Fat Loss Resistance — 7 Reasons Why Body Composition isn’t Budging

Erin Dollison Nitschke
3 min readJan 30, 2023

It’s no surprise, many personal training clients seek our services to lose weight and/or lose fat, and they can experience frustration when their goals appear slow going or totally stalled by apparent fat loss resistance. Realistically, we can expect fat loss to occur at a rate of 2.7–5.9% over the course of 2–3 months (Montano, et al., 2018). In the mind of a client, 8 to 12 weeks can feel extra long when they are hoping for visible results. It’s important to work closely with clients to educate them about how to lose fat and gain muscle in order to emphasize that it’s about slow, steady, and consistent change.

Explaining Fat Loss Resistance: Why Body Composition Is Not Shifting

The perception that cardio is better than weights.

Cardio exercises are awesome for caloric burn and cardiorespiratory health. It’s also necessary to maximize aerobic capacity and to effectively train for endurance events. However, cardio alone is not an efficient or effective way to build lean tissue or change body composition. Clients will often prioritize cardio five days a week and weights two times a week. For best results, let’s flip that ratio and encourage a greater emphasis on lifting (heavy) weights to build lean tissue and fight fat loss resistance.

Restriction

If the body is in a constantly restricted state, no muscle building can happen as protein synthesis cannot effectively occur. Underfueling is as damaging to progress as lack of sleep. Clients can be enticed to turn to restriction when results aren’t happening fast enough, believing mistakenly that “less is more”. Unfortunately, this temptation can lead to an undoing of metabolic health that can be quite challenging to reverse.

Inconsistency

Clients won’t always be motivated and sometimes this can affect their commitment to a solid strength training program. Strength training is uncomfortable, it burns, it’s heavy, and don’t forget the DOMS. To lose fat and gain muscle, clients need to understand that commitment to consistency and a strategic workout plan will get them to their goals faster and in better health and prevent fat loss resistance.

Not overloading

Progressive overload and challenging muscles to endure greater resistance than they are used to is what will trigger growth in muscle tissue. The last few repetitions of any lift should be hard, and form should start to decline (and obviously stop the exercise when that happens!). Consistently performing three sets of 10 without feeling the need to contort your face into odd expressions and let out some guttural grunts will not cut it in the long run. The body cannot grow without being constantly challenged.

Overly focused on the scale

This relates to restriction in many ways. Weight loss and fat loss are not the same (nor the same processes), and this is where clients tend to get confused. The perception is “if the scale goes down, then that’s progress.” In some cases, that might be the case. But scale weight does not reflect body composition shifts nor does it paint an accurate picture of health. Lastly, if someone is gaining muscle, the scale number will increase, but inches may decrease.

Inadequate rest and recovery

Both the mind and the body need rest and sleep. Fitness clients can unintentionally overtrain outside of their personal training sessions believing mistakenly that “more is better” (funny how these principles are reversed when it comes to calories). Sometimes, more is just more, and that is the case here. Discuss quality sleep habits and active rest strategies with clients to help them refuel and rebuild.

Not cultivating patience for fat loss

Building muscle and losing fat both take time. It is critical to guide clients toward realistic timelines. Outline a plan for measuring progress that does not include only the scale but includes non-data-driven measures such as sleep fitness, energy levels, how clothes fit, how strong a client feels, and how they feel in their own body. These are nonscale victories that deserve attention and celebration.

Take the time to engage in intentional conversations that focus on strategies related to genuine body composition shifts. Your personal training clients may then better understand their fat loss resistance and reap the benefits of metabolically sound approaches to changing their bodies’ appearance and overall health.

Originally published on the NFPT Blog Site.

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Erin Dollison Nitschke

Passionate college educator, writer, and health and fitness professional. I am an NFPT-CPT, NSCA-CPT, ACE Fitness Nutrition Specialist, ACE Health Coach, & Pn1.