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

You’ve recently started a new exercise program. Congratulations!

how long does it take to see the results of exercise

You’re hitting the gym regularly. Cutting back on sugar, alcohol and salty snacks. Drinking lots of water and adding more movement to your day. Yet you can’t see any change to your physique and the scale has barely budged.

You’re probably feeling frustrated, questioning whether you’re on the right program and wondering how long does it take to see the results of exercise?

Sadly, more than a few of you have probably given up because results weren’t apparent quickly enough to provide incentive and generate positive feedback.

Given the headlines that print and online media are constantly shouting at us (“Dream Body in Just 2 Weeks!”, “Drop a Jeans Size in 21 Days!”, “Shed 1 Size in Fourteen Days!”, “Drop 1o Pounds Fast!”, “1-Month Total Body Makeover!”), it’s not surprising that most people have extremely unrealistic expectations about how long it takes to see the results of regular exercise.

And if any of these program REALLY worked, they wouldn’t have to be recycled annually, at the time of year women are most vulnerable to feeling unhappy with their bodies…

If you start an exercise program believing that you’re going to see significant progress in just a few short weeks, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. While you’ll certainly experience a whole host of short term benefits (better sleep, more energy, increased strength, elevated mood, to name but a few), you’re unlikely to notice significant changes to your physique for at least a couple of months.

Yep. I said it. A couple of months (give or take; we all progress at different rates)

How rapidly your body responds to a new exercise program depends on a number of factors including;

  • Your goals. While weight loss can occur almost immediately (a simultaneous change in exercise and diet will almost always result in rapid water loss), improving flexibility, increasing cardiovascular endurance and building muscle all take considerably longer. Don’t expect to make physically noticeable changes for at least a month (and don’t be surprised if it takes upwards of two).
  • Where you’re starting from. If you’re brand new to exercise, you’ll likely notice change more quickly than if you begin at a more advanced level. Similarly, the more weight you have to lose, the more rapidly those first ten pounds will come off. If you have an injury that requires working around, you may find your progress to be a little slower than your able-bodied workout partner.
  • How consistent you are. Obviously, the more consistent your workouts and the closer you adhere to your nutrition plan, the more rapidly you’ll see the results of your labours. Even still, don’t expect to put on more than a pound of muscle each month (if you’re a woman; men can add between 1.5 and 2.5 pounds of muscle every month as a consequence of their higher testosterone levels).
  • The intensity of exercise. If you want to see results, you must exercise at a level of intensity that’s higher than what you’re currently doing. Same effort, same results (or lack there of). There are many different ways to increase the intensity of your workouts, many of which don’t require that you spend hours at the gym.
  • What you’re eating. Many people undermine their gym efforts by making less-than-healthy choices in the kitchen. If you’ve ever watched the calorie count on a cardio machine, you’ll know that it takes much longer to burn 500 calories in the gym than it does to eat them at the local coffee shop. For the fastest results, pair regular exercise with a clean, balanced diet.
  • Whether you’re getting adequate rest. Rest, both between sets and workouts, as well as at night, is vital for proper muscular recovery and hormonal balance. Make the mistake of exercising too frequently or not getting enough sleep and overtraining will keep you from seeing the results of our workouts for much, much longer.
  • Genetics. If your parents and siblings have bodies that are slow to respond to exercise and healthy eating, chances are yours is too. When all else fails, blame mom, right? 😉

Now before you go getting all depressed and cancel your gym membership, remember that stopping and starting an exercise program won’t get you there any faster. Focus on the day-to-day challenges of getting to the gym and making wise nutritional choices and before long, you (and everybody else) will be wowed by the results of your efforts!





  1. Nice picture of you Tamara. You look 30!

  2. Amen amen! And I think that as we get older, it gets harder and takes longer, too . . . whether it’s b/c we have more demands on us, our metabolic changes, or all of it. Great article, as always!
    Sarah @ Semi-Sweet recently posted…UPDATED! FLF Cheesecake Variations – Low Carb, Sugar-Free, High Protein!My Profile

    • Yes, yes, and yes. I love so much about my age; but taking longer to see the results of healthy lifestyle changes is not one of them 😉

  3. First off, love your picture here 🙂 Second, thanks for being so honest. It does take time. And the other reality is that if you don’t change your diet, the working out is not going to show. Learning that one that hard way.
    Stephanie Robbins recently posted…Why Entrepreneurs Should Go to Yoga RetreatsMy Profile

    • Absolutely! No diet change. No body change. End of story. (And I can’t wait to read about your yoga retreat; I think the universe is telling me I need one!)

