Hello, and welcome to a very honest conversation about just how long it takes to get into shape. Although marketing campaigns may claim otherwise, the truth is that there is no quick way to get fit. This is important to understand, because many beginners are fooled by false promises of incredibly fast transformations, and then when those results don’t materialize, they often blame themselves or get frustrated and quit. The truth is, it takes consistent effort over weeks and months, to get in the best shape of your life.
"If a gym, trainer, or class promises to make all your dreams come true in six weeks, run — don't walk — in the opposite direction," said coach Jessie, PT and host of ‘Intro to Strength’ and the ‘Sculpt and Burn’ workout series on fitness streaming service BodyRockPlus.com
Even "natural" exercisers are unlikely to experience fitness miracles anytime soon.
"Some people appear to put on lean muscle at a much faster rate than others — although nobody will be able to change their body overnight," said coach Sean, a certified PT and host of multiple workout series on BodyRockPlus.com
Are we there yet? An older 2004 study published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research by researchers at the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse looked at whether 6 weeks of exercise would make a noticeable difference in fitness and appearance.
The researchers put 25 sedentary men through a 6-week exercise programme that included either three 20-minute cardiovascular sessions per week or three 30-minute high-intensity, total-body strength training sessions.
Based on photos, a panel of panellists rated the men's appearance at the beginning and end of the study. The ratings remained unchanged after 6 weeks. After 6 weeks, the men's ratings of their own appearances were nearly identical.
Furthermore, objective fitness indicators such as percent body fat, number of pushups, and oxygen efficiency did not improve over the course of the study.
So, how long does it take to get in shape if 6 weeks isn't enough? Time is determined by the objectives. The answer to this fitness question depends on your definition of "in shape."
"How long it takes to see fitness results will vary depending on your goals," said Light. "Do you want to improve your time? Become more powerful? Want to lose weight? Reduce body fat? The answer to the question of how long it will take to get fit will differ depending on the goal."
A beginner training for a 5K race will spend less time getting in shape than someone training for their first marathon or triathlon. They will also require a different training programme than someone preparing for a week-long backpacking trip.
In general, you will begin to "feel" better long before you see significant fitness results.
"I notice that for someone starting out, they can start feeling the benefits of exercise within 2 weeks," said Light. This might mean that you will be less out of breath when climbing stairs or running to catch the subway. Or being able to play in the back yard with your children without tiring. Functional movements will start to be noticeably easier - like lifting bags of shopping.
Although you may not yet have a "ripped body," these minor changes should not be overlooked. These are some of the earliest wins, and they need to be celebrated. These are direct signals that what you are doing is working.
"The mental benefits of getting active are even more important than the external changes we're all concerned about seeing," coach Sean told us. This is where you should harness these early signals as motivation and confidence to continue working out until you see physical results.
"If you've been out of shape or haven't worked out in 10 years — or forever — it will generally take about 2 months of working out most days of the week to get to a moderate level," BodyRock Coach Edith, host of The Beginner Bootcamp workout videos, told BodyRock. “We set the Beginner Bootcamp up to train with people for 10-15 minutes each day for this exact reason - it’s the exact amount of exercise required for beginners to start seeing progress, and it’s set at a level that allows people to experience what it’s like to achieve and accomplish their workout. When people feel good and accomplished, it builds a crazy amount of motivation and they start to actually like working out - that’s when everything changes.”
A shot from the Beginner Bootcamp workout program.
And if you exercise regularly, you will gain even more fitness benefits over time.
"You can definitely notice some changes in 6 to 8 weeks of following the Beginner Bootcamp," Edith said, "and in 3 to 4 months you can do a pretty good overhaul to your health and fitness."
The same amount of time is required for strength-specific results.
"3 months is usually a reasonable time frame for a client who is already in good cardio shape but just wants to learn how to lift weights safely," Light said.
So, how long until you have a "ripped body"? "If you're consistent about working out and dieting properly for a full year, and you weren't significantly overweight to begin with," Light said, "you can expect to sport a lean, muscular physique with a visible six pack after eight months to one year."
Factors Influencing Fitness. These are, of course, Many factors can either hasten or thwart your progress.
"One factor that I've personally seen affect people's individual results timeline is how fit you are when you start," Coach Edith said.
The type of exercise you choose is also important, and it will affect you differently if you are a beginner or have recently recovered from an illness or injury.
"If you're not used to exercising or are cautious due to an injury, walking for 90 minutes per day will produce different results than someone who has decided to try an HIIT [high-intensity interval training] programme," said Coach Edith. That's why we created the Beginner Bootcamp - to give beginners the ability to participate in the most effective fat loss workouts like strength training and HIIT - at a beginner level of exercise intensity. “The best types of workouts and exercises are just not typically available to beginners - all of the best workouts for fat loss are typically only taught at the advanced level - this leaves a lot of people out. Over 250,000 people have taken the Beginner Bootcamp because they didn’t just want to “go for a walk” - these people want to do fun, dynamic workouts just like everyone else - they want to learn to train and they want to get stronger, faster, fitter - just like the rest of us. That didn’t exist, so we built it into the Beginner Bootcamp”.
