March 04, 2023 4 min read
With work from home becoming a reality for millions of people, the motivation to exercise is a challenge as many of us have become comfortable with a placid routine. If you’ve decided to make a clean break with the past and set new fitness goals for yourself, congratulations! You’ve taken the first step towards good health and fitness.
But a question immediately arises: How long will it take to get in shape? Most people will agree that the answer can’t be in days. But is it weeks? Or are we talking several months? Let’s break this down.
You might have seen ads claiming that you can become a Greek God (or Goddess) in a couple of weeks. All you have to do is follow this or that exercise regimen. Well, the truth is more complicated. While exercise will bring enormous benefits, getting in shape is a longer process and if you are expecting a miracle in 10 days—or even four to six weeks—you’re not only setting up yourself for disappointment, but you might feel demotivated and drop the idea of getting in shape. Which is, obviously, counterproductive.
There is science to back this claim.
In a 2004 study by the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse, published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, researchers put 25 sedentary men through a six-week exercise program. This included three 20-minute cardiovascular sessions per week, or three half-an-hour high-intensity, complete-body strength training sessions.
A panelist rated the men’s appearance at the start and end by looking at their photographs. The ratings remained unchanged after six weeks. Interestingly, the participants’ own ratings of themselves were also not very different from when they had started.
Now that we know even six weeks won’t make you physically a very different person after exercising, it’s important to take a few steps back and ask yourself, ‘What is my goal?’
Do you want to reduce fat? Lose weight fast? Get stronger? Develop those killer abs? Run faster? The thing is the time it takes for each of those laudable goals is not necessarily the same.
The second thing to consider is what is your starting point. If you’ve been leading a sedentary lifestyle for years, it might take you more effort and time to get in shape and lose weight as compared to someone who was quite active until a few months ago.
But here is the good news. Many experts believe that even if you have been out of shape forever, 60 days of regular exercise will start making a difference. You will feel better about yourself and begin noticing changes in your body, even if they are minor. If you continue with strength training and cardio for 4 months, the changes will become more visible to others too.
If your specific aim is a supremely toned or muscular body, then a full year of regular exercise and a sane diet will, generally speaking, bring you quite close to your goal.
There are many ways to look at fitness.
Body composition is linked to the amount of fat in your body and your muscle mass. A healthy body fat typically ranges from 10 to 20 percent for men, and between 20 and 30 percent for women. Below that is considered athletic.
A high protein diet when combined with an intense exercise program can produce results in as little as 4 weeks. But for the long term, the healthier and more realistic option is to undertake a moderate exercise regimen for up to six months, and then shift focus to maintenance.
Another factor is heart-beat. The target heart-rate during exercise should be 220 beats per minute minus your age, as a thumb rule. So, if you are 40, then your target heart rate is 220-40, or 180 beats per minute. (Of course, medical conditions like asthma will impact this.) Does your heart beat return back to normal quickly after exercise? This suggests above average cardiorespiratory endurance.
Muscular strength and endurance are also crucial. The former is a measure of the heaviest weights you are capable of lifting, while the latter determines how many repetitions you can perform before you give up. This is relevant for everything from pull-ups to weight training.
Another thing to keep in mind in your journey towards getting in shape is flexibility. This may be defined as the ability to move your body’s joints through a complete range of motion. Flexibility is often not given the importance it deserves, leading to needless injuries.
Once you start a regular and comprehensive fitness program, you will see start seeing results in a few months, even if you don’t get the dream bod immediately. As every fitness instructor and nutritionist will tell you, fitness is a journey and not a destination.
So don’t stress yourself about the time it takes to get in shape. Instead enjoy the journey. Here is what you can do to achieve your fitness goals:
Talk to your doctor: It’s important to take medical advice before embarking on an ambitious fitness project.
Take one step at a time: If you’ve been away from the gym for long, get back to heavy weights and more complex maneuvers slowly. Remember, you don’t want to risk injury.
Fitness is not just workouts: Your body needs time to relax and recover. Don’t push yourself too fast and too hard. Listen to your body.
You are what you eat: A sensible diet that gives your muscles the power they need, while cutting down on fat is the way to go if you want to lose weight. Consult a certified nutritionist if you’re making any dramatic changes to lost weight fast.
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