In Pt. 1, I wrote that you are better off giving yourself some dang flexibility when it comes to gaining long-term body changes. When nothing changes, we want to stop. But what if something is changing and you just didn’t know to look for it?
Sometimes the changes you want are hidden in a dark forest, far away and impossible to see. Happily, there are fireflies that show you where your next step should land on the way.
So, what lights up when you exercise, and when?
1) Mood changes: wicked fast
Get ready because this shit hits the bloodstream RIGHT AWAY. There is a ton of evidence that one workout improves negative affective states, stress, emotional states, and mood. It doesn’t necessarily stick around, but never underestimate the physical and psychological impact of knowing that one part of your day is going to make you feel better. Eventually, it does stick around.
2) Neurological changes: fast, but not wicked fast
When you start working out, you’ll get stronger the first ten weeks or so. It feels like instant muscles! The batshit thing is that even though you are demonstrably stronger, your muscles haven’t changed one bit. What has changed is your nervous system, giving your muscles “permission” to contract with more force than before. There can be a long, unchanging strength plateau after this, but it’s not that you’re not getting better. It’s just that your muscles need time to sprout.
3) Tendon changes: not wicked fast
Tendons connect muscles to bone and are made of tough, relatively inelastic tissue. We usually only know they exist because of issues like tennis elbow, achilles tendonitis, or rotator cuff problems. But exercise makes tendons stronger, thicker, and — most importantly — more resistant to tearing in a potentially damaging situation, like falling. Tendons are slow to adapt, at least 3–4 months, but with serious long-term payoff.
4) Day-to-day changes: slow, but not wicked slow
This is highly varied, anywhere from a few weeks to six months or more. These are the heart of improving your health, because these are the ones that show direct positive impact to you and your life.
“When I got out of bed, my back didn’t hurt.”
“It is easier to work at my standing desk now.”
“I don’t worry for as long as I used to before falling asleep.”
Don’t forget to pay attention to these!
5) Sustainable, long term body changes: wicked slow
Visible muscle growth, sustained flexibility/mobility, healthy weight loss, sustained improved self-esteem; this is the land of Things We Want. But it’s the very last thing on the list! No wonder everyone wants to give up before they get here.
Body timelines are nonlinear. Every valley you hit where nothing changes is going to have an opposing peak where suddenly a lot of things change at the same time. For sanity, keep the long-term goal in mind but always focus on what’s directly in front of you. Every single workout, walk, and vegetable has direct, meaningful impact on you. Catch those incandescent arthropods and appreciate them for their glittery guidance on your way to the Things You Want.