How Long Does it take to Get in Shape?

We all want to be sexy, and if we aren’t sexy already, we want to become sexy, immediately. In fact being sexy is seemingly the predominant reason people exercise and “eat right” in the first place. Yet, despite all of us wanting to be sexy, what is sexy to me, and what is sexy to you could be completely different things. This makes answering the question “How long will it take for me to get in shape” a difficult question to answer. What is in shape? Is it low body fat? Is it the ability to run a certain distance or lift a certain amount of weight? We all have our own definition of fitness, and at Arkitect we try our best not to tell our clients what their goals should be, as so many fitness programs do. It is worth saying, however, that we do try to steer our clients towards building capable bodies, and also realizing their own self worth, which is not correlated to your body weight, nor the circumference of your hips.  These are two things that can get lost among endless lust of being sexy. Looking good is nearly useless if you’re physically broken, and you bear the mental anguish of constantly beating yourself down. Nevertheless, “how long will it be before I start to see changes” is a question we get all of the time. As we’ve already pointed out, there are a lot of variables, but we’ll do our best to answer this age old training question, and we will use the term “in shape” as an encompassing phrase throughout.

Rate of Progress vs. ETA

It goes without saying, that someone who is already in better shape can get into shape faster. For example, if two people wish to be 10% body fat, and one is at 15% and the other at 20%, it is all but guaranteed that the person with the lower body fat will get there first (assuming they are following similar training protocols). Ironically, the worst shape you are in, the quicker your body will change, since an already adapted (fit) body will take serious work to illicit new adaptations. Although this is not supported by any scientific data, it has been my observation that however long it took you to get out of shape, it will take you about half that time to get into shape. That may sound like great news, but consider that most people have spent their whole lives building an unhealthy body. If you’re 30 years old, and started to gain weight in your early 20s, it could be until you’re 35 before you really reach peak physical fitness. We need to take a closer look at what effects our progress.  Off the top of my head, there are no fewer than 6 variables that can effect how quickly you can create physical change in your body

  • Consistency
    • Following a decent program consistently will always trump doing an amazing program inconsistently. Even doing an okay program consistently will lead to better results. If you’re a binge exerciser (missing movement for long periods of time followed by a short barrage of intense exercise), you’re probably just going to do more damage to your body than good. It has been said that “the best program is the one you stick to” and there is merit to that statement. At Arkitect we strive to provide you with the best possible program for YOU through our individual programming, and make it easy to stay consistent with things like 24 hour access, and having our coaches readily available for our clients.

  • Nutritional Habits
    • Compliance (aka consistency) to a good nutritional program is paramount to the rate at which you’ll change your body. Time and time again people fall into the same trap: They want to get in shape so they start exercising, but not really making many changes to their nutritional habits. Because they were so out of shape to begin with, they see some changes to their physique, and when the results plateau, instead of dialing in their nutrition, they just try to work around it by exercising more, or with more intensity. It was a few year ago that a lot of clients were coming to me for the “secret” to getting around the necessity of eating better. There is no secret. Dial in your nutrition, or live forever as less than your best. It’s blunt, but it’s the truth.
  • Genetics
    • This is a hot topic in fitness. People with good genetics love to downplay them and are quick to pat themselves on the back for their hard work. People with crappy genetics love to use it as an excuse as to why they can’t accomplish their goals. There’s definitely a middle ground some where in there. Genetics can effect our natural body fat levels (as in not influenced by exercise), the shape of our muscles, and the “length” (insertion points) of our muscles. It can also effect our joint size which can drastically change your physical appearance. Our DNA code determines where we store our body fat, and when we do burn fat, which fat deposits get depleted first. Our genetics determine how our body responds to exercise. Some people build muscle quicker, others can become very strong without gaining much lean tissue, etc… Genetics can even effect how our bodies respond to certain supplements, including performance enhancing drugs like steroids and human growth hormone. At the end of the day, you have to play the hand you’ve been dealt. Don’t let it slow you down.
  • Recovery
    • You can over exercise. In fact, a lot of people do. It’s not uncommon when people are new to working out for them to bite off more than they can chew. We get it…you’ve never been motivated to exercise before, and now that you are, you’re obsessing about it. You can’t think about anything else. You can’t wait to get to the gym and you’re constantly craving longer and more challenging workouts. The problem with this is, you can’t keep up this pace forever. Progress is not linear. In reality, progress has many peaks and valleys. Your body will step up to to the plate and respond to most of the demands you have given it, but eventually it will breakdown, and need time to recover and rebuild. If you aren’t getting adequate sleep, taking TRUE rest days, stretching, doing release techniques, eating enough, etc… you are going to shoot yourself in the foot, and quickly. Sometimes we don’t physically break down, but mentally fall off instead. If you find yourself taking any excuse possible to skip the gym after you’ve been consistent for a while, or taking longer and longer to warm-up, and cutting corners in your workout, you’re probably mentally fried. Take a week off, but make sure to set a hard date for yourself to get back at it, and when you start again, start slowly.

