I am often asked how long it takes for a body to adapt to new exercises. The question is ‘human’ and part of the curious mind of our athletes (especially those who follow the individual programme design), because when you start a new exercise routine, you are eager to get the benefits of it and see yourself progress. The answer however is not that straight forward because it depends on a number of factors. So, let’s have a look at the factors that influence the adaptation of the body.




Intensity of the exercise

In general, the greater the intensity of your exercise routine, the quicker your body will experience the physiological benefits. For cardiovascular exercises whether these are cyclical or mixed modal the most effective when it comes to heart rate, is somewhere between 60-85% of your maximum heart rate (a quick way to calculate your maximum heartrate without going through a lab testing setting, is 220-age which gives you the BPMs (beats per minute of your heart).

To enhance your muscular strength the answer is not that straightforward, because it depends on your training age and how deep you can dig into your CNS (Central Nervous system). People with a higher training age, usually can dig quite deep and usually do more sets with lesser reps, whereas beginners usually should start with fewer sets and more repetitions of the movement. When it comes to lifting, the amount of weight you can safely lift for each exercise should correspond to 60 percent to 85 percent of your maximum lifting capacity for one repetition (1RM). That’s why it is important to keep track of your 1RMs (which is something not everyone does), because it gives you a good idea what your starting weight should be for each exercise you’re doing.  

Duration of your routine

The duration of your exercise routine will also affect the time your body takes to adapt. It is however important that you change things up and avoid doing the same routine repeatedly. If you run 5K in 25 minutes and you do that for entire year, your routine will not result in the same metabolic response in the beginning of the year as it will be at the end of the year. So you have to change it up… increase the distance of your run, change up the rhythm, mix it up with interval training, etc…


Gains related to strength training again depend on your training age and on how many different body parts you are challenging. Generally, people with a higher training age will only get small improvements and it takes time to get them, whilst beginners will see faster and bigger improvements over time. Also as an advanced athlete you will probably have days where you have training that targets primarily the upper body and other days it will be a bending and squatting priority. Where as a beginner will probably find all elements of weightlifting  (bending, squatting, single leg, upper body pushing, upper body pulling and core)  in their exercise routine. A well-rounded session should take you approximately 60-90 minutes to complete. And as a beginner within two to three months of hard work, you will notice an effect.

Frequency of Activity.

Another variable that will influence the rate your body adapts to exercise is the frequency or the number of exercise sessions per week. For balanced fitness, cardiovascular training should be conducted 3-4 times per week, while  respectable muscular strength gains from a weight training program can be realized with 2-3 sessions per week. Initially, you may start start to notice positive gains in three to six weeks of starting a program and over the course of an additional six to seven weeks, you will see more adaptation.



Recovery and lifestyle.

Often overlooked by a lot of athletes is the aspect of recovery and lifestyle. Are you sleeping enough, do you take rest days, are you including active recovery sessions in your training programme, do you have weeks where you have a de-load, is your hydration on point, do you nourish your body properly etc… In individidual programme design, we call these the foundations of fitness and from the start we look into these aspects because of the importance they have on the adaptation of your body to exercise.

Lot’s of people think ’more is better’ but that is not true for someone who has a stressful life (at home or in the working place), poor sleep, poor nutrition etc… because the only thing these people do with adding exercise is adding more stress to the body.

Final words.

Fitness has become a science and it’s no longer doing ‘something’ if you want to get serious about improving your fitness, health and wellbeing. As a coach I would advise you to start tracking your results, your numbers so you have a decent starting point in your fitness, do regular testing to see if you improve and work on your lifestyle, include the aspects of recovery and get advice and help if you want to get serious about things.

Author: Peter Koopmans