The work aimed at improving one’s physique, despite being based on clear principles and grounded in very specific and quantifiable frameworks, does not generate effects that can be accurately predicted in advance. It is because this process takes a lot of time, and is influenced by many subtle factors. Nevertheless, people want to know, and rightly so, what effects can be expected from the gym and when. Let’s explore this using years of my own experience and observations in the fitness industry.

If we know how much protein is needed to build muscles and what rep ranges are most effective, in essence, why can’t we predict exactly how long it will take to lose X pounds or achieve Y inches in bicep size?

When will the effects of diet and exercise be visible? This is a question everyone starting their fitness journey wants to know an answer to.

Well, having a set of clear principles to follow is one thing, but consistently applying them to a living, individual organism is a whole different matter.

What effects can be expected from the gym?

In short, when you will see the effects of exercise largely depends on the level of your efforts. Importantly, people may not fully understand what level of effort is actually required if they want to see real change.

Personally, I believe it is worth openly discussing what it takes to achieve and maintain fitness instead of deceiving ourselves into thinking that the next diet or training plan will be the one to finally make a difference.  

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If you do all the right things for a relatively long period of time, here are the effects you can expect from the gym:

  • Realistic ones, first and foremost. Some people have better or worse bodybuilding potential. There are several reasons why not everyone will look like a fitness model or achieve competition-level physique. However… 
  • Overall improvement in physique, a better body shape resulting from muscle mass development. The inability to reach the (often difficult to define) absolute ideal does not mean failure and should not discourage anyone. 
  • Improved mental well-being, increased self-esteem, self-confidence, and reduced risk of depression. 
  • Enhanced current and future health. 
  • Better-fitting clothing. Even if you don’t become a super-ripped model, well-fitting and tailored clothing can increase your attractiveness if that is something you are after, beyond health and fitness. 
  • A shift in mindset, how you think about certain things and areas of life. Personally, after seven years of training, I feel like my personality has changed dramatically, and in a way that I really enjoy.

Okay, but when does all of this happen?!

How long does it take to see the effects of exercise?

Regardless of the specific goal you have, training at the gym involves changes in body weight. It is therefore worth distinguishing between qualitative weight loss and qualitative weight gain. In my experience, the former seems to be faster and easier, but this is, of course, a subjective assessment.

Nevertheless, it seems to me that this could be a more widely applicable rule because building and maintaining a significant amount of quality mass (muscle, not fat) is simply more challenging for the body and requires more energy. A less bulky physique is not as costly to maintain, and that is why a healthy body tends to lean in that direction.

Whichever path you choose, it is impossible to determine when you will see the effects of exercise because there are too many factors at play that can influence the outcome.

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Nevertheless, below I will attempt to discuss at least some of them, applicable in every case, to help you assess your own situation.

  • The starting point. What is your current physique like? (Are you very slim, slim, average, slightly overweight, significantly overweight – these are very general categories, but you need to determine your starting point. A BMI calculator can help.)
  • The goal you have. What do you specifically want to achieve through diet and exercise? (Initially, it can be a short-term goal, but later on, a long-term training goal will be necessary. Do you want to lose a lot of weight, lose some weight, gain weight, have a general athletic physique, have a bodybuilder’s physique.)
  • Non-sport-related situation. What do you do on a daily basis, and how challenging would it be to incorporate regular physical activity into your current lifestyle? (I have a lot of free time, I have some free time, I have/do not have family obligations, I have other hobbies, work consumes a lot of my time, etc.)
  • Internal motivation and knowledge. Genuine interest in the body, diet, and exercise, a sincere willingness to immerse oneself in this area and showing initiative aimed at making lasting changes in one’s life. (I have low/high levels of internal motivation, I don’t know anything/know a little/know a lot about nutrition and training, I understand that lasting and positive changes will take a considerable amount of time.)

Try to honestly assess yourself using the above categories and place yourself on an axis measuring the value of each of them from low to high.

Example #1

I am a slim person who would like to build an athletic physique. I work and have family obligations, but I can find 3-4 hours per week. I understand the basics of nutrition and eat reasonably well, but I have no knowledge of strength training. I sort of want to do it, but often lack strong motivation.

Example #2

I am an overweight person, and my main goal is to achieve a healthy weight. I work from home and do not have significant family obligations. From Monday to Friday, I can find 2 hours each day for physical activity. I know that my diet is poor, and so far, I have been unable to find the motivation to make a change.

Of course, the more extreme the personality-goal-situation combination, for example, a very slim person wanting to build a bodybuilder-level muscle mass without time or any previous physical activity background or knowledge, the less promising it may seem. In that case, it might be worth working on changing expectations and improving conditions first (perhaps with someone’s help) to lay a solid foundation for the desired change.

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I deliberately don’t want to get into too specific timeframes here because, as I mentioned, many small factors that accumulate over time can influence the outcome. What one person achieves in six months may take another person two or three times as long.

Nevertheless, if you’re doing everything really well, have a solid diet and training routine that is at least 80% on point, it will take some:

Weeks to see the effects of your diet, months to see the effects of your workouts, years to make lasting and noticeable changes based on new habits that help you consistently progress and avoid the yo-yo effect.

It may seem like a long time, but remember that time will pass regardless. In a year, two, or five years, you could either find yourself in a deeper, darker hole OR be steadily climbing up the hill with the view getting better each step of the way.

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I often wonder where I would be today, both physically and mentally, if I hadn’t started training years ago, and I don’t think it would be a better place in any way. The return on that investment is very solid.

The role of long-term perspective

Since we’re talking about time, it’s worth emphasizing that achieving your physique goal will take a considerable amount of time. Instead of searching for quick magical solutions and believing in fitness myths, trust it and learn to love the process.

The enthusiasm for positive changes can often be short-lived, so you need to understand that a few days of dieting and exercising, or only sporadically sticking to them, will not make a visible difference. If you want results, you have to dedicate more time to fitness than you spend not doing it, staying in the rhythm more often than being out of it, and even that is a rather minimalist approach.

If you have an average workout and eat reasonably well for 3 days a week but do nothing and don’t watch your diet for the remaining 4 days, it can be difficult to achieve significant results. Those 3 days have a chance to bring something positive into your life, but they can also provide practically nothing if the other 4 days involve ordering food, indulging in desserts, and lounging on the couch, so to speak.

Numerous small decisions and actions made every day accumulate over time and become visible after years.

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Final thoughts

I hope this post has helped you understand what effects can be expected from the gym and when.

In short, the speed and scale of results will be directly proportional to the effort and commitment you put in. It is important to realize that the process of building a physique is demanding and time-consuming, but it is also worth the dedication.

The results you achieve will largely depend on how much you maximize many small factors over a long period of time. How often you give in (or don’t) to food temptations, how many of your sets will be taken to failure (the inability to perform another rep), what your activity level will be outside of the gym, what your daily level of motivation and interest in the fitness industry will be, and whether you will be able to sustain all of this for months and years to come.

A simple, hypothetical scenario…

In 4 months, you have a wedding, and you want to lose about 20 lbs before that. It is a realistic goal, but it will require staying in a calorie deficit practically throughout that entire period, which will likely result in regular feelings of slight hunger. Additionally, consistent physical activity will be necessary.

Are you able to handle it? Great, successful weight loss and improvement in physique await you. If not, the results will not be as significant, proportionally to the extent of the deviations you allow yourself. Good luck!

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