  4. Love the 2 month value. One of the most successful clients I have ever had quit after her first two months training with me — despite that she did everything right; eating, cardio, strength training, etc. She had made 0.0 progress — none. Two weeks after quitting she came back to give it one more go. She stuck around a little longer this time, and slowly began to see changes. She was 40 at the time. It took that long for her metabolism to reset.

    Jenn would go on to lose nearly 80 pounds, find her abs, and change her life, ongoing. That was 13 years ago, and she has kept it off, and been a poster child for sticking with it — even through the tough times!

    Great article, Tamara!
    Contemplative Fitness recently posted…Space trap…My Profile

    • I’m thinking about instilling a hard two-month rule with all new clients. They need to commit for two full months, and commit to following the directions I give them or find another trainer. I’m tired of people who give up too soon!
      Thanks for sharing your client’s story Roy.

  5. Great advice. I am going to make sure I save this and reread occasionally when I am discouraged from not seeing results more quickly!
    Elle recently posted…Friday Faves and RavesMy Profile

    • Thanks Elle! It really is so easy to get sucked into the ‘instant results’ mindset. There’s far too much of it in my Facebook feed! LOL!

  6. Word about genetics and sleep! These are often forgotten and frustration can run high. If I’m stressed or not getting enough sleep (and they usually go hand hand), my strength is much lower. You just have to use TLC and go easy.
    Suzanne @WorkoutNirvana recently posted…5 Fixable Roadblocks to More MuscleMy Profile

  7. It makes me sad when people give up after two days of making a lifestyle change because they did not see any results within those 2 days! Ugh… It doesn’t take 2 days to rid your body of all the bad habits you have been practicing for the past however many years!!!!! And so many people are just not educated enough – like you said – to go about installing a healthy lifestyle without guidance!!!!
    GiGi Eats Celebrities recently posted…That’s A Haunted House 2 My Profile

    • Me too. I always like to remind people that it took them longer than a month to get where they are…and really, fitness should be a lifestyle, not a quick fix to get us into a bathing suit/wedding dress/skinny jeans, right?

  8. As I wrote this on your FB page.. 🙂 YES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I don’t see why you would get flack! I tell people this all the time! Especially the intensity.. people do not want to hear this but.. they think they are burning more calories than they are but eating less calories than they are.. the truth… all of it is true & why I am an exception tho the rules so often. My body takes more to stay lean PLUS I was heavy as a kid & I still feel that fat cells stay with us ready to expand again. I know there are both ways studies but I se ehow quickly I can gain weight even when I was younger
    Jody – Fit at 56 recently posted…Gratitude Monday, Wild Friends, YOU & MoreMy Profile

    • Oh man, it really is so much easier to eat calories, than burn them, isn’t it?
      I think you’re right about fat cells; they are ‘created’ when we’re quite young and can be ‘filled’ and ‘deflated’ according to what we’re eating! Not fair, but that’s biology!

  9. Great post! I find that when I eat healthy and MOVE I FEEL great… but I often desire the instant gratification of success too.
    rachel @RunningRachel recently posted…Bike Ride with the BoysMy Profile

    • Thanks so much, Rachel. I’m like you. Eating well and exercising make me feel great. But I do love seeing my biceps growing too!

  10. I like burning calories-and re-fueling with good ones most of the time.
    Started when I was 16. Most of the time I need to pack in the protein/cals to keep up with my metabolism-especially when I am training for a half or full IM. Can’t eat enough!

  11. I’ve been working out – and getting frustrated with results – thank you for this post – I am going to keep it up and not give up!

    • You’re so very welcome Allison! I find that a mindset change can help too; think of what you’re doing as a lifestyle change rather than a ‘program’. There’s no end date to it and no limit to what you can do with your body!

      • Ha, I have never thought of it that way. Even when I see results..I’m going to keep going. thats so funny – I have always just looked at it as I need to see results..dont see them..stop going.
        I’m totally going to start change how I have been thinking about it. wow. awesome!

  12. Is it healthy to go to the gym both morning and afternoon

    • Anastasia, it all depends on your definition of healthy and why you feel you need to exercise twice a day. Most people can happily meet their exercise goals by going to the gym once a day, 4 to 5 days per week.

