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Summer has arrived, which means you don’t have much time to work on your “beach body.” If you’re wondering how long it takes to get in shape, you’re probably too late. You aren’t going to change your physique in a few weeks, so accept that reality and focus on creating a long-term fitness plan.
But the question still stands: how long does it take to get in shape? There’s no definitive answer, as “in shape” has many meanings. The common understanding of “in shape” means moderate body fat and decent muscle mass. Based on that standard, it can take as little as three months to get in shape if you know what you’re doing.
However, that standard and timeline don’t apply to everyone. You can determine your personal answer based on three simple factors: your starting point, your ultimate goal and your training program. Let’s discuss these factors in detail to help you arrive at your answer.
Before calculating how long it will take for you to get in shape, you need to perform an honest evaluation of your current body composition and fitness level. The mirror can be deceiving, and a weight scale and BMI test don’t give you much information to work with.
If you want to get a closer look at your body’s condition, register for a DEXA scan at your doctor’s office. This scan will give you the following details:
- Total Body Fat Percentage: the percent of your body composed of fatty tissue.
- Fat Mass Index: your amount of fat (in kilograms) relative to your height (in meters).
- Fat-Free Mass Index: your amount of non-fatty mass relative to your height, including muscles, bones, organs and connective tissue.
- Skeletal Muscle Mass: your body’s total amount of skeletal muscle.
- Skeletal Muscle Mass Percentage: the percent of your body composed of skeletal muscle.
- Lean Mass to Height Ratio: the amount of lean muscle mass in your arms and legs relative to your height.
- Visceral Adipose Tissue: the amount of internal abdominal fat around your organs.
- Android to Gynoid Ratio: the fat distribution in your stomach and midsection relative to the fat distribution in your hips.
- Resting Metabolic Rate: the number of calories your body needs to maintain its current composition under resting conditions.
- Bone Density: studies your bone health and assesses your risk for osteoporosis.
Many athletes undergo a DEXA scan before changing their diets or training programs. It will help you identify your body’s strengths and weaknesses, allowing you to create a more effective training program for your needs. Every metric has a valuable purpose that you can use to your advantage.
The preparation before you begin your fitness journey significantly impacts how long it takes to get in shape. If you want to minimize the time between “out of shape” and “in shape,” you need to learn as much about your body’s current composition as possible.
Once you have a definitive starting point, you need to establish the endpoint. You can’t expect to finish the race if you don’t know the finish line’s location. What are you working towards? Do you want to have a six-pack? Do you simply want to get rid of your love handles? These goals have different timelines and courses of action.
You need to be ultra-specific about your goal. “Lose weight” or “get stronger” isn’t detailed or inspiring enough for you to make a real commitment. Many people make this crucial mistake when creating their New Year’s resolutions. They make their resolution an abstract idea rather than a concrete result, setting themselves up for failure.
Instead, set a SMART goal to clarify your situation. Let’s turn the “lose weight” example into a new and improved SMART goal:
- Specific: instead of resolving to “lose weight,” resolve to lose 20 pounds.
- Measurable: weigh yourself on the scale and study your body’s changes in the mirror.
- Attainable: follow the necessary diet and exercise routine to lose 20 pounds.
- Relevant: you want to look good for the summer, you want to impress a girl, etc.
- Time-based: lose 20 pounds in three months.
Each element should increase your motivation and sense of urgency. Your SMART goal decides how long it will take to get in shape. It also forces you to address the all-important question: How are you going to get there? That’s where your training program comes into play.
While it’s important to clarify your starting line and finish line, your training program will largely determine how long it takes you to get in shape. That includes your diet and your exercise routine, not one or the other. If you’re trying to avoid eating healthy or going to the gym, you aren’t serious enough about your goals.
Most people have more trouble with their diets than their exercise routines, so let’s start there. Your diet must include the following elements, no matter what your goal is:
- Sufficient quantities of protein, carbohydrates and fats.
- A wide variety of foods, ideally from all five food groups.
- Plenty of vitamins, minerals and other essential micronutrients.
Similarly, your training program only needs a few key components. It’s better for beginners to keep things simple than craft a convoluted plan that drains their motivation. Make sure your routine checks these boxes:
- Do exercises and activities you enjoy. It’s the only way to follow your program long-term.
- Continuously improve through the principle of progressive overload.
- Give yourself enough time to rest and recover.
We could get into the specifics of which foods to eat and which exercises to do, but you need to figure those things out for yourself. Everyone’s journey is a little different, and you will only find your ideal diet and exercise routine through trial and error.
How Long Does It Take? The Final Verdict
You don’t need to starve yourself or sleep in the gym to achieve your desired physique. All you need is a moderate caloric deficit, a smart training program and an adequate amount of time.
Stick to your routine for at least 12 weeks (a little less than three months) before reevaluating the situation. If everything goes according to plan, you should see significant results within that timeframe.
However, that 12-week estimate only applies to the lucky ones. If you’re extremely out of shape, have chronic health issues or lack one of the three elements discussed above, it will require more time and effort. But don’t let that discourage you. You can either resume your unhealthy lifestyle or make a change for the better.