I think that how long it takes to feel a difference in the way you describe depends very heavily on where you started and what your goals are. I played two sports in high school so my goals are pretty highly athletic - I'd like to get to the point that if you name an activity, I can physically do it at the level of at least a recreational athlete (obviously without possessing the requisite skills). Also, I always wanted to look, well, modelicious. So my other goal is to reduce my body fat, build muscle, or whatever is required to look darn good naked. Ten months after beginning intense exercise, I'm actually quite close to the first goal. I've made significant progress on the second, but it's going to take quite a bit longer.
I'd been exercising on and off my entire life so I doubt my time spans would really correlate. But it took about 3 months of consistent dieting and light exercise before I felt good enough to take on intense exercise, and by that time I had gone from like 240 lbs to 225 lbs and I could feel a significant difference - especially when I began to be able to fit into my older smaller waist size pants.
Since then, it was a gradual process of increasing fitness, but I never really felt any breakthrough since that three month time until recently, about one year since the start of the effort and ten months since starting to exercise intensely. The main reasons I feel as though I've made a breakthrough are that: -I've grown my commitment and my fitness enough that I can now work out intensely six days a week and not feel completely wrecked. -I recently added serious weightlifting to my regime. Not only could I not be more pleased with the results even in two weeks, but experience tells me that will definitely eventually do exactly what I want. On top of all that, I love how it makes me feel even within a few days of doing a single workout. Real life feels so EASY compared to pushing around heavy blocks of iron. -Of course with all that working out, not only do I have to eat more, but my metabolism is faster. I am warmer all the time, and I can tell. It feels like there is just more energy coursing through your body when you get there, and it is way cool. So just the feeling is different, and that I think is the real breakthrough you are talking about.
FYI, I don't think I can even run 5k straight at what I'd consider a respectable pace.. maybe only very very slowly. I wouldn't consider running ability to be the only measure of fitness or health that matters.
I think that you will feel a truly significant breakthrough, physically, when you lower body fat percentage to a certain point. My guess as to when this would be for most would be about 25% - which, interestingly, dovetails nicely with the top of the American Council on Exercise's "average" range. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Body_fat_percentage# Recommendations
If you do some toe point-and-flex regularly, pulling and pushing with as much force as you can muster, I believe you can exercise those shin splints away. Or at the very least reduce them or make them go away faster.
Fitness Minutes: (12,713)
4,114 11/1/10 2:00 P
I'm not sure I can provide a repeatable time frame, but hopefully a recount of events may be helpful. I got a puppy about 4 years ago (she's grown a little as you can see her in my profile pic). She needed lots of walking and quite frankly, so did I. I would walk her a mile, two miles and after about 6 months, I could go 3-4 miles without too much huffing and puffing. I did this for about a year and stopped. Did the same thing next year, although I got to 3-4 miles walking pretty quickly. 18 months after, I started running her. I don't think I ever went more than 1/4 mile at a time. One time I literally thought I was going to pass out. Oh ya, the shins, the knees, lots of things hurt after that little 1/4 mile run and 3 mile walk. I would say it took me about another 3 months before I could run a mile without stopping and it had to be on a flat surface.
A combination of things really accelerated my progress. Those two things were losing weight through diet and quitting smoking. My 1 mile runs turned into 6-7 mile runs, non-stop in just a couple of months. Admittedly, I was going 4-5 days a week at that point.
So if I gave you MY time frame, it took me 4 years. If I would've quit smoking, got my diet right, exercised regularly, I would say I could've run a 5K without stopping in probably 6-8 months.
Fitness Minutes: (102)
1,005 11/1/10 1:47 P
For those of you that were sedentary like me and started to run for exercise. How long did it take for your body to be able to adapt to be able to run more than a few steps? A few years back I tried the Couch-to-5K program - I was and still am no where near ready for that. Most I ever got was a 30 second slow jog.
How long did it take you to be able to run a mile or so?
Another thing I got was shin splints after 3 or 4 sessions. How long before they went away?
Fitness Minutes: (27,679)
875 10/28/10 11:35 A
I started feeling better when I lost weight through Christmas last year. Took the week off work between Christmas and New Year's and focused on fitness instead of loafing and eating into oblivion.
That was #1, Every week now I'm seeing gains in other areas, strength, cardio endurance and my overall attitude.
It's subjective, but, when was able to do three intense workouts a week and not feel sore and overworked.
Fitness Minutes: (12,713)
4,114 10/22/10 7:51 A
I agree with pretty much all that's been said. A gradual process for sure. I think I really started to notice it when I started a regular exercise routine consisting of both strength training AND cardio.
Eating better CONSISTENTLY made me feel better almost immediately.
It has been a gradual process for me. Sure, I have those great moments where I achieved a fitness goal and felt great for a bit. But an overall feeling of well-being is on going.
I have noticed that I walk taller (back straight, shoulders back) lately and that is directly tied to my feeling of greater confidence. I started feeling better somewhere around 20-30 pounds lost, and as I approach 50 lost it is increasing.
Most of the improvements are so gradual that it is hard to pinpoint specific improvements. I will walk up stairs without panting (and not realize it till later), run longer, mow the lawn and not collapse after, etc.
I guess I am saying keep an eye on the small things.
Fitness Minutes: (8,866)
195 10/22/10 3:31 A
I started feeling better when I began to reach fitness goals that had nothing to do with my weight. I'm trying to lose 100+ pounds, so losing ten didn't seem like much of an accomplishment, but clean and pressing a 70 pound kettlebell over my head for the first time made me feel invincible. I had the same feeling later when I managed a set of 19 push-ups with good form and a full range of motion (something that I have never been able to do before).
It's hard to explain what it feels like when you break through. The best I can come up with is that I knew I had turned a corner, when I thought about my weight loss goals, I could say to my self, "you can do this" and it didn't feel like something I was saying to psych myself up, it was just a fact. The other time I knew I was feeling better about my weight loss was the time I stepped on my scale, saw I was up a couple of pounds and thought, "Eh, I'll be back down by the end of the week."
Fitness Minutes: (102)
1,005 10/21/10 4:08 P
I mean really feel better? When I was doing good with eating properly I lost ~ 15lbs in a almost a month. I did not feel any better about it or feel better overall.
When does it change? What does it really feel like to break through?
What is the first real goal you reached that made an impact? 10 lbs, -30 lbs? Something different?
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