I’m often asked by clients how long it’ll take to get certain result – whether it’s fat loss, improved cardiovascular conditioning, or strength and muscle gains. My answer is always the same: “I have no idea.” Results will vary. Greatly. Even between people following the exact same program. That’s just how body types, genetics, and individual differences work.
To illustrate this point, I’m going to use myself as an example. It took me 11 years to get the results I wanted (represented in the above pics). Will it take you that long? Half that time? Longer? I have no idea. That’s why my story isn’t meant to be a prescription, or representative of anyone’s journey but mine.
I’d like to remind you of 3 things; all of which I learned over the last 11 years:
A “transformation” might take longer than you think. In an industry rife with ads for jaw-dropping, clickbait-worthy physique “transformations” that supposedly take only a few weeks to accomplish, keep in mind that most real, lasting results (that don’t involve unmaintainable, drastic, and/or unhealthy dieting or training plans) generally take a long time to achieve. Longer than you might think when you first start out. That’s not a bad thing; it’s extra incentive to make healthy, active living a lifelong habit.
Consistency, consistency, consistency. It ain’t sexy and it doesn’t sell, but it’s the only thing that works. Slow ‘n’ steady really is the way to win the [proverbial] race. Focus on making your lifestyle enjoyable, sustainable, and life-enhancing – all in the name of consistency.
People who succeed in achieving their goals aren’t the ones who stay on the health and fitness bandwagon 100% of the time. (That’s not realistic.) They’re the ones who keep getting back on after falling off.
1. A “transformation” might take longer than you think
In general, a reasonable time frame for getting really noticeable results (both performance-wise and physique-wise) is years, not weeks or months. As someone who happens to have a naturally slim frame that doesn’t hold on to muscle very easily, I’ve worked for 11 years to add the type of muscle I was after.
The faster you get results, the easier it is to lose them. It usually means you’ve done something drastic and unmaintainable that has an end date. Your results, too, then automatically have an end date.
Telling you that it can take a damn long time to get results isn’t meant to discourage you. It’s meant as a reality check, and as encouragement to keep going.
Get this: someone on Instagram who saw my ‘before’ and ‘after’ photos (with 11 years between them) commented, “This is why I don’t work out – but I am impressed by your commitment!” As if the only reason to work out is looks!
Aesthetics is actually pretty far down the list for me. I train for function, as stress management, to be strong as fuck, to improve my mental focus, to do awesome things, to stave off horrible and debilitating diseases later in life, to live a long time and be around to go on adventures with my husband ’till we’re super old, to manage scoliosis-related pain, to improve lung capacity because I have asthma, to maximize bone density, to feel awesome…and to look awesome. Would I have “transformed” my physique more quickly had I made aesthetics my #1 priority? Maybe. Or maybe not. But it doesn’t matter. What matters is that everyone develops their fitness and their physiques differently, at a different rate – and there are approximately 4738520274 reasons other than looks that could fuel your training.
(I told the Instagram commenter as much, in case you’re wondering. I also told him that time will pass whether he trains or not, and 10 years from now he might regret not having started.)
These pics are 8 years apart (2007 vs. 2015). Could I have seen these results faster? Most likely. But slow 'n' steady meant being sure they were permanent.
2. Consistency, consistency, consistency
Over the past 11 years I focused on building maintainable habits that I could be consistent with. Slow ’n’ steady. I didn’t do anything drastic, and I didn’t do anything I couldn’t maintain long-term. No quick fixes, no major fluctuations in fitness or physique, just steadily creating a new normal. I’ve added up small habits, all of which I intend to keep for life (which includes being vegan, of course!)
Because I built my health and fitness habits slowly and sustainably so I could keep them ‘til I croak, my fitness and physique don’t change throughout the year – other than the slow and cumulative improvements from training, of course. There’s nothing wrong with having different training seasons (e.g. a summer cardio sport or competition season, and a winter ‘bulking’ season), but since my preferred activity is strength training, I train – and look – the same year-round. I don’t have to worry about “losing” the strength and muscle gains I’ve made, because my habits aren’t going to change. And that was the whole point of starting this lifestyle over 11 years ago.
