How long does it take to get fit and toned? With the fit and toned part, we are asking about two very different things here. Both go hand in hand, you may be thinking. That one comes with the other. That you become toned through the process of becoming fit. Similarly, you’re fit because you’re toned.
In some cases, the above would be true. However, in a lot of cases, it would also be entirely wrong. I know plenty of people who aren’t toned but are incredibly fit. I also know a lot of people who are toned but don’t do a tap of exercise.
Before we start, let me say that the opinions expressed here on this topic are my own. They will possibly, and probably, differ from yours or others. They may oppose the reasoning of the latest and greatest exercise fads, or published scientific findings. However, I’m drawing from my own experience of over 20 years training and competing, at a high level in various different sports, to form these opinions. I’m sharing the things that work for me, and the things that don’t.
With that out of the way, let’s get started, and look at what exactly we need to know, and do, to figure this out.
What does it mean to be fit?
To start, let’s start by being clear on what it actually means to be fit. The point at which you consider yourself to be fit will be different for everyone. The elite athlete’s definition of being fit will be wildly different to the individual just dipping their toes for the first time into the world of fitness and exercise.
Personally, I consider someone to be baseline fit if they can participate in moderate-intensity exercise sessions, of duration 30 mins, non-stop, with ease. The ‘with ease’ part is important here. For example, you’re able to complete a 30-minute run, but at the end, you’re about to pass out, keel over, feel like your heart is going to explode out of your chest. You would be kidding yourself to believe you’re fit at that point.
Again, as stated earlier, everyone will have a different view on this. But, for the purpose of this article, and as a reasonable indicator of baseline fitness, let’s go with the 30 mins, moderate intensity, non-stop, with ease.
How long does it take to get fit?
So, we have determined what constitutes baseline fitness. The question now becomes, how long will it take you to get to that level?
Once again, we have a question that will have a different answer for just about everyone. It will take different people varying degrees of time to reach this baseline. For example, you may be at this level already. If on the other hand, you’re overweight, and never exercised before, your timeline to achieve baseline fitness could be months, if not a year or more.
Let’s use an example test subject for the rest of this article.
Example test subject
- 10 lbs overweight.
- No injures.
- Just starting down the fitness road.
And here’s what they need to do to achieve baseline fitness.
- Month 1
- No more than 2 exercise sessions per week.
- Building towards 30 min per session.
- Month 2
- Alternating between 2 and 3 exercise sessions per week.
- Completing 30 min session by end of the month.
- Month 3 and 4
- 3 – 5 exercise sessions per week.
- Completing 45-60 mins session by end of the block.
- Baseline fitness achieved.
Using the above criteria the subject achieves baseline fitness in or around 4 months.
What does it mean to be toned?
This question is a lot easier to answer. It’s pretty black and white. Becoming toned is simply the lowering of your body fat percentage, to a level low enough to reveal muscle definition. You can be considered as being reasonably toned once you can clearly see a defined six-pack.
Now there are obviously varying different degrees of toning. Think about an elite level 100/200m sprinter. Also, think of a top-level bodybuilder during competition. Both will be exceptionally toned, however, the bodybuilder’s toning will be at a far more extreme level.
Notice I only mention the abs here as a measure of when someone is toned. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, the lower torso tends to hold a higher percentage of fat than the rest of the body. Therefore, if the lower torso is toned, everywhere else almost certainly will too. Secondly, I have never, ever, seen someone with flabby arms and legs, whilst also sporting a rippling six-pack.
The primary factors that affect how long it takes to get toned
Becoming toned takes a bit of work unless you are one of those people that are naturally toned of course. Diet plays a very important role in lowering body fat. It’s quite a simple concept to lower your body fat. Simply expend more calories than you take in. Sounds simple enough, but the process is usually harder to execute than the logic, unfortunately.
How long it takes to become toned will depend greatly on three things.
- The number of daily calories the subject takes in.
- Daily calories used by the subject.
- Exercise frequency and duration.
It is possible to use the above on their own, or in combination to achieve toning results. However, it will happen quickest using a combination of calorie deficit, through diet changes, and increased calorie expenditure through increased exercise.
Gender and Age – How they affect Toning
Men generally have higher levels of both testosterone and growth hormone. These have an influence on muscle growth. Muscles need fuel, and fuel equals calories. Greater muscle mass requires greater calorie demand. Men also usually have a higher muscle: fat ratio compared with women. I’m sure you can start to get the picture at this stage. Simply put, it will take women a little longer to get toned than men.
The second factor that will affect the speed of getting toned is age. As we age, the rate of our metabolism drops. Metabolism is the speed at which we burn the calories in our bodies. Basically, the older you are, the longer it takes to burn a given number of calories.
Fat and Calories
When the test subject started out they were 10 lbs overweight. Let’s assume the weight gain was gradual over a period of 2 years. Let’s look at some stats for this.
- A 1 lb of fat can contain between 3,436 to 3,752 calories, to average out let’s go with 3,500.
- 10 lbs of fat = 35000 calories.
- Period of time = 2 years = 730 days.
- Excess calories per day = (35000/730) = 47.94 calories.
48 calories per day over 2 years is all it took to amass 10 lbs in fat. Almost any biscuit you can think of will be more than that. That’s all it takes, one extra biscuit per day worth of calories. Remember though, that’s also all it takes to stay on the right side of it!
