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March 26, 2021 10 min read
The fitness industry and promises of immediate results go hand in hand. And it’s not like this doesn’t make sense—people want to be fit now, not six months from now. The sooner you can promise results, the more stuff you can sell.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t work quite like that, and “working out” really does live up to its name. The name of the game is consistency and turning “getting into shape” into a lifestyle rather than a scheme that you want to accomplish and get rid of.
Not only that, but there is no easy answer to this question. It largely depends on your starting fitness level, your goals, and what kind of lifestyle you stick to.
However, below we’ve outlined some of the key components to look out for when you’re on your fitness journey. Putting all the pieces together might not promise you the results you want in a week, but they’ll do wonders for keeping you healthy for life. And after all, fitness is a marathon, not a sprint.
To get into shape means something different for every person. That might seem obvious, but it’s good to highlight this first. How ever you define “getting into shape” will define your goals, which in turn will define what exercises you should be doing and what kind of diet you should be sticking to.
The common denominator for all routines is in how your body adapts to the exercises you put it through.
For example, the more you use a muscle, the larger it gets. The same goes for your heart when it comes to cardiovascular health. You can also train for strength rather than pure size, which comes in the form of strength training.
There are dozens of ways to customize your routine to hit different goals that you might have. It could mean going for a chiseled six-pack, or just simply losing a few extra pounds before you go on vacation. That’s why it’s important to first define what “getting in shape” means to you.
Goals are more than just a random finish line in the distance—if you want to improve your chances of doing anything, not just working out, then a goal is one of the most powerful tools your brain has at its disposal.
And the more specific you can get, the better. For example, one good goal for most people trying to lose weight is to lose a pound a week. This is often cited as the best plan for long-term weight loss, and it makes sense.
Although you can go on a crazy diet and workout routine losing a lot of weight in a short amount of time, chances are that that just won’t be sustainable in the long run. You’ll probably burn out and bounce back to where you were before, if not worse.
That’s why consistency over a long period is key. It allows you to break down your goals into specific, bite-sized pieces that are easier to digest on the day-to-day, while also being best for your fitness’ longevity.
The time span will depend on everything above, and how you approach your new lifestyle. However, there are some things that everyone can keep in the back of their mind.
Newbie gains are a thing, for example. Since your body is still getting used to being put under strain, it can quickly adapt since it’s still undergoing recomposition. Your fat is slowly disappearing and bigger, stronger muscles will begin growing in its wake.
The same goes for cardiovascular, endurance activities. A beginner will take less time to get in shape for a 5k race than someone who’s training for their very first triathlon or marathon. Because of this, you can kind of picture “progress” as a curve that becomes less and less steep the further you go.
The good news is that you’re going to cover a lot of ground at the very beginning. Not only is this good for getting in shape, but it’ll also help to motivate you. But that’s not to say that you can expect results soon.
You’ll begin to “feel” better about your health a long time before you start to see any major, “getting in shape,” results—especially when it comes to aesthetics. Within two weeks you might start noticing that it doesn’t take as much energy to climb stairs, you’re not breathing as heavy after a walk, or the groceries aren’t as heavy as they used to be. You might not be seeing the physical results just yet, but these wins are a major thing for your mindset.
Cherish these wins and be proud of them, because they’ll give you the confidence and motivation to keep going when you feel like giving up. And there will be moments when you feel like giving up.
As you can probably see by now, a lot depends on your starting fitness level. If you’re starting from scratch, you can expect to see moderate results after 2 months of working out consistently on most days. Going to 4 months, you can probably achieve a pretty big turnaround in terms of your physical fitness, assuming you were starting from relatively poor health.
But the big question: how fast to get very ripped?
Unless you go on a very extreme diet and/or workout plan, which is unsustainable and probably won’t fit into a working schedule anyway, then it should take around a year’s time of consistent working out. This is assuming that you’re starting from a low fitness level, and you’re looking to get jacked with a 6-pack and the whole nine yards of aesthetics.
The phrase “getting in shape” deals much more with the aesthetic side of things, which is also the part that’s the longest to develop. You’re not going to look like your favorite action hero if you’re just getting started in the spring and you want to tear up some beaches by June.
However, fret not because there are some immediate benefits of exercise that can keep you going when nothing else will.
Working out has immediate effects on our brain chemistries. Not only is there a reduction in stress levels, but often your mood surges as well due to the release of hormones. You don’t even need to wait to be outside of the gym for this benefit, as it can start happening well before you finish your routine.
Those suffering from chronic pain from arthritis or some other conditions may also see very quick benefits from working out. This is a more specialized area and the correct exercises should be chosen, but either a healthcare professional or a good personal trainer can help with that.
Along with that, positive effects on blood sugar levels can also be seen immediately.
These benefits are more difficult to put your finger on in the majority of cases, but these are all steps in the right direction. Tiny steps as they may be, if you put them all together in the right direction, you’ll be getting into shape quicker than ever before.
Cardiovascular fitness is a great place to begin your fitness journey, because not only will it burn off that extra body fat, but it’ll also improve your heart health.
If you stick to a cardio routine well, you should begin feeling results within a few weeks. This includes having your exercises become easier, or having more energy throughout the day for functional tasks.