Beginners may make faster progress simply because they are starting at a lower level of fitness and require less exercise to challenge their bodies - especially when they aren’t just walking - strength training and HIIT can dramatically speed things up when it comes to results timelines. "With proper training, beginners see huge jumps in strength across the board every week," said coach Edith.
What you put into an exercise programme, of course, determines what you get out of it.
On a scale of 1 to 10, "if you only feel comfortable exercising at a level 6, you will get different results than someone who feels comfortable exercising at a level 9," according to Light.
In a 2007 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers divided sedentary women, as well as those who were overweight or obese, into three groups and had them exercise at 50 percent, 100 percent, or 150 percent of the recommended energy expenditure level.
Women who worked out at the highest intensity level improved their cardiovascular fitness by 8% after 6 months. Those who exercised at the lowest intensity level improved their fitness by 4%.
An 8% increase in fitness may not seem like much, but if you've been inactive for a long time, it can be significant. You'll get faster results if you increase the intensity even more.
Coach Edith said, "We see fitness results from our students in about 2 weeks."
"If you work too hard too soon, you risk injury or quitting due to stress," Edith explained. "However, if you do not work hard enough, you will not see results." So strike a balance and remember that being healthy and fit is neither a race nor a destination."
Falling out of shape. You'll probably find it easier to stick with your exercise routine once it's become a habit. However, an injury, illness, or even a change in your life can easily derail your workouts.
"Life circumstances will always throw you off your plan at some point," Coach Sean said, "but the more important thing is to get back to your programme and be in it for the long run."
Cardiovascular fitness is frequently the first to go. "If you're highly trained and decide to stop exercising, your cardio will be the first and fastest to decline." "It will drop significantly after only a few weeks of inactivity," says Light.
According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), physiological changes such as blood lipoproteins, the ability to use glucose for energy, and body composition can occur 1 to 2 weeks after stopping exercise.
According to a study in the Journal of Applied Physiology: Respiratory, Environmental, and Exercise Physiology, when endurance athletes stop training, their VO2 max drops by 7% within the first 21 days of inactivity.
After 56 days of no exercise, this stabilised. Even after 84 days of inactivity, the athletes' VO2 max was higher than that of people who had never trained.
During a break, muscle strength may last longer. A study published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise discovered that after 31 weeks of inactivity, young people lost only 8% of their strength. During that time, older people lost 14% of their strength.
Fitness breaks may have no effect on your overall strength progress. Beginners who took a 3-week break in the middle of a 15-week bench press programme achieved similar results by the end of the study as beginners who worked out the entire time, according to a 2011 study in the journal of Clinical Physiology and Functional Imaging.
So, once you've established a strong foundation, it will stick with you. "When you do resistance training, you permanently change the physiology of your muscle cells — even if you stop training for a long time," Light explained. "This accelerates the process of regaining strength and size after a long break from the gym."
This holds true for overall fitness as well.
"Everyone will be different when it comes to seeing results after a break from working out," Light explained. "However, the longer and more consistently you've worked out and trained, the less of an impact a break will have on you."
Losses can be minimized during exercise breaks. The good news is that you can minimize fitness losses while on vacation by continuing to exercise at some level, even if it's less than what you were doing before. You can maintain your current level of strength, performance, and health benefits with "as little as a single session per week of moderate- to hard-intensity exercise," according to the ACSM.
What you choose to help you get through a break is determined by your circumstances.
If you stopped exercising because life got in the way, you may need to incorporate physical activity wherever you can — do bodyweight resistance exercises throughout the day, take the stairs instead of the elevator, or ride your bike to work.
If you are injured, you may need to significantly modify your workouts.
“Once a doctor has approved you to train again, I encourage students who are injured — depending on the severity of the injury — to continue training, but we obviously modify their workout around the injured body part," Light said.
"For example, a student with a shoulder injury can still come and work out their lower body, preventing them from becoming completely deconditioned."
It's also critical to collaborate with a doctor or physical therapist to create a programme that will keep you active while still allowing your body to heal.
People who have recovered from an injury must also "learn to trust the injured joint again," according to Light. "Favoring the uninjured side for months or years after therapy only increases the risk of a new injury elsewhere in the body."
If you've been inactive for a while, it's often best to start over, working with your current level of fitness and health rather than where you were before the break. And you'll need a lot of patience, the same kind that got you in shape in the first place.
"It's all about taking one step at a time and allowing your body to adapt gradually — this is frequently the best and most sustainable approach."
I hope that this post has helped to answer some of your questions when it comes to fitness results timelines. One of my favourite sayings, is the best time to plant a tree is today. If you like our vibe here at BodyRock, consider starting our 30 day Beginner Bootcamp series with coach Edith. For a limited time we are offering a full year of unlimited access to the Beginner Bootcamp, and all of our beginner level programs for just $69 with code: NY22.