  13. I really wish that I had stumbled upon this blog a few hours ago! In all honesty, I was convinced that I was some freak of nature who “can’t possibly lose weight” because it’s been 5 1/2 weeks of a solid exercise/eating regime. I felt (and still kind of do

  14. Hello!

    What advice would you give someone who has a hard time staying motivated? I feel like i’ve been going on and off to the gym, i’ll go for like 3 weeks and end up skipping 3 weeks. I now have a little in home gym where i can pretty much do everything except cardio. So I’m hoping i can stay motivated since I don’t have to actually work out in front of people and I don’t have to drive at all. I’m pretty small, only 5’1 and 124 pounds. But I’m squishy all over :/ and the guy I’m dating is all in shape so I don’t always feel the best standing beside him. It’s all genetics which makes me wonder if I’ll ever be able to change any of it like the cellulite, “fat knee”, “cankles”, or bus driver arms :/ I want to feel good and confident in a bathing suit. If you have any advice on staying motivated/not skipping workouts or any good workouts for those problem areas that would be great!

    Thanks so much!

    • Nicholette, I wish I had a magic answer for you, but the honest to goodness truth is that each and every person has to decide for themselves that their own health and fitness is a priority. Spending some time on self-reflection and truly figuring out why you want to exercise and eat well is all that’s required to make fitness a habit. Truly, it’s that simple.

  15. evangeline says:

    Thanks for posting this! It’s making me feel a little better. I am one of those people who fears they are the exception to the eat well and exercise rule! I’ve been doing Orange Theory workouts (HIIT) 4x a week for the last two months and am only down 2 lbs. It’s VERY frustrating. I’m getting stronger and I can see slight toning but my clothes are fitting exactly the same. I eat clean paleo.

    It’s really hard to not give up. I have 30 lbs to lose and it just doesn’t seem to want to go away! Get outta here, 30 lbs!!! Boo, hiss.

    • Evangeline, we ALL worry about being that exception 😉
      But seriously, it sounds like your workouts are challenging and food is on track. Have you been progressing them? Consistently making them a bit more challenging from one week to the next?
      And about food; I’ve known many ‘clean eaters’ who, while eating healthy foods, are still eating a bit too much to move the scale. Have you tried keeping track of calories and macros and tweaking things just a bit? (Sometimes all we need to do is make one or two small changes to see big results).

      Keep up the great work! Two months is a fantastic start

      • Evangeline says:

        Thanks for responding and for the encouragement! I don’t track or count calories because it’s a big trigger for me and makes me completely insane and obsessive. It doesn’t feel healthy. I switched up my eating a couple weeks ago and am now basically just eating protein, green veg, and some fat at every meal. Maybe I just need to give it more time? Even though I’ve been working out for 2 months my diet wasn’t super on track, I was still drinking wine and some carby veggies like potatoes a few times a week. It’s only been 2 weeks of living off of kale and protein haha 😉

        The great thing about the Orange Theory workouts are that they change with every class so literally no class is the same. I’m trying to lift heavier weights now 🙂

  16. Miranda says:

    Great read!! I just started going to the gym a week ago, looking for a new butt, thighs and stomach. I told them I want a trainer to be hard on me and not let me quit. My thighs and butt are hurting so bad from yesterday’s work out, I almost quit. But it’s will and determination. It gets easier…..and less painful…..right???? I can’t even sit because my legs think their doing more box squats lol


  1. […] finally attempt and are unable to perform even a single pushup on their toes. (Of course, sometimes progress takes longer than we think it should; make sure your expectations are reasonable… […]

  2. […] How long does it take to see the results of exercise? by Tamara – I love this post. You most likely will not see dramatic results after just a week or two – no matter what magazines imply. It takes consistency and time to start seeing results, although you will like feel them before you see them. Just hang in there and keep working! […]

  3. […] called ‘cycling training’, it involves finding a balance between sticking with a program long enough to reap the benefits, but not so long that it stops working for […]

  4. […] The “pretty must be” fit tip is to try to schedule your pretty workouts not only into your daily schedule, but your weekly, monthly and yearly schedules. Always plan your pretty workouts ahead of time, even if it is the night before. Be flexible because weather changes, workout buddy cancels, injury appears, tiredness sets in, work happens, among other not so pretty things. Whatever obstacle comes up, remember, it is only a hiccup in your pretty workout schedule, and you can always try again to schedule your pretty workout into your pretty day which results in a pretty you. Do you want more info on results, try this: […]

  5. […] or she can give you some perspective about how long it usually takes to see the kind of changes you desire. If you are indeed in the scenario where an adequate amount […]