Chronic low-grade inflammation can impede weight loss. If you have a client who is struggling to achieve a fitness or performance goal, inflammation may be interfering with that achievement.

Inflammation. Sounds scary and undesirable. Depending on what you read (and who is responsible for the information), this could be true. It’s easy to gather that inflammation is a cause of this disease or that condition. However, inflammation is not a cause; it’s an indicator that something is “off” internally.

What is inflammation?

The human body is blessed with a natural defense system. When something invades the body (stress, illness, etc.), the body sends off alarm bells, the inflammatory response is activated, and the body’s defense mechanisms work to stop the intruder and signal the healing process.

Acute inflammation is common and appears in response to irritants, bug bites, or minor abrasions. This is in contrast to chronic low-grade inflammation, which is difficult to pinpoint, but means somewhere in the body there’s an imbalance.

Inflammation is often misunderstood (much like Cortisol) and demonized for being the “cause” of systemic issues such as weight gain. As fitness professionals, we have an opportunity and a responsibility to look beyond the misconception and consider what might be the foundational cause of inflammation.

We need to ask: Is the underlying cause of inflammation a silent saboteur of client progress? Or your own?

Signs of Chronic Low-Grade Inflammation


While there are certain laboratory tests that can quantify inflammatory markers in the blood (CRP, ESR, IgA, etc.), these tests won’t provide the exact location or cause of those elevated markers. This means the actual culprit is not easily identified and is still “hiding” somewhere.

Sufferers of chronic inflammation often note the following symptoms or signs:

  • Depression and anxiety
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Social disinterest or desire to disengage with previously enjoyed activities
  • Digestive concerns ranging from body aches to diarrhea, unexplained nausea, etc.
  • Weight gain or inability to lose weight

What This Means For Your Practice

While personal trainers do not have the professional skill set or educational background to diagnose or prescribe, we do have the responsibility to suspect and investigate. This is why it is crucial to client success to use a holistic approach to evaluate a client’s potential health risks (beyond the obvious physical and pre-existing condition inventory).

Gather information about sleep (a sleep journal could be useful), supplements or medications, work and home environments (what stressors do they experience), how they handle and process stress, what do they do for fun – if anything.

Think about it this way – if you don’t ask the deeper questions, how likely is your client to ask them? If questions aren’t asked, answers aren’t sought, which precludes a client (or you) from getting a diagnosis and starting an effective treatment plan. The cycle will persist.

If you or a client suspects inflammation is a concern, visit with a primary care provider or another qualified practitioner to learn about the available options for investigation and discussion.

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Erin Nitschke

Dr. Erin Nitschke, NFPT-CPT, NSCA-CPT, ACE Health Coach, Fitness Nutrition Specialist, Therapeutic Exercise Specialist, and Pn1 is a health and human performance college professor, fitness blogger, mother, and passionate fitness professional. She has over 15 years of experience in the fitness industry and college instruction. Erin believes in the power of a holistic approach to healthy living. She loves encouraging her clients and students to develop body harmony by teaching focused skill development and lifestyle balance. Erin is also the Director of Educational Partnerships & Programs for the NFPT. Erin is an editorial author for ACE, IDEA, The Sheridan Press, and the Casper Star Tribune. Visit her personal blog at