Working out is great for our physical health — strength training and cardio, for example, can help improve your metabolic rate — as well as our mental health. HIIT is effective for burning fat, and if you're focused on booty gains, sprints and inclines on the treadmill are your best friends. But how soon after you start working out will you start to see results?
We want to preface this by saying that everyone's fitness or weight-loss journey is different, and everyone's body is different. So no two people's results will be the same. That being said, we spoke to three experts on what to expect results-wise from exercise depending on your goals — because everyone's goals are inevitably different, too — and we broke it down for you right here.
How Soon Can You Lose Weight After Exercising?
NASM-certified personal trainer Guychard Codio, cofounder of New York City Personal Training, told POPSUGAR that first, you can't work out and eat in a caloric surplus and expect to lose weight; you have to burn more calories than you take in (learn more about eating in a caloric deficit here). Healthy eating habits, he said, have to be an integral part of your workout routine. In terms of losing weight through exercise, he said people can start seeing results in two to three weeks, but that's extreme, and in most cases, they won't keep the weight off since their bodies don't have enough time to adapt to it.
Similarly, trying to lose 20 pounds in a month isn't a realistic goal, he said, which is what he sees some people do before weddings and some professional athletes like boxers or bodybuilders do before competitions. If you have more intense parts of your workout and diet plan where you cut calories from 2,500 to 1,200 for two months but want to maintain your weight-loss process, you should gradually bring those calories back up and increase your exercise routine as you do that, he explained. Slow and steady wins the race.
Ashley Kelly, NASM-certified personal trainer for Bach, puts her clients through a six-week program if their goal is to lose weight through exercise, with three weeks of introductory training to get them used to an elevated heart rate, one lighter week, and two higher-intensity strength training weeks. She'll usually do a body fat test before and after the program to see their progress.
Ashleigh Kast, NASM-certified trainer at Performix House and Ladder coach, gave POPSUGAR a scenario in which people only focus on exercise to lose weight (and by losing weight, she means losing fat). "If you're trying to lose fat by working out, you're going to need to establish a caloric deficit through working out alone," she explained, but she stressed that "the amount of working out you need to do in a week without addressing food to maintain that caloric deficit can be very stressful."
Eating in a caloric deficit and exercising is what's recommended for weight loss because you'd have to burn 500 calories per day in your workouts for seven days just to lose a pound a week, which isn't a super realistic goal. It's not recommended that you work out every day. And "in some cases, where calories are still very high, it's simply not enough to create the necessary deficit," Ashleigh said.
All the trainers we spoke to said they couldn't give a definitive answer for weight-loss results since it depends on a person's individual goals, body type, weight, age, and other factors. In general, though, they all agreed that, for healthy weight loss, it will take at least a few weeks to really see results and that an aggressive approach in a short amount of time isn't something you can sustain. You can healthily lose half a pound to two pounds a week, Jim White, owner of Jim White Fitness and Nutrition Studios and ACSM-certified personal trainer, told POPSUGAR. So after five weeks, you may see a loss of up to 10 pounds.
How Soon Can You Gain Muscle After Exercising?
Ashleigh said that, when completing a bodybuilding or strength-training cycle of 10 to 12 weeks with at least three lifting days per week, it's not uncommon to see a muscle gain of five to seven pounds. Guychard said it's going to be easier for someone who already has some muscle to add to that muscle. For this person, it normally takes about two weeks for them to see results. For someone who hasn't worked out before, it may take up to two months — and this also, he noted, varies depending on how much muscle you're trying to put on.
Similarly to what she said about seeing weight-loss results in six weeks — which she named as a general timeline for her clients — Ashley said you can start to see muscle changes in six weeks. This is a bit easier to do than lose weight since, for most, you can just focus on heavy lifting, she explained. Eating in a caloric deficit isn't important; you actually need to be eating enough carbs and protein to help repair muscles. Ashleigh further noted that people who weight train and don't address nutrition will have a harder time achieving and sustaining results.
Bottom Line: Gaining Muscle Helps You Lose Weight
The more muscle you have, the easier it is for your body to lose fat and burn calories throughout the day, Guychard said. In terms of losing fat, muscle will help with that, so if your goal is to lose weight by working out, gaining muscle to some capacity is part of the process. Ashley tells her clients to focus on the way their bodies look — definition in their arms and legs, for example — and feel progress-wise as opposed to the number on the scale. "If you try to go on the scale while you're developing muscle mass, you might see either no change in the weight or you might see that your pounds go up. So, see how you feel in your clothes and see how you feel in the mirror," she advised.
Whether your goal is to lose weight or gain muscle through exercise, Ashleigh said it's most realistic for people to work out three to four times per week (don't forget about rest days!) with strength training and high-intensity cardio and an emphasis on nutrition, especially monitoring and managing calories to find out what works for you. You also have to manage stress and get plenty of sleep. As with making a change in any aspect of your life, Ashley noted, "if you're consistently doing something and wait at least 21 to 42 days, then you will see changes."