Why your PCOS workout may not be working

Nearly every day I get an email from a reader that goes something like this: “I am working out hard, and I am eating clean. But I do not see any results. Why? Please help me!”

I can feel the frustration jumping off of my MacBook screen. My heart breaks a little bit for the woman on the other side of this email because I know her pain all too well.

For a good three years, I worked out and restricted my diet constantly. It was my part-time job and full-time obsession. My PCOS would get better, then worse. I was a mess. However, once I learned about the best types of exercise for PCOS and corrected these four mistakes, I saw lasting changes take hold in my body.

You can work hard at the gym four, five or even six times a week for months and not see any results. There are a few common mistakes PCOS women make which will keep them from seeing results from their PCOS workouts. Today, I’m going to tell you how to avoid these pitfalls.

Lack of Intensity.

Why your PCOS workout may not be working lack of intensityExercise is so important for PCOS management because intense physical activity causes your body to improve its metabolic functioning. Those metabolic improvements, like increased insulin sensitivity and decreased cholesterol, lead to more balanced hormones. These changes in your metabolism will be the foundation for both long-term weight management and reducing your risk for heart disease and diabetes.

How do you know if your workout is intense enough? Intense physical activity should cause you to start sweating and breathing heavily in just a few minutes. Talking during the activity should be tough. Depending on your fitness level, an intense workout will last between 15 and 30 minutes, not including your warmup and cool down. Aim for two to four intense workouts each week.

Lack of Resistance.

Muscle is your best defense against PCOS. I recommend that you get in 2-3 strength workouts each week. However, just because you have a pair of dumbbells in your hands does not mean you are building muscle. If you’ve been picking up the same 15-pound kettlebell for the past three weeks, you might be wasting time.

To build muscle and, in turn, boost your metabolic rate, you need to challenge yourself! You can do this one of three ways: lift more weight, try a more advanced version of the exercise or change how many sets and repetitions you are doing. Ideally, you will use all three of these methods to keep your workout challenging and your sexy, powerful, PCOS-fighting muscles thriving.

Too Much Exercise.

Why-your-PCOS-workout-may-not-be-working-over-trainingHard work and recovery are equally important. If you don’t give your body any down time, it will not be able to heal, recover and become stronger. I recommend taking two days off from formal workouts each week. You can (and should!) be physically active on your off-days, just keep it light. For example, long walks and restorative yoga are my favorite off-day activities.

Did you start exhibiting PCOS while following a strict training and nutrition program? Or are your symptoms much worse than they used to be? It is possible that overtraining and undereating can aggravate PCOS in some women. If you tend to be a gym fanatic, perhaps it’s time to cut back for the sake of your health.

Too Much Clean Eating.

Why-your-PCOS-workout-may-not-be-working-too-much-clean-eatingWhat? No, I’m not suggesting that a few Oreos will help you get better results at the gym. I wish!

It is not uncommon for women to overeat when they’re regularly exercising. It’s a phenomenon called compensatory eating. I think compensatory eating comes from two places: our heads and our hungry bellies.

Some well-intentioned trainees overeat after a workout because they feel they have earned it. This line of thinking is dangerous. The truth is that it’s much easier to eat calories than it is to burn them. Even overeating on clean foods can undo your progress. Be careful not to fall into this thought pattern as it will prevent weight loss.

When you exercise, you burn calories, and that can cause you to be more hungry. Feeling hunger more often is part of losing weight. If you want to shed pounds without losing your mind, you have to manage your hunger. One way to keep from having a post-workout binge is to enjoy a small post-workout meal. Click here to get 3 of my favorite post-workout meals and my strength training guide sent to your inbox.

Working hard at the gym without seeing progress is painful. I have been there myself, and I know how depressing it can be. Do not let your frustrations get the better of you! Step back and examine your program and see if you can find any room for improvement. Just one simple change can make a huge difference!

Erika is a certified personal trainer, Nutrition Coach, and fitness writer. She holds certifications from the American Council on Exercise (ACE), TRX Suspension Training Systems and Precision Nutrition.

Erika was diagnosed with PCOS in 2005. She believes that lifestyle modifications are the best treatment for PCOS. If you want to learn more about how exercise can alleviate PCOS symptoms, please visit her website at erikavolkfitness.com.

Erika lives with her husband in a small beach town somewhere in Costa Rica. Her hobbies include cooking, hiking, learning Spanish and traveling. At erikavolkfitness.com you’ll find at-home workout plans, healthy cooking tips, and stories about her life in Costa Rica.

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Tarryn Poulton

Tarryn Poulton

Tarryn Poulton is a PN1 Certified Nutrition Coach and PCOS expert who has been a leader in the online PCOS space for over 8 years. Tarryn has the support of leading clinicians from around the world who support her scientific approach to understanding and talking about PCOS this includes all medical journals and ongoing research. You can read more about Tarryn and the team here.

13 Responses

13 Responses

  1. I have been working out for almost 8 weeks non stop now. Combination of strength, core and cardio with atleast 1 day of yoga and 1 day off a week. I have pcos since last 2 yrs where i have gained almost 16 kgs. During the last 2 yrs after i discovered about pcos, I tried running for 2 months, swimming almost 5 months and this training schedule with regular intervals of gym (typically 5-6 days at a stretch)
    I see no change whatsoever and have irregular periods till date. What am i supposed to do

  2. I have PCOS. I strength train (Body beast from beach body) 4 days a week and do 3 days of cardio (TapOut from Beack body). I am not building any muscle and am not losing weight.

  3. I followed all of these guidelines by default for 2 years and didn’t see any physical results in terms of body toning whatsoever. Sure, I felt stronger, but if you didn’t know me personally just from looking at me you would think I spent my days cuddled up to a bag of chips on the couch. It’s so incredibly frustrating to do all of the “right” things, yet still be overweight with zero muscle tone. Since then I’ve struggled with exercising regularly because I feel like there’s hardly any point to making myself miserable with exercise for no pay off.

  4. What type of exercise do you recommend for those that have lean PCOS? I have done cardio and strength training and am now under weight. My goal is to reduce the facial hair that I have. My periods are back to being regular. I have also modified my diet to exclude dairy and gluten and have seen a great improvement in my acne. Any suggestions are greatly appreciated!

  5. The strength training link and the post workout meal link are not working. They go to the next page but when you click on get it now it says the page does not exist

    1. You say people find exercise is not working, but how does it not work? To lose weight?
      I have lean pcos, so that’s not a problem for me, but exercising is difficult, I can’t seem to get any stronger. I wonder if it’s related to the pcos, or my ehlers danlos syndrome.

  6. I just found out that I have polycystic ovaries and a cyst on left ovary which was stated as “likely benign” likely benign does NOT comfort me. Thoughts? I have had the WORST time losing weight being at my heaviest to date. Does PCOS contribute to that?
    Thank you in advance

    1. Yes! PCOS can definitely contribute to weightgain and difficulty losing. Not your fault. Look into the insulin resistance connection. Good luck!

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