth by previously dormant muscles, it is possible that either dehydration or water retention actually cause some of the changes in your stomach size.
Dehydration can cause your stomach to bloat, leading to stomach aches and fat retention, so be sure that you are drinking enough water for your body to be able to effectively workout and break down and rebuild the essential cells in your body.
Water retention can occur if your diet is too high in sodium as it’s a substance that causes the body to hold onto extra water, and this can cause you to feel larger than you really are. Hence, avoid foods that are high in sodium such as frozen foods, salty chips, cold cut lunch meat, and canned items with a lot of salt in them.
Increase Reps, Not Weight
If your intention is not to bulk up, but you’re ready to make your workout more difficult, try increasing the number of reps of a particular weight lifting exercise that you do rather than increasing the weight that you are lifting.
Basically, if you move to higher weights, your muscles will likely get thicker while if you stick to the same weight but increase reps, you’ll be able to tone the existing muscle that you already have.
If you’ve never focused on your fitness before, you have little-to-no strength or bulk in your muscles. Starting any workout plan that includes weight training another type of muscle will cause your muscles to grow rapidly, and this change will happen before you lose any fat!
This is normal. While your body can start to build muscle rapidly, it takes more time for fat cells to be broken down and removed from your system. The cycle of growing a bit larger before you start to get smaller when starting to work out seriously is normal.
Yes, you will gain weight for a few weeks. Yes, it can be scary to feel like your workout program is sending you in the wrong direction. But stick with it! In a few more weeks, you’ll see the fat melt away, and your super toned muscles will appear underneath. That satisfaction is well worth your patience throughout this process!
Muscles Grow before Fat Melts
Remember that the majority of the workouts that you do are focused on your muscles. Your squats, lifting, and crunches all send signals to your muscles telling them to grow bigger and stronger.
While losing overall body fat will be a by-product of that process, the signals that your body focuses on first are muscle-related, so it is completely normal for you to get a bit bigger from muscle growth before your new body shape begins to be refined.
Stick with your workouts, and you’ll be amazed at how strong and fit you feel in a few extra weeks!