  • Attitude
    • Being positive can go a long way. It also helps to be realistic. If you have unattainable goals, or unrealistic expectations, you are going to constantly be disappointed, and nothing will rob you of your motivation quicker than feeling defeated. It’s easy to make excuses in life, it’s even easier if you talk yourself into the idea that your effort is futile, and it’s easy to feel like that when you set unrealistic goals. As a coach a lot of my clients look to me for motivation, but nothing, and I mean nothing, will motivate a client better than seeing results. If you set a goal of losing 10lbs in a month, and you lose 8lbs, you’ll probably be happy with your progress, but if you set a goal of losing 30lbs, and you only lose 8lbs, you’re going to be severely disappointed. Setting goals is extremely important, but it’s also important to set attainable goals. I have found some of the most successful clients are those that don’t have expectations, and instead focus on doing the work that everyone knows will lead to success. To clarify, if you set a weight loss goal, and train really hard and eat really well, you may not hit your goal 100%, but by putting in the work you’ve likely also built strength, stamina, flexibility, conditioning, lowered your blood pressure or cholesterol, etc… There are so many benefits to exercise and proper nutrition that our singular goals aren’t the reason to do it.
  • Tracking/A good Program
    • Keeping a training and food log or journal is paramount to your success. The most basic training principle of all time is “progressive overload” which in simplest terms basically means “do a little more this time than you did last time.” This is why programs like Bootcamps, CrossFit, etc… don’t work, because there is no component of honing a small selection of skills/attributes. When you are constantly swapping exercises in and out, and pairing them in different ways it becomes nearly impossible to track. I know what you’re thinking “But I lost x amount of weight when I did a bootcamp!” And then what happened? You hit a plateau and your progress completely stalled out. Remember what was written above, when you’re new to training, almost any stimulus will create change within your body. The worse shape you’re in, the less it takes to create change in your body. After a while, it’s going to take more than just showing up and randomly flailing about to create that change. The leanest, and fittest people on Earth don’t just do “whatever,” they have a detailed plan, both for their training and their nutrition, and they are 99% compliant to it. If you’re not keeping track of what you eat, or how you train, how can you be sure you’re improving? We said earlier that your self worth is not correlated to a number on a scale, but the progress you make towards your weight loss or fitness goals is directly correlated to being on a good program and being compliant to it.

Following the Numbers

We’ve all heard it before, “average healthy weight loss is about a pound a week.” Over the past 11 years coaching people, I’ve found that to be very true when you average out their weight loss. What does that mean? It means that while you’re going through the process of losing weight, you may lose 3-5lbs in a single week, or maybe no weight at all, but at the “end” of the journey when you calculate the time and weight together, it averages about a pound a week.

Let’s take a look at Arkitect member Chris B. who has lost 35lbs over a 28 week period. During this time period he trained 55 times, which averages out to just about 2x/week. There were a few weeks here or there when he didn’t make it to the gym, which brings his “weekly” workout average down. This is why it’s important to look at total number of sessions as well, because it gives you a better idea of what it takes to get in shape, rather than  simply the “time.” While we are extremely proud of Chris’s accomplishments, it’s important to note that they are not uncommon or unrealistic. On the days he couldn’t make it in he’d walk or do some other aerobic exercise (consistency), he became more aware of the foods he was eating, and while his days aren’t perfect, he made some positive changes (nutritional habits). When he was feeling beat up or sore he took a little time off to get some extra rest, and supplemented with vitamins (recovery). When an old injury acted up, he didn’t let it get him down and we helped him work around it (attitude). And he was on a great strength training program designed by the coaches at Arkitect to keep him moving forward and challenging him (tracking). Obviously you can’t do anything to change your genetics, but I’d like to take a minute to point something out in Chris’s picture: Look at how much thinner his face is. To your surprise we didn’t have him doing any face exercises. What does that tell us? It’s a great example of how genetics can determine where to pull fat from. So no amount of crunches will burn the extra flab around your midsection, nor will those endless sets of tricep kickbacks get rid of your “lunch lady arms.”