This works similarly whether you opt for moderate-intensity cardio such as going for jogs, or more high-intensity cardio. The latter is known as high-intensity interval training (HIIT) with the premise of maintaining an elevated heart rate by cycling through very intense periods of exertion with less intense periods. When it comes to running, that can mean sprinting for a minute or two before slowing down for a jog for 30 seconds, before cycling through again.
Studies have shown that both options for cardiovascular exercise will make improvements in your heart’s ability to regulate itself (heart rate variability). However, it’s those who opt for HIIT that can see greater improvements, faster.
While more difficult, HIIT is a good way to turbocharge your progress at the beginning. Of course, you don’t want to go too hard either because that can lead to injury. Finding that sweet spot between exerting yourself just enough while also making up for it in rest, is the key to consistent and speedy progress.
As we mentioned above, newbie gains are a very real thing.
When you start working out, your body’s composition begins to shift from fatty tissue to muscle tissue. This brings not only size to your muscles, but also strength. It also leads to more definition due to less fat covering your muscles.
But not only does it look good, but it’ll also lower your chances of getting several different chronic diseases.
However, the key is to do some time of resistance training either with your bodyweight or with weights in a gym. You’ll also want to keep your body fat percentage under control so that your muscles are able to shine through.
When you start weightlifting the gains will come relatively fast, but these gains are more likely due to the fact that your body is making neural adaptations. This allows your muscles to respond more efficiently to the stresses you’re putting on them, but it doesn’t necessarily lead to long-term strength or size.
If you’re looking for longevity with your muscles, you need about eight weeks of working out and going to the gym at least twice a week. Eight weeks might seem like a somewhat arbitrary number, but this is the minimum duration of studies looking at strength and muscular endurance. That’s because it’s enough time to give your body the chance to develop some kind of measurable strength and endurance.
This will, of course, take actual hard work. And the harder you work (while also allowing your body to rest), the faster you can expect more progress.
In the beginning, it’s important to push yourself, but also leave plenty of leeway for your muscles. To start, you’ll be getting used to the correct forms and your muscles may be working in ways they haven’t before. While you will see a lot of progress, it’s important to keep it slow and steady or risk injury.
A solid goal to have, at least if you’re working out twice a week, is to train all of your major muscle groups in every session. This includes your arms, back, chest, core, shoulders, calves, and thighs. Doing 3 sets of 8 to 12 repetitions for each muscle group will put you well on your way to getting in shape.
Flexibility on its own is a worthy goal to pursue. It helps your body move in ways that many others cannot, and it’s good for getting through functional activities in the day-to-day.
More importantly maybe, flexibility is also great at helping you prevent injuries. The more limber you are, the better your joints can move through full ranges of motion without any stiffness or pain.
It’s also a great thing to develop if you’re looking to maximize your gains in weightlifting. Since being more flexible will allow your joints and muscles to move in more efficient ways and through a full range of motion, your muscle and strength gains will see a payoff as well. For example, if you can’t successfully move through the full range of motion in a pull-up, you’re just going to be leaving gains on the table. The same goes for every other exercise.
But how long does it take to see improvements?
Studies have shown that even after just 10 weeks of training with various flexibility exercises will show considerable improvements. You may not be doing the splits, but you’ll definitely feel the increased flexibility in your stretches. You may even notice your lifts getting better as your body works more efficiently.
Since we’re interested in how long it takes to get into shape, it’s also helpful to know how long it’ll take us to fall out of shape once we start making progress.
This might not seem like an important thing to know, but life does get in the way all too often. And for many people, an injury, illness, or other events can completely derail their fitness program. This derailment may be short-term, but it may put people off for longer if they believe that all their progress has been erased.
Your cardio fitness tends to be the first thing that drops down, usually after only a few weeks of inactivity.
But that doesn’t mean the gains you’ve worked hard for are completely erased. Studies have shown that even after 84 days of inactivity, former athletes still had higher fitness levels in the form of their VO2 max than those who had never trained before. If anything, this can help illustrate that not all is lost if you fall off the horse.
The story is a bit different when it comes to muscular strength and derailing training.
One study found that younger people lost only 8% of their strength after not having worked out for 31 weeks—that’s well over half a year of inactivity. And even then, most of the muscle loss happened only after the 12-week mark of the study.
The same goes for small breaks of several weeks in the middle of multi-month training routines.
The point is that once you have a base of strength and some sort of level of fitness, that’s going to stay with you for a very, very long time. It will drop down after a while, but even if you fall off the training-wagon for months on months, you can still get back into the swing of things relatively easily.
This is important because you should be thinking of training as a life-long change, not something that you do a couple of times a week. If you’re relatively young, in the grand scheme of things it won’t matter if you become inactive for a year—as long as you get back into it. And that’s the sort of mindset that gives you the type of fitness that lasts a lifetime.
While we’ve been going on and on about how quickly you can expect to get into shape, we’ve still failed to mention some of the key ingredients to any fitness goal.
The first is food. You want to be eating clean, healthy, whole foods—cut out as much junk food as you can, but also acknowledge that treating yourself isn’t bad. That means plenty of healthy protein, fats, and complex carbs. This will help build lean muscle and add a whole host of health benefits in terms of body composition.
You also need to be resting enough. Over-training is a very real issue, and it can put you out of commission if you don’t take enough rest days. Both for aerobic fitness and muscle mass, the physical activity needs to be balanced out with rest in every training program.
Adopt the mindset of someone who’s planning to be fit decades from now rather than someone chasing results immediately, and you’ll be all the better for it.