How Long Does It Take to Get in Shape?

fit happy woman flexing

When you hear the words "get in shape," do pictures of chiseled abs and bulging biceps pop in your head, or do you have something else in mind? According to Healthline, it may take more than six weeks to see results in the mirror after starting a health and fitness routine. However, you will start experiencing the benefits of getting in shape in as little as 14 days. As long as you stick with it, physical fitness will follow.

What Does "Getting in Shape" Look Like?

There are many benefits of getting in shape and many ways to get there. To find the way that's right for you, it's helpful to know the five components of physical fitness.

Body Composition

Body composition is measured by calculating the amount of fat in your body as it relates to your muscle mass. A healthy body composition is essential to overall health and can help you to avoid heart disease and diabetes. According to Precision Nutrition, healthy body fat ranges are between 10 and 20 percent for men, and between 20 and 32 percent for women. Anything below that is considered athletic.

This element of fitness is what most people are referring to when they aim to get in shape. It's key to sculpting the body in a way that makes you feel attractive and confident. Body fat can be calculated in several ways.

  • Circumference measurements using a tape measurer
  • Calipers that pinch the areas of fat
  • Bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA) that measures the amount of water in your body.
  • Dunk tank, also known as a hydrostatic body fat test.

A 2016 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported significant results in under four weeks for participants who followed a high protein diet combined with an intense exercise regimen. For lasting results, most personal trainers recommend sticking to a moderate program for at least three to six months before shifting to a maintenance program.

Cardiorespiratory Endurance

Cardiorespiratory endurance is the ability to have your cardiovascular and respiratory systems function well during exercise. If you can carry on a conversation without getting winded during moderate activity, your endurance is pretty good. Another way to test your endurance is to measure and compare your heart rate at rest, during your workout, and following the activity. The general rule of thumb for target heart-rate during exercise is 220 beats per minute minus your age. For example, if you are 50, then your target heart rate is 220-50, which is 170 beats per minute. However, this will vary based on your fitness level and any medical conditions that may affect it, such as asthma or low blood pressure. If your heart rate quickly returns to normal following exercise, your endurance is above average.

A 1991 study confirms you will see increases in your endurance level within two to four weeks of starting a consistent cardio program. This is about how long it takes for the initial soreness to subside, for you to notice an increase in energy, and for you to breathe more easily during workouts and at rest. If you have an event in mind, such as a 5k or a 10k run, start training at least 60 days in advance so you can work your way up in miles.

Muscular Strength

woman lifting weights

This component of fitness is the ability to use your muscles to their fullest extent. Think of the heaviest weight you can lift on a bicep curl or the max number of pounds you can hold while attempting just one squat. That's your muscular strength. If your main goal is weight loss or body fat loss, you might be tempted to underplay the role of muscular strength in the process of getting in shape. Don't make this mistake. The stronger your muscles become, the more they'll grow, creating the definition you seek. In the long run, your physical strength will make all of your workouts easier.

A solid routine of resistance training is required to get in shape with muscular strength. A 2015 study and a 2016 study both reported major gains in participants' muscle strength and size in two months with as little as three workouts a week. If you're preparing for an event, such as a bodybuilding or physique competition, plan to spend at least four to six months training with proper meal prep in place.

Muscular Endurance

The hallmark of muscular endurance is repetition. While muscular strength asks the question "how much," endurance asks the questions "how many" or "how long?" "Failure" is the term used to describe the moment you reach the limit of your muscular endurance. For example, if you can hold a plank for 60 seconds before you collapse to the floor, you've reached failure, and your abdominal endurance is 60 seconds. For an exercise like pushups, count the amount of repetitions you complete before your arms give out. These are loosely referred to as "fitness tests."

According to a 2017 study, a combination of high repetition strength work and cardio training helped to increase muscular endurance in athletes in under six weeks. If you're interested in this method of getting in shape, you can test your muscular endurance using planks, pushups, squats, lunges, situps, and isometric back extensions. Add one exercise from each major muscle group to every workout to see improvement.


Woman stretching at beach

Flexibility is the ability to move your body's joints throughout a full range of motion. It is the most common element that is left out of a fitness program. Yet, it is key to maintaining balance. Lack of flexibility is a big reason why many people get injured while working out and while performing normal tasks. Increasing your flexibility will not only help you avoid injury, reduce muscle tension, and alleviate joint pain. It will also give you the ability to fire your muscles more efficiently, so that you use less energy to lift heavier weights, move with more power and speed, and increase your balance and agility.

A 2012 review of flexibility literature showed notable increases in participant flexibility at the end of 10 week programs of varying modalities. Assisted stretching was the most effective for lengthening muscles. However, a combination of strength, cardio, and stretching is recommended to maintain muscle and functional range of motion.

Your Recipe for Getting in Shape

Whether you are extremely sedentary or extremely active, there are always ways to improve your level of fitness. How long it will take to get in shape depends on the healthy habits you are willing to adopt.

Start Today

Just remember getting in shape isn't a destination. It's an ongoing process. Instead of focusing on how long it takes to get in shape, focus on adopting the habits. By eating well and moving your body, you can begin to reap the benefits of better health through fitness right away. Within two weeks, you will start to feel the benefits of working out and eating right. Within four to eight weeks, your body fat will decrease and your muscle mass, strength, and endurance will increase. Soon, flexibility will follow. When your current regimen becomes too easy, you will need to bump up the intensity to the next level. This is an ongoing process, and as your fitness level increases, you will feel stronger, more energized, and more confident in yourself. If you wish to continue seeing improvements in fitness, keep increasing the effort until you get to the point that you are ready to maintain them.

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