How Long Does It Take to See Results from Working Out?
Sport & Activity
Whether your goal is to build muscle, lose fat or improve endurance, these guidelines can help you monitor your progress.
Starting a new workout plan can be exciting. Whether you're new to fitness or switching up your training routine to chase after a new goal, the question soon becomes how long does it take to see results from working out?
Unfortunately, the answer isn't one-size-fits-all. Your fitness results depend on the type of workout you're doing, how much time and effort you're putting into your sessions, and your overall lifestyle habits.
Still, there is a set of general guidelines you can use to assess your progress.
The Type of Workout Plan Matters
Three of the most common fitness goals are burning fat, building muscle and improving endurance. If you fit into one of these categories, here's what you need to know about when to expect results.
Fitness Goal: Building Muscle
Someone on a bodybuilding, muscle-gain workout plan should understand that building muscle takes time. It's not an overnight thing—it's a physiologically complex process. It takes patience, persistence and dedication in the gym.
Take this 2017 randomised controlled trial in the European Journal of Applied Physiology as an example. Researchers measured how long it takes to build muscle in a group of untrained beginners. The participants exercised twice a week for four weeks, progressively overloading their muscles with heavier weights each session. After four weeks, muscle growth did occur but it was so minimal that it was only detectable via ultrasound.
A 2016 study in the International Journal of Exercise Science also examined the speed of muscle hypertrophy (growth) in a group of trained individuals. After training three days a week for eight weeks, the participants increased their lean muscle mass by about 2%.
In fact, about 12 weeks of consistent training may be the sweet spot in terms of optimal muscle growth. A 2012 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research concluded that three months was the average time it takes to notice significant improvements in muscle mass.
So if you're consistent with your training, the above research suggests you'll start building muscle mass in as early as four weeks. But noticeable muscle growth probably won't occur until after three months. Although weightlifting alone may not yield the best results, there are three other important factors that may influence muscle hypertrophy.
Key Factors That Can Help You Build Muscle
Ask yourself these questions: How much are you eating? What does your diet composition look like? Are you eating enough protein and drinking enough water? All these factors affect how much and what type of energy your muscles have access to.
For example, a 2018 study in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism found that a high-protein diet increased muscle mass more than a low-protein diet in two groups doing exactly the same strength-training workout routine.
Don't miss When to Drink Your Protein Shake!
Muscle is damaged in the gym and repaired while you're sleeping. Without enough high-quality sleep, your muscles won't heal and protein synthesis won't occur.
Plus, if you're starting your workout sleep deprived, muscle strength and endurance are negatively affected. This can prevent you from making the progressive improvements required to trigger hypertrophy.
A 2008 study in the Journal of Applied Physiology examined how genetics affect muscle building. In the group of participants, those with more satellite stem cells were able to increase the size of their quads by 50 percent during a 16-week training programme. Those with lower satellite stem cell density saw less quad hypertrophy, if any at all.
It's important to follow a training plan designed for your body type and genetic make-up. A workout plan created by a personal trainer is an easy way to do this.
Progressive overload is the most effective way to build muscle. In other words, continuously increasing the intensity of your training. If you use the same weights, reps and sets for weeks on end, your muscles aren't exposed to new stimuli and won't change.
Fitness Goal: Weight Loss
If your goal is weight loss, your workout plan needs to be combined with diet adjustments. That's because adjusting your diet helps create a calorie deficit (burning more calories than you consume). If you're consistently eating a calorie surplus, no amount of exercise will result in weight loss.
The general guideline is that if you burn 500 calories per day, you can lose a pound of fat a week. But it isn't a perfect science. If you and your friend both burn 500 calories a day, you may not both lose one pound per week. The calorie-deficit rule fails to account for gender, activity level, height, weight, diet and health conditions.
For example, if you have hypothyroidism, you may struggle to lose weight. Similarly, if you have a high body weight (higher bone density, fat or muscle mass), a 500-calorie deficit might not be enough to push you into a fat-burning state.
But the "pound a week" rule is generally considered a healthy amount of weight loss to aim for—that is, if losing weight is something you want to do.
Fitness Goal: Endurance
Improving cardio endurance and fitness is essential for sports performance. Unlike building muscle or losing weight, there are fewer caveats and conditions that influence the outcome. That makes it easier to give guidelines on when to expect results from aerobic exercise.
Research suggests that engaging in a minimum of 30 minutes of cardio endurance training 3 times a week can increase your aerobic capacity between 8 and 12 weeks.
As is the case with just about any fitness goal, improving endurance takes consistency. That's because your body is working hard to adapt. As your fitness improves, the capillary density of your muscles (aka how much oxygen is transported to them) increases and, as a result, improves your peak oxygen uptake—otherwise known as your VO2 max. These processes result in better endurance but they take time, so patience is key.
The Bottom Line
Remaining consistent with any workout plan is the best way to ensure you achieve the results you want to see. However, bear in mind that the work you're putting in on a regular basis is both beneficial to your mind and body—regardless of whether or not the results are visible to you.
For more expert-backed advice on how to improve your endurance, be sure to download the Nike Run Club App!