On the other end of the spectrum, how long does it take to build muscle, or get stronger? All of the same factors apply. Again, strength typically comes quicker in the beginning, but will level out and you’ll have to work very hard for the results you want. Arkitect member and Team Rumbler Weightlifting member Carly W. is a fantastic example, the video below demonstrates her at 6 months into her training journey vs. 18 months. Despite making massive gains in strength, her body weight has remained almost exactly the same (give or take 1-3lbs). Many women shy away from strength training for fear of getting “too big” or “bulky” or “masculine,” but this is a clear example of how you can be strong and bad ass without gaining a ton of weight.

#TransformationTuesdayThese two videos are about a year apart. 31kg(68lb) difference. It’s important to mention that her body weight IS THE SAME in both videos. Getting STRONGER doesn’t mean getting BIGGER.

Posted by Arkitect Fitness on Tuesday, July 28, 2015

If it’s Fast it’s Fake

When it comes to training, it’s important to look at the big picture and the long term. There are a lot of products and services that market “quick results.” While it would be amazing if we could just snap our fingers and have the body or abilities we want, it’s just not reality, and the results you saw above are the product of consistent work over a significant period of time. A general rule of thumb is the faster something “works” (using that word loosely) the less safe it actually is. Building a strong and lean body is about creating a healthy ecosystem inside yourself. While certain methods may yield quick weight loss, they cause unhealthy responses in your body that can suppress your metabolism, or cause injury, which ultimately will lead to gaining back all the weight you lost and then some. Why do super fit people never stress about eating a piece of cake, or having a crazy weekend of consumption? Because their bodies are healthy enough to handle a day or two of caloric excess. On the flip side when you’ve starved or deprived yourself in an attempt to lose as much weight as quickly as possible, and then you splurge, you’re dumping a lot of unneeded calories on a suppressed and slow metabolism. What are some of these unhealthy tactics? Here is a list of some of the worst offenders

  • Cleanses
    • These can range from juice fasts to enemas (serious). The selling point is that your body is filled with “dangerous toxins” that are making you fat. These usually in one way or another, flush you out, so the weight loss you see is from water loss, not body fat, nor toxin-loss. Dehydration is not a good way to create a healthy metabolic ecosystem. Furthermore, any toxin actually in your body would need to be eliminated over a long period of time by removing whatever has that toxin in it from your diet. Think mercury in fish. Some cleanses claim that you have back up in your bowels and that’s making you fat. Sadly this is just a bold faced lie. Any matter “stuck” in your colon or stomach is a serious health condition, and could literally kill you in a matter of days.
  • Diet Pills
    • These claim to “rev up your metabolism” to help you burn calories, but when you are cutting calories in an attempt to lose weight, it’s important to limit how many calories you remove from your intake. If you reduce your calories too much you’ll trigger a hormonal response in your body to suppress your metabolism. This is not what we want. Generally we want our caloric deficit to be between 10-20%, with 25-30% at the absolute extreme. Taking a diet pill doesn’t make sense then, as it would just require us to eat more food to keep the balance in check. Of course theoretically we could exercise less instead of eating more in this instance, but there are so many reason to exercise aside from just weight loss, and again limiting exercise doesn’t get us to our goal of creating a healthy ecosystem.
  • High intensity Exercise programs
    • These sell you on the idea that your goals are just a matter of you working as hard as you possibly can every time you exercise. Do me a favor, for the next two weeks put your car in first gear and every where you drive just keep the throttle pinned and the motor redlined, and let me know how long it takes before your engine blows up. Your body is an engine. Your body can’t go 100% every time. Combine full throttle exercise with a calorie restricted diet and say hello to my friend named disaster. I have to other bones to pick with this type of training:
      • It makes people they can out exercise their poor nutritional habits
      • It makes them feel like any lack of results is due to a lack of effort, causing them to double down on their intensity and cause even more damage.
    • There are lots of situations where “less is more” in exercise. Too many to list in this article. A good coach knows when and why, so if your coach is constantly screaming in your ear to “go harder” or “faster” or “do more” it’s time to get a new coach and start a different program.

It’s cliche to say but, “slow and steady wins the race.” Just like everything else in life, fitness is about balance. Look out and be aware for anything that is too “extreme” like diets that completely cut out one macronutrient or severely restrict calories. Exercise programs that brag about how hard, challenging they are, or how fast they work are also to be avoided. The longer it takes you to achieve your goals, it’s likely the longer they will stick. Your body actually doesn’t like change. It’s an amazing machine that is designed to adapt to whatever environment it is put in, or whatever stimulus is placed on it. However, If you have been been sedentary for a long time, your body has adapted to that life style and doesn’t want to change. But with a little bit of patience, a good plan, and a positive attitude, you can accomplish just about anything.

AUTHOR

Dr. Brett Scott

Arkitect Fitness

"We help athletes and active adults
lose weight, get fit, and optimize performance."
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