The effect of calorie deficit on how long it takes to get toned
Assuming a combination of training, muscle mass increase, and diet changes our subject is now able to healthily sustain a daily calorie deficit of 150 calories. 150 is a realistic number to sustain over a longer period of time.
- 35000/150 = 233
- 233 days to burn 10 lbs of fat.
- 233 days = 8 months (rounded up).
So, it takes 8 months to hit the ideal weight. From this point on, the subject will see toning begin to occur if the calorie deficit continues.
- 150 calories * 30 days = 4500 calories.
- 1.3 lbs of fat reduction per month.
A further 3 lbs of fat loss at this point will have a very noticeable effect on toning. From this point on it will be essential to monitor body fat levels and never go lower than the essential fat levels of 2-5% for men, and 10-13% for women. Those however, are the extremes of toning and only really applicable to perhaps elite-level bodybuilding. For everyone else, the athlete fat levels of 14-20% for women and 6 – 13% for men will be more than acceptable.
How long does it take to become toned?
To class ourselves as toned, let’s say that 3 lbs below ideal weight are where we need to be. Now, this will differ from person to person, some people seem to gain tone definition easier than others.
Using the 150 avg daily calorie deficit
- 8 months to lose initial 10 lbs
- From this point, toning begins.
- 2.5 additional months to lose 3 lbs.
- 10.5 months from start to finish.
It’s worth noting this objective can be achieved quicker, however, the diet, exercise, and mindset changes will need to be more extreme. It is best to view this type of thing, as a long-term plan with small changes, rather than a short-term plan with huge changes required. The reason being that small changes to lifestyle are more realistic to sustain in the long term, than big changes.
Changing your Diet to get Fit and Toned
The very first thing you should scrutinize and change is your diet. If your diet contains more than 20% junk foods then you really should change this. A good general rule is to eat foods you have to prepare yourself as much as possible. The less processed the better. It is also vital to ensure the correct balance of carbs, protein, nutrients, fiber, etc in each meal to meet energy demands and promote muscle growth and recovery.
Once your diet is mainly healthy you can then begin to adapt it so as not to exceed, and start coming a little under your daily recommended calorie intake. There are many different diet plans out there that will help achieve this goal. A lot of people find that having a diet plan to follow helps them stick to a controlled diet better. I personally have no preference for one over another. All will be perfectly sufficient so long as the meals are healthy and provide sufficient levels of nutrition.
The Keto diet is a type of diet that makes the body target fat as its primary fuel source. This would be useful in the context of trying to get toned where it’s necessary to lower body fat. If you’re interested in trying it you can check out our ‘List of foods for Keto diet: Quick guide‘ article. It gives a good overview of how the diet works and the types of foods suited to it.
For me personally, I have always worked off my own body’s signals to increase or reduce my calorie intake as needed. I don’t eat past the point of being full and I eat extra when I’m hungry. I have found this to work well for me, and I rarely gain extra weight. On the rare occasions I have put on an extra pound or two, I very simply reduce the normal portion sizes of all my meals until I’m back on track. I do understand though that not everyone is able to do this.
Ultimately you want the healthy diet changes to become a lifestyle shift as opposed to something you do as a means to an end.
Starting an Exercise Plan to Get Fit and Toned
The next thing to do is begin that exercise plan. I would recommend a mix of exercises throughout. Mixing it up a bit reduces the risk of overuse injuries, and strengthens the body in a more balanced manner. It also stops you from becoming bored two months into your plan. Cycling and running are both great for burning calories. Cycling burns slightly fewer calories per hour than running, however, it is significantly easier to do 1 hour of cycling (600 calories) than 1 hour of running (700 calories).
Adding in some strength exercises will increase muscle mass throughout the body. Bodyweight exercises are good options for the beginner. Press-ups, crunches, pull-ups, sit-ups, and Hindu squats are all good options to start with. These will better balance strength gained throughout the body, as well as increasing muscle mass for beginners.
Also don’t neglect the importance of sleep and rest, especially when undertaking an exercise plan for the first time. Any gains in fitness and strength are made when your muscles are at rest, not when they are working out. Start slowly, and allow your body the time it needs to adapt to the increased workload, and properly recover from it.
When I initially started writing this article I thought this would be an easy question to answer and write about, how wrong I was. It was so difficult to analyze in fact, that it’s near impossible to answer without knowing about the different variables of the person asking it. If someone has just typed in “how long does it take to get fit and toned” to a search engine, then I have to assume it is someone just starting, or doing just a little bit. Hence the reason I modeled my test subject the way I did. I can only reasonably hope it matches somewhat to the profiles of those asking.
For me, 10.5 months as an answer to the question is reasonable. I was a little surprised at how quickly it could be achieved if I’m honest. Remember, that plan is a pretty conservative one too. Getting fit AND toned is no small feat for a beginner, and that’s why I would always recommend the slow and steady approach, it’s just easier to do, and keep doing. I have seen firsthand a bodybuilder rapidly cutting body fat down to competition level. He achieved this in less than two months, but the experience was not pleasant for him or anyone in his circle.
As always, feel free to leave a comment if you have any thoughts, advice, questions, or opinions related to this article.
A special thanks to all my subscribers. Your continued support means a great deal to me personally and helps this site out enormously. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Always consult your GP before undertaking any form of weight loss, fitness, or exercise.
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