Patience is a virtue for exercise training. Of course, you’d like to see results fast and celebrate those extra inches of body fat melting away. Or you might have a different goal, like the desire to see your biceps or tummy muscles pop. But it won’t happen overnight or without work.
It’s easy to get impatient when you don’t see results right away. It explains why so many folks get discouraged after starting an exercise program and give up before they can enjoy the health and fitness benefits that regular exercise offers.
How Long Does It Take to Get Results from Exercise?
You may not see it, but the results of working out show up the first time you launch into a sweat session. You may not see your waistline shrink or the number on the scale drop, but exercise has substantial benefits for mental and physical health that happen right away.
You may have heard of the “runner’s high,” the feelings of well-being people experience during and after a run. Scientists believe this phenomenon is brought on by the release of endorphins, natural chemicals that have a calming effect on the body and brain. Studies show endorphins bind to opiate receptors in the brain. When endorphins attach to these receptors, it reduces pain and you feel more tranquil. Exercise, particularly an aerobic workout, also triggers changes in other neurotransmitters such as serotonin that elevate mood.
With exercise, change begins sooner than you think. Even after your first workout, you feel a sense of accomplishment, making a workout a good mood elevator and self-esteem booster too. These benefits apply to both aerobic workouts and resistance training. So, you can say that exercise has perks that show up right away.
How Long Until You See Visible Results from Aerobic Exercise?
Even the visible benefits of exercise appear early. You look better after a workout. That’s because increased oxygen delivery to your skin and widening of blood vessels to release heat gives your skin a rosy glow. These are all good things, but what about changes in body weight, heart health, and the way your clothes fit?
How quickly you lose weight from aerobic exercise also depends on your diet. Some people compensate for working out by consuming more calories. In fact, if you don’t watch how you eat, an exercise program can even lead to weight gain. Most fitness instructors point out that weight loss is 80% nutrition and 20% exercise. You must get both sides of the equation right to lose weight.
Exercise can change the way your clothes fit even if you don’t lose weight. If you strength train and do aerobic exercise, you’ll build muscle and lose body fat. Your total body weight may not change because muscle weighs more than fat, but your body will be firmer and tighter so your clothing fits better.
Another reason people do aerobic exercise is to improve their cardiovascular fitness. Studies show you can see a change in your V02max (maximum oxygen consumption) in as little as a month if you’re consistent with your aerobic workouts. V02 max is the best measure of cardiovascular fitness and an increase means your heart and blood vessels have become better at pumping oxygen to tissues and muscle tissue can more efficiently use that oxygen to fuel exercise. However, you can make further gains if you keep training.
How Long It Takes to Get Results from Strength Training
If you strength train, you’ll develop strength before you see an increase in muscle size. You become stronger initially because your brain becomes more efficient at communicating with your muscles and your muscle contractions become more synchronized. Therefore, your muscles have an easier time lifting a heavy weight. It’s not uncommon to experience strength gains in the first few weeks after starting a strength -training routine and for strength gains to accelerate during the first six weeks of training. These gains aren’t due to gain in muscle size, but better communication between your brain and muscles. So, expect to feel stronger before you become bigger.
How about gains in muscle size? The boost in muscle size that comes from strength training is called muscle hypertrophy, and you usually won’t see an increase in muscle size for 6 weeks or longer. If you gradually increase the stimulus on your muscles by using progressive overload (lifting heavier and doing more volume), dedicated bodybuilders can build 2 to 3 pounds of muscle per month. How fast you gain muscle depends on your genetics, diet, training approach, and factors like how much you sleep and manage stress. It all matters.
The Bottom Line
Now you know why patience is important. You’ll get some fitness benefits right away, but to see a measurable difference in muscle size or a drop in body weight takes a little longer. The time to see change differs from individual to individual, so don’t compare your progress with someone else’s; compete only with yourself and you’ll get there.
MedicineNet.com. “Endorphins: Natural Pain and Stress Fighters”
Healthline.com. “Exercise and brain chemistry”
Sci-Fit.net. “Scientific Recommendations for Strength and Hypertrophy Training from 150+ Studies (part 1 of 3)”
Lubbico A, Kravitz L. Muscle hypertrophy: New insights and training recommendations. IDEA Fitness Journal. 2011;2326.
Exercise Physiology: Theory and Application to Fitness and Performance. Powers and Howley. 2012.