We’re going to piggyback on yesterday’s Hot Body Maker post as we tackle something else that has been popping up amongst our readers; how long until I see improvement?
By nature, this is a tough question to answer. We’ve all got different work ethics, different genetics, different diets – all of these things affect how much, and how fast, we see improvement in ourselves. Of course, the more of a beginner you are, or the more weight you have to lose, the quicker you’re going to see progress. Writing a guideline for everyone under the sun is just impossible, so for our purposes today, we’re talking about your average, run-of-the-mill, “I-kinda-work-out-but-not-really”, might have a few pounds to lose, fitness goer.
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Again, this article is simply a guideline to help keep you on track, show you where MOST “average” people will be after X months of training, and hopefully help you keep your eyes on the prize. Something else to note – this is the progression MOST people will take, in my personal experience. If you find you’re progressing slower than what these guidelines indicate, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doing something wrong (although you very well may be). Just make sure you’re putting in max effort, keeping a clean diet, and keep trucking along.
Meet Miss Average
Average Alice, 27 years old, 15 pounds to lose, looking to increase muscle mass
- Total body weight training workouts 2x a week
- HIIT cardio sessions 2x a week
- Complex workout 1x a week
- Eliminated excess sugar, switched to whole grains, increased protein intake.
As we see above, Alice is working on a 5x a week schedule, performing two total body workouts each week. Her first workout is geared towards hitting her upper body, her second strength workout is more geared towards her lower. In addition, she’s throwing in one complex workout a week which is hitting her entire body a second time, as well as helping her burn calories. To round things out, she’s putting in 30-40 minutes of HIIT cardio twice a week as well to maximize her fat burn.
What to look for: After just one week, Alice is noticing serious muscle soreness across her entire body. Her upper body feels as though it’s been absolutely punished and her legs so sore it’s tough to walk. If you’re brand new to fitness and aren’t experiencing any soreness, this may be a good indication that you simply aren’t going hard enough. Soreness doesn’t necessarily equal progress, but if you are just starting a new plan and aren’t feeling it, you may need to ratchet things up a bit.
Alice has gotten into the full swing of things and hasn’t missed a beat. She’s stayed on top of all of her workouts, eating clean has been easier than she thought, and she’s starting to hit her “motivational stride”. Some workouts are still hard for her and she finds herself stopping for air or cutting her HIIT cardio sessions. Despite that, she’s got the resolve to keep pushing and is performing slightly better each time out.
What to look for: By week three, you may start feeling a little bit tighter; a little more slimmed down. While it’s probably not obvious to others looking at you, you feel like something positive is going on. You should feel stronger, tighter, and perhaps even see a reflection on the scale. You’re really starting to get behind this whole fitness thing and are eager to hit the gym each day. Capitalize on this sky-high motivation and make the most of it while you have it……there’s going to come a time when that motivation is gone.
Surprising even herself, Alice has continued her fitness and diet plan, falling off track only once or twice since starting. She’s progressed in her workouts and is now completing them without having to take too many rest brakes. Her HIIT cardio sessions have become easier and she’s considering extending their length in the near future. During her complex workout she’s bumped her weight slightly and is gaining more confidence by the day.
What to look for: By now, you’re likely seeing a little definition forming in your arms, shoulders, and back. Your legs and butt should feel tighter, even if they don’t necessarily look it just yet. Weight loss and a reduction in body fat around the midsection shouldn’t come as a surprise at this point. Stepping on the scale, you’ll find you’re more than half way to your weight loss goal of 15 pounds. Motivation remains high and you’re loving the progress you’re seeing.
After two solid months of working out, Alice begins to slide into a bit of an inevitable rut. Her workouts started grew a bit stale, getting to the gym seemed harder than it used to, and cheat meals reared their ugly head around every corner. To combat this, Alice mixed up her workouts; she added time to intervals, increased her sprint speeds, introduced new exercises to weight training days, and made sure to increase her weight used. The new variety helped keep her focused and determined to keep pushing herself towards her goals.
