It’s a pity that the benefits of exercise are not evident right away because many people stop working out before they really discover what exercise can do for them. If only exercise delivered the same instant gratification like a massage or getting your hair done, maybe there wouldn’t be so many exercise dropouts.
It doesn’t help either that fitness infomercials make false promises like “flat abs in just three minutes a day”. Yeah, right! No wonder people quit exercising prematurely. They have unrealistic expectations of what working out can do for them.
Someone once said that disappointments are due to unfulfilled expectations. If people knew what to realistically expect when they exercise maybe they wouldn’t be so disappointed and they would stick to their exercise programs until they reap the true benefits of being in shape.
The problem is people expect miracles. Sometimes they want to look like someone else who has a totally different body type from their own. Or they envy the body of someone who is twenty years younger. Or if their goal is achievable, they don’t realize the price they have to pay to get it.
I remember a male client who asked me how come he didn’t have washboard abs in spite of exercising regularly for a few years. When I explained to him what body builders have to go through to achieve that type of muscular definition, he figured his life wouldn’t be fun anymore and he decided to be satisfied with his body, which anyway was quite fit by average standards.
Don’t focus only on appearance.
It’s a known fact that the majority of people who start exercising do so to improve their appearance. Nothing wrong with that but if you focus on the other benefits of exercise, you will be more motivated to keep on exercising while your appearance-based results have not yet started to kick in.
Good things start to happen inside your body when you exercise. These are physiological changes like a lowered resting heart rate (meaning your heart has gotten stronger), more mitochondria (the part of your cells that produces energy), better blood pressure, improved blood sugar levels and increased sensitivity to insulin (a good thing if you are diabetic). Your heart rate, blood pressure and blood chemistry can easily be kept track of so you can “see” the results your exercise is bringing you.
Performance-based results are much easier to keep tabs on and can be quite motivating. Take note of how many minutes and at what intensity you could do your aerobic exercise when you started to work out and again after six weeks. You will be surprised at how much you can improve, especially if you have been sedentary for a long time. Find out the difference in the amount of weight you can lift, how flexible you have become or how many abdominal crunches you can do. Even an improvement in coordination is something to celebrate.
There are also mental and psychological results that you cannot measure objectively but that you can “feel”. Are you sleeping better? Are you more relaxed and cheerful since you started exercising? Are you more alert? These are just some of the simple but profound benefits that exercise can bring you.
Why you lose more in inches than in pounds.
If you are exercising mainly to lose weight, you need to realize that it is normal to lose more in inches but not so much in pounds if you are doing any type of resistance exercise (dumbbells, barbells, machines, rubber bands, and body weight exercises like yoga and Pilates). Muscles get heavier and denser while fat cells shrink. Don’t feel bad if this is happening to you. This is a wonderful sign that you are changing your body composition and becoming a leaner you.
So don’t lose sleep that the scale doesn’t seem to be budging. Who cares as long as your clothes are getting looser and you have fewer bulges? It is very possible to drop a few sizes but not change your weight or even gain a few pounds (of muscle, of course!).
Strength before muscle growth.
If you are a male trying to get bigger muscles, it is normal to have a marked improvement in strength (the amount of weight you can carry) but a small improvement in muscle size. This can go on for a few weeks or a few months before the muscles start to grow. The reason you are getting stronger without getting bigger is because muscle fibers that have never been stimulated before are “waking up”. This is temporary. If you have a solid muscle-building program (including proper nutrition and rest), your muscles will eventually reach their genetic size potential.
Stages of improvement.
The first four to six weeks are called the “initial conditioning stage”. This doesn’t mean that you won’t see results but just don’t expect to see a flabby behind turn into “buns of steel” or expect a big drop in body weight. And this is exactly what the problem is. Many people are focused only on appearance-based results instead of the other kinds of results which are just as important if not even more important.
In general, you should see a small improvement in four to six weeks and a bigger improvement within three to six months. This is assuming, of course, that you are doing at least three sessions a week, you are exercising at the highest intensity that you can safely do, you are doing the right exercise for your goals (don’t expect hard firm upper body muscles if all you do is ride a bicycle), and you are eating the right amount of calories.