Here’s How Long It Takes To Achieve Your Fitness Goals

Let’s paint a picture.

Woman walks in to a training studio and proclaims “I want to tighten up, be able to do a chin-up, get stronger, lose this belly [insert aggressive skin grabbing here], and I’d also like to go back into running without my knees hurting.”

I, the trainer, sighs and waves a magic wand and everything happens in less than two months.

Just kidding. I’m no fairy godmother.

However, this imaginary woman’s goals aren’t that farfetched. It is common for women (and men) to have multiple goals when they start training with a coach.

Yet in order to reach all those goals in a sustainable, realistic manner, we have to look at three things:

1) Where we are currently at

2) Work backwards to achieve it

3) Plan and organize our training throughout the year to make all those goals achievable during seasons of our life

The third piece is key, and it’s one that most trainees miss out on because they want to achieve all the things in just a few months.

Going back to the woman above; let’s call her Matilda. This is where Matilda is currently at:

  • She’s 5’6” at 145lbs
  • Former runner but has had some knee and hip issues and has since stopped running
  • Has some experience with strength training but has never truly stuck with any program. Has done a little CrossFit here and there but finds it too intense
  • She has never done a chin-up or pull-up before, and can barely hang on to a bar for longer than 5 seconds before losing her grip

So where do we start? How do we structure her training to make it safe, sustainable, enjoyable, and achievable??

Here’s how I’d go about it:

The first block of her training (3-4 weeks) will primarily be focused on correcting her movement patterns, building up her muscular endurance and making sure she can do basic movements (squat, hinge) without any pain.

The second block of training (3-8 weeks depending on progress) will be focused on building muscle mass and strength. She’s not brand new to lifting weights and isn’t overweight, so we can get to this phase fairly quickly while helping her lose some body fat in the process.

By the third phase, we’ll start with skill building. You can’t perform a chin-up without first addressing positioning, scapular control, lumbo-pelvic control, and grip strength, so there will be exercises and drills to establish that base. This phase might overlap with the previous phase a bit depending on how Matilda progresses, but the point is that you can’t start performing a new skill (like the pull-up) without first building up the blocks that will get you there.

See why you can’t expect results in a matter of weeks or two months?

Now imagine that each block is 4 weeks long. That’s three months of work to get Matilda closer toward her goals. She might not get her first unassisted chin-up until month six, depending on her progress, and that’s fairly common. It took me ONE year to build up to my first unassisted chin-up. A YEAR.

I emphasize this point because 9 times out of 10, people expect to hit all their performance and aesthetic goals within two to three months without taking into account that shit takes time. 

This is why you don’t see competitive bodybuilders prep in 8 weeks. In fact, a lot of the bikini or figure competitors I’ve spoken to say that giving yourself as much time as possible – 16, 22, or more weeks — to prepare is better than trying to do it in >12 weeks because it gives you time to build that muscle and prep for a show in a way that doesn’t make you miserable.

Success in fitness works a lot like success in your career does. You don't land your dream job right after college; you build up the skills to get it one day.

So yes, you can speed up your fat loss by cutting your calories or detoxing with a $300 juice cleanse, or you can workout 6 days a week, 2x a day for a month or two to get your results, but eventually you won’t keep up. You’ll either hate the process, get hurt, or your cat dies and you need to take a few weeks to grieve and suddenly you’re back to your old habits again.

Moral of this story: Success takes time. Having multiple goals is fantastic, but set realistic expectations to achieve them. Success in fitness works a lot like success in your career does. You don’t land your dream job right after college; you build up your resume, skills, and experience so that eventually years from now you are in your dream role at your dream company.

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Comments 2

  1. Thank you Trish! I am also a Pilates Instructor, Personal Trainer and Kettlebell Sport Athlete. I am not the greatest writer but every time I get your email I feel you put my thoughts to paper. So I often share your blog with my clients. Keep up the great work!

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