What to look for: This is the period most people begin to burn out. You’ve got a choice to make, do you burn out and fall into the unending fitness cycle you’ve lived your whole life, or do you push through and do something you’ve never done? Go to the gym even when you don’t want to, keep up with the workouts, trust the science behind all of this. At this point, you’re continuing to make progress, but it doesn’t seem to be coming as fast. On top of that, weight loss may not be as fast as you’d like anymore. This is where many people quit; but understand this….the muscle you’re building is outweighing the fat you’re losing. Start ignoring the scale and instead focus on your measurements, how you physically appear in a mirror, and how you feel. The scale can sap the motivation of even the most dedicated fitness freak…now is the time to start ignoring it.
As tough as it has been, Alice has kept pushing through her spat of mental fatigue. Inside, she’s proud of herself for continuing on when she’d ordinarily quit and fall back to the drawing board. At the three-month mark, Alice can definitely see definition in her arms, legs, and butt. She’s got more confidence in her appearance and abilities at the gym. She no longer feels insecure heading over to the free weight section with all the meatheads doing their beach body workouts. She’s learned to ignore the scale, and even though her weight isn’t where she wanted it to be when she started, she realizes she’s really starting to turn a corner.
What to look for: If you’ve made it this far (kicking, screaming, crying notwithstanding) not only are you noticing some serious changes in your body, but other people are as well. By now, you’re running faster, lifting heavier, and performing better in the gym. You’re probably anxious for some newer, tougher workouts at this point. This is vital – you’ve got to continue pushing yourself. Once you allow yourself to fall into a comfort zone, you’re done. By now, you’re abdominal muscles are *beginning* to show through. You’ve built a solid layer of muscle on your body and are slowly but surely burning away the fat that’s covering them. Motivation may be increasing again.
Since Alice has been keeping up on her diet and fitness information, she knows the only thing that can knock her off track is succumbing to that damn plateau. At this stage of the game, it is increasingly important to continue varying her workouts, formats, and exercises to keep making progress. She’s introduced some workouts she never thought she’d be able to do and has started running longer than she used to. Her motivation may have leveled off again, but this isn’t her first rodeo; she knows full well what to expect now.
What to look for: Right now, you should be noticing serious progress being made in the cardiovascular department. You’re able to run longer, faster, and better than ever before. You’re no longer gasping for wind the way you used to. Your complex workouts are getting easier to get through (hint: make them harder) and you’re putting up more weight on your complex exercises (bench, squat, deadlift, etc) than you ever thought possible. People at the gym are starting to check you out and you’ve begun developing that killer athletic physique everyone else is just wishing for. You’re not there yet, and still probably have some weight loss goals and excess body fat to burn through, but overall your definition has improved and you feel and look tight and fit.
After nearly 5 months of regular workouts and diet, Alice has earned a well-deserved break. By giving herself a week off, she allows her body to fully recover and gives her cardiovascular system a much-needed rest. By doing so, she’s going to come back even stronger and should be performing at an even higher level. Alice is using a variety of workouts at this point and is seamlessly tying them together to create the ultimate fitness plan.
What to look for: You should be able to easily and effectively pull different workouts to create an effective plan that keeps you working hard. You’re no newbie anymore, you know what’s a tough workout and what isn’t. Strength gains come a bit slower than before, but you’ve come to expect this. You haven’t stepped on a scale in weeks and are solely focused on your measurements; weight loss really isn’t your concern anymore. You continue to lose thickness from your waist, arms, and legs. Your body is changing into a lean, mean, athletic machine. Compliments about your physique come regularly, but you still realize there is more work to be done.
By this point, you’ve been at it for almost half a year. You should fully understand and anticipate the highs and lows and have found a way to get yourself off the motivation roller coaster. Gains don’t come nearly as fast as they used to, but that’s okay. You know by now that fitness isn’t something you do for a few weeks or months, hit your goal, and then stop. Being fit is a lifestyle. When you start seeing “the big picture” you stop obsessing about goals. Just continue putting in work, even on days you don’t think it’s going to make a difference, and good things will happen. By the 5/6 months mark, you’re ready to really up your game. Start looking into competing in races, challenges, anything at all that will keep you motivated. Finding ways to self-motivate is one of the secrets of the most fit individuals. Use whatever resources you have available (Share It Fitness anyone?) to keep introducing new and challenging workouts to your routine. Don’t grow comfortable with what you’re doing. Keep pushing, keep trying new things, and keep doing what you have to do to keep your motivation intact, and you’ll continue hitting levels you only used to dream about.
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