Estimated reading time: 9 minutes

If you are new to fitness, you have likely asked the common question, “when will I see results from working out?” It does seem unfair that we don’t have abs after one day of sit ups, but if you keep at it, you’ll soon start to see gym results. The answer as to exactly how long it takes isn’t absolute, but if you train consistently and follow a few core training principles, you can improve your fitness relatively quickly. 

During your fitness journey, keep in mind that improvement is not always linear, and nor is it exactly the same from one person to another. While there are principles to guide you in your quest for optimum fitness, individual differences will impact the timescales of your fitness improvements.

What is fitness? 

Before you can compute the timescales involved with improving fitness, understanding what fitness is in the first place may be helpful. 

An expert definition of physical fitness is “one’s ability to execute daily activities with optimal performance, endurance, and strength with the management of disease, fatigue, and stress and reduced sedentary behavior.” 

The American College of Sports Medicine suggests there are 5 critical components of fitness. These components serve as a helpful toolkit when considering your fitness improvement plan. 

To improve overall fitness, consider working on each of these 5 components. 

The 5 components are: 

  • Cardiovascular endurance
  • Muscular strength
  • Muscular endurance
  • Flexibility
  • Body composition 

These components serve the basis around the premise that participating in different disciplines will likely improve performance in your primary discipline. For instance, runners benefit from yoga and strength work, and cross-fit athletes benefit from yoga and running. 

When you start out, you might monitor things like your weight or resting heart rate. These are definitely useful metrics but there’s more to fitness than a low resting heart rate. Seeing results in the gym might include lowering your resting heart rate, but it might also include something like improving your flexibility or seeing more tone in your muscles. 

Woman doing online workout pilates or yoga on her mat in front of laptop

How do you see results from working out?

There are six broadly recognized training principles that will help you achieve optimum results from working out. Understanding these principles and incorporating them into your training will help you maximize your efforts to improve and maintain fitness as efficiently and effectively as possible. 

These six principles are science-based and used by Training Peaks, a global training platform for athletes and coaches. 

Principle 1 – overload 

For fitness to increase, adaptations must take place within the body. You must overload your body beyond its normal stress levels. This overloading means there will likely be an element of discomfort during hard training sessions. This discomfort will lead to fitness gains. If you never challenge or stress your body, you’ll never see results in terms of fitness. 

Remember that although the technical term is ‘overload’ it’s important not to overdo it. Overloading doesn’t mean you should go from zero to hero overnight. Instead, this overload must be implemented gradually to avoid injury. 

In a practical sense, this overload is more like slowly pushing your comfort zone. It may look like a runner challenging themselves during a tempo session. Or, it may be a weight lifter increasing the weight they are lifting. If you’re just starting out, doing a half an hour walk/jog might be an overload. 

Principle 2 – progression 

There are similarities between overload and progression. But progression is primarily concerned with improvements over time. It considers both the short-term and long-term impact of training on fitness. 

For progression to occur, you must be consistent and effective in your training. This progression means showing up day in and day out. But that doesn’t mean you have to commit to training for six hours a day (unless you’re an ultra runner!). It’s better to consistently exercise on a schedule you can fit into your lifestyle than to do occasional, very intense sessions. 

It is worth noting that progression is easier to achieve if you are new to training. Significant gains are often made at the start of a fitness journey. 

Principle 3 – recovery 

Rest and recovery are critical aspects of fitness. So yes, that means rest days are actually essential for you to see results from working out in the gym. They’re not just for lazy weekends…although we don’t begrudge anyone some Netflix binging time!

Without rest and recovery, necessary body adaptations would not occur. Rest impacts body adaptations by allowing body tissue to repair and grow. Rest is also essential for the replenishment of glycogen stores and to prevent burn-out.  Therefore rest is essential for progress, and recovery is imperative for allowing the body to adjust and resettle into its new fitness levels. 

The recommended rest rate is individual and dependent on fitness levels and your body’s ability to handle overload. Consider taking a rest day every 3 – 5 days. Bear in mind, a rest day could involve active recovery. For instance, if your primary discipline is running, you could practice yoga or go for a swim on your rest day. 

Recovery also helps avoid injury and prevents burnout and overtraining. 

You can also apply various recovery techniques to your daily habits by considering your sleep hygiene, focusing on nutrition and hydration, and adopting a mindfulness practice. 

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Principle 4 – specificity 

The more you practice a skill or technique, the closer you get to mastery. Think of the golfer who takes thousands of practice shots. You’ve probably heard the theory that it takes 10, 000 hours to become an expert in something. That’s more of a rule of thumb and a nice round figure than a hard-and-fast number (much like 10 000 steps) but the underlying principle holds true: spending time on improving specific skills or movements will lead to more improvements. 

This specificity principle will help you get better at what you do. For instance, you must work on elements specific to the lifting action to progress through the kettlebell ranks. In these circumstances, the technique is fundamental. If you want to see results in the gym or from working out, it makes sense that you would want to work on the things that are most important to you. Want better core strength? You’ll get better results from doing core-specific exercises than from cycling. 

Slightly overweight man running outside in an effort to see results from improved fitness

Principle 5 – reversibility 

While you’re wondering how long it takes to see gym results, you’ve probably wondered how long the opposite takes too. That is, once you’ve improved fitness, how long does it take to lose it? This is the perfect opportunity to provide a gentle reminder that you will lose fitness quicker than it takes to build it. Tough, but true! So once you’ve slogged away to see results from the gym, you’ll have to maintain them too. 

Use it or lose it is the theme here. You may experience fitness loss through injury, holiday, or times when you don’t prioritize your fitness.

Unfortunately, your fitness can reverse quicker than you would like. Detraining, or fitness loss, can occur in as little as 12 days of being sedentary. 

Principle 6 – individuality 

Fitness is not a case of one size fits all. You may need more recovery than others; you may benefit from more yoga or mobility. Or, if you are lucky, you maintain a high fitness level easy. The point is that individual quirks come into play here and each fitness journey will be different. So how long it takes to see results from working out will depend on your individual circumstances too. 

One beneficial side effect of fitness training is the heightened level of self-awareness it gives you. 

How long does it take to get fit and see results from gym?

If you consider the five separate components of fitness and are mindful of the six principles of training during your fitness journey, you will start to feel the benefits of your training within a couple of weeks. 

At this stage, some of the results you see from working out might include lowering your resting heart rate and blood pressure and improving muscle tone. 

Assuming you are consistent with your fitness program and effectively use each workout as a building block of your overall fitness tower, you can expect to see the physical benefits of your fitness within 8 – 12 weeks. By this stage, physical benefits might include weight loss or a change in body composition. 

After the initial 12 weeks you will still see and feel improvements, but these will likely be small incremental fitness adaptations rather than the huge gains you often notice when you’re new to training. 

Fitness plateaus are normal, if you reach a fitness plateau you may want to consider making some changes to ensure you continue making gains instead of simply maintaining your current fitness level. Some changes which will help you move past a plateau include a change of fitness routine, an increase in intensity, adding more reps or a greater weight for strength work or an overhaul of your nutrition. 

Don’t forget that the mental health benefits of exercise are huge too – and much more immediate than physical ones, even if you can’t always see or touch them. 

Three people working out in a gym doing push ups

Wrapping up the science of seeing results from working out

The process of improving fitness takes personal factors and circumstances into account. 

The good news is that if you train consistently and diligently, you will see results from working out quite quickly. The benefits of improved fitness can be felt within a few weeks. And, it’ll only take a few months to see fitness improvements changing your body. 

Good luck with your fitness journey, and keep showing up each day; you’ve got this.

Words by Ali Hall