Things I’ve worked on doing consistently over the past 11 years:
Strength training 4-5 times per week
Swimming twice a week
An additional activity like jump rope or yoga once a week
Getting in 3000 calories per day
Getting 80%(ish) of my calories from nutrient-dense whole food sources (and 100% of my calories from vegan sources, of course)
Staying active and maintaining my fitness while travelling
It’s clearly not rocket science, but consistency is the only way you’re going to get lasting results.
Your training and your nutrition need to be a part of your life, not something you do in order to have the life you want later.
Here’s a case in point:
A few years ago, I was swimming laps as per usual, and came across one of the regular swimmers I usually say a quick hello to (the owner of a local physiotherapy clinic, an extremely fit athlete in his fifties). Like any seasoned triathlete, he was following a workout plan, timing his laps with his swim watch, performing stroke and kick drills, and generally doing the badass things advanced swimmers do. Naturally I assumed he was training for something.
So I asked, “What’re you training for?”
He answered, “Life!”
3. People who succeed in achieving their long-term goals don’t stay on the health and fitness bandwagon 100% of the time. Everyone falls off once in a while. What separates those who get results from those who don’t is the people who keep getting back on.
In my work with clients, I’ll often come across the “all or nothing” mindset. We all know what this is: It’s a pattern of behaviour in which someone feels they’ve made a small lapse in their healthy eating or regular physical activity habits, and assume that their whole practice is now shot. The entire practice gets abandoned, and exactly zero results are created. We need to find ways of outsmarting our own brains and moving away from this pattern.
At some point, every single person is going to fall off the health and fitness bandwagon for one reason or another – either for self-imposed or not-within-our-control reasons.
We get sick, we need to care full time for an ill family member, we go on vacation, we get injured (hopefully rarely, if ever!), we have babies, we go through a stressful move to the other side of the country…you get the idea. All that matters is getting back on the bandwagon as soon as we can.
Since my own goals are centred around strength training, I’d consider stretches of time with no strength training to be “falling off the bandwagon” (remember, this is normal and happens to everyone). The point, of course, is to get back on as soon as possible.
Here are some things that had me fall off my strength training bandwagon over the last 11 years – some by choice, some by accident:
4 trips to Hawaii
2 trips to Australia
Ongoing low back and piriformis pain that greatly limits my ability to train my lower body. I have scoliosis but am on a [years-long] journey to find out what else is going on.
I fractured my right ring finger and couldn’t lift, grip, or carry anything (let alone do pull-ups) for a number of months. This required regular visits to a specialized hand injury clinic, and wearing a custom-made finger brace that forced my finger into a painfully straightened position. Not exactly conducive to weight lifting.
The usual cold/flu that goes around every year (I sit in a clinic full of sick people at least every month to get my allergy shots, and work in close contact with people all day, so I’m surprised it doesn’t happen more often).
For quite a while I worked 3 jobs while in grad school full time, while also planning and catering my wedding. I still managed to train consistently but didn’t have nearly the mental or physical capacity available as I do now. I wasn’t making any progress, but at least I was maintaining my habit.
Debilitating seasonal allergies that sometimes involve vertigo so bad I can’t work/function/do anything other than stay in bed.
Seasonal asthma for 6 months of the year that feels like a 400-pound weight crushing my chest. Try doing cardio under those conditions (or breathing normally, for that matter).
For 8 years I’ve been getting regular allergy shots, with frequencies ranging from twice a week to once a month. Due to anaphylaxis risk, I can’t train for the rest of the day after getting each one.
I deal with a life-threatening allergic condition that prohibits me from exercising after having eaten within 8 hours, in case a food triggers a serious allergic reaction when coupled with exercise. Called food-dependent exercise-induced anaphylaxis (isn’t that a mouthful?!), I’ve had a few serious reactions that certainly threw me off the strength training bandwagon. These days, now that I have a diagnosis, it’s just an ongoing issue to manage, rather than something that makes me fall off the strength training bandwagon regularly. (At least I hope not! That’s why I carry an Epipen wherever I go.)
This is just how life works! It’s always gonna be throwing unexpected things at you that could – and sometimes will – make you fall off your health and fitness bandwagon. Commit to a lifelong active, healthy living lifestyle, keep getting back on the bandwagon, and your small, consistent actions will lead to massive results over time.
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