How long it takes to start seeing workout results, according to personal trainers
- Chasing results like weight loss or muscle gain is a major motivator for those new to working out.
- Factors like exercise type, length of workout, nutrition, sleep habits, and recovery all play a role.
It can be extremely rewarding when you first see the results of a fitness program — like, getting stronger, running faster, or becoming more flexible.
But it's important to know that these types of results don't always come quickly or easily, and the time it takes to notice the benefits varies depending on how you work out.
There are several factors that influence how long it takes to see results, including:
- The type of exercise program you're doing
- How often you work out each week
- Your nutrition
- Your sleep habits
- Recovery time
- Your genetics
Before jumping into a new exercise regime, figure out what type of results are important to you. Personal trainer and owner of Chris Protein Personal Training, Chris Leach, says that "if you want to 'get in shape,' you first need to define what that actually means to you."
Maybe you want to build lean muscle or run faster. Perhaps you're interested in packing on mass or getting stronger. There are tons of different outcomes and equally as many workouts that can help you meet those goals.
Here are some examples of popular fitness programs and some of their benefits:
- High-intensity interval training (HIIT): aids in weight loss and muscle gain, decreases blood pressure, and improves oxygen and blood flow.
- Weight lifting: builds muscle, improves metabolism, decreases risk for heart diseases, diabetes, and cancer, and improves bone health.
- Running: boosts cardiovascular health, improves mental health, and burns calories.
- Yoga: increases flexibility and strength, helps manage stress, and burns calories.
How long does it take to see workout results?
Put plainly, the time, effort, and consistency you devote to your workout goals determine how fast you achieve them.
"If you do five workouts a week, spend a couple of hours prepping meals, and get eight to nine hours of sleep every night, you'll see results much faster than if you only work out sparingly and don't have as much time to sleep, recover, or work on your nutrition," says Leach.
While seeing immediate results sounds like a dream come true, it's not an indicator of long-term success. "The phrase 'weight quickly lost is usually quickly regained' holds a lot of truth," Leach adds Leach. This is because rapid weight loss is caused by undereating, overtraining, or both.
Usually, this type of workout and nutrition schedule is rigid and unsustainable. "You'll see rapid results right off the bat but after a few weeks or months, you'll almost always become rundown, tired, and ravenously hungry," says Leach. "That will likely result in stopping your program and losing the results, as well."
The best way to avoid this pitfall is to do a workout program you can commit to long-term.
If you can't commit several hours per week, you'll need to be content with taking a slower approach. "A good starting point for most people is to aim for three to five hours of workouts per week to see results within roughly two to three months," says Leach.
Does it matter what kind of workouts you do?
The type of workouts you do — be it a strength or cardio routine — dictates how long it takes to see results as well as the type of results you'll see.
A few examples of cardio and strength workout programs include:
- Cardio: running, swimming, cycling, walking, and dancing which can improve heart health and burn calories
- Strength training: circuit training, powerlifting, bodyweight training, and CrossFit which can help build muscle and boost metabolism
Cardio results typically appear quicker than results from strength training because it's often easier for people to lose weight than gain muscle.
"The typical human body can only synthesize around 1-2 pounds of muscle per month at most, but it's physiologically possible to burn a lot more fat during the same amount of time," Leach says. "Fat burn could be around 1-2 pounds per week, or even more."
However, it takes longer to lose the benefits of strength training compared to cardio workouts.
Muscle loss typically takes about 2-3 weeks if you're not using them at all, whereas you can gain 1-2 pounds of weight a week if you start eating more calories than you burn.
How to stay motivated
It can be hard to stay motivated if it's taking a while for you to see results. "Many people fall off their fitness programs because they don't see results, get discouraged, and quit," Leach says.
There are a few helpful tips anyone can follow to keep on track, though:
- Choose a workout program you enjoy
- Exercise with a buddy
- Start slow — don't embark on an aggressive workout schedule that you won't be able to maintain
- Work out at a time that works for you and stick to it
- Set SMART goals — specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based
"Whether you're looking for muscle gain, fat loss, or endurance, it's not going to happen overnight," Leach says. "And hitting a plateau or having some setbacks are a normal part of the journey."
How quickly you see workout results varies depending on a number of factors such as the type of fitness program you do, the effort you put into it, your nutrition, your sleep habits, and your recovery.
However, most people can typically expect to see results within 2-3 months of starting a new fitness program.
The specific workouts you do also impact how quickly you'll see results. For instance, doing consistent cardio workouts can help burn calories and may help you reach a certain weight loss goal quicker than strength training. However, the benefits from strength training tend to last longer.
But the most important factor in seeing results from a fitness program is consistency. "Stay the course, and results will come," says Leach.
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