Getting in shape seems simple enough: You exercise, keep at it and at some point you see results.
But not everything happens as you may expect. Plus, the very experience of exercising and working out can differ between individuals. In short, your mileage may vary.
Here are six of the lesser-known facts about getting in shape that may surprise you:
1. Not everyone sweats the same
Put two people on the same workout plan and one may sweat profusely and the other may barely glisten, though both may be working out as intensely. It’s an odd phenomenon, says Tom Holland, exercise physiologist, triathlete and author of Beat the Gym.
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“On one hand, very fit people tend to sweat faster because they’re able to hit higher workout intensities sooner. But some unfit people also sweat a lot, so there’s no hard and fast rule,” he says. “Either way, how much you sweat doesn’t necessarily mean you’re working hard or vice versa.” Genetics and humidity also play a role.
2. Time off is as important as working out
Your body needs recovery time — pushing yourself every day or doing too many high-intensity interval training workouts can result in injury or diminishing returns, says Jacque Crockford, exercise physiologist and education specialist with the American Council on Exercise (ACE).
“We actually make improvements during the time in which our body is recovering. Proper sleep, nutrition, hydration, and muscular/soft tissue massage (or lack thereof) can all impact [results],” she says. “Plan on a minimum of one day completely off. As we age it may take longer than one full day to recover, so take an extra day if you feel you need it.”
3. You may not feel sore until two days after your workout
It’s tempting to go all out when you’re first starting a new workout, but you’re better off progressing gradually. You’ll not only likely feel sore when you’re a newbie, but the brunt of muscle soreness may not hit you until two days after your workout. DOMS, short for delayed onset muscle soreness, is believed to occur as a result of microscopic damage to muscle fibers during exercise.
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“It’s a misconception that the soreness is due to lactic acid build-up,” Holland says. “Lactic acid is out of your body an hour after exercise, which is also why it’s a good idea to do a cool-down when you’re done, to help get out the lactic acid.”
DOMS most likely occurs when force is applied to the muscle during its lengthening (eccentric) phase. Examples would be the lowering phase of a bicep curl or even jogging, since the thigh muscles lengthen while the leg brakes against your body’s momentum. A light workout or foam rolling helps loosen up and increase blood flow and can ease DOMS.
4. Exercise machines are not one-size-fits-all
Hopping on an exercise machine and using it without adjusting for your body size can lead to injury, at worst, or less than adequate results, at best.
In general, you want to line up the machine so your joints coincide with pivot points of the machine, your feet are flat on the floor (if you are seated) and the pads rest comfortably against your arms and legs. Charts can be found on most gym equipment illustrating proper positioning.
“If you’re unsure of yourself, elicit the help of a certified fitness professional or gym staff to help make sure you are using the equipment properly,” Crockford says. “Improper use, including incorrect positioning of a seat, padding, platform, bar or weight that is too heavy can all lead to injury.”
5. You won’t see results for a while
Changes happen immediately to your body when you start working out, but they’re mostly on the neuromuscular level, Holland says. This refers to the initial stage of training, where your nervous system adjusts to the new demands placed on it (it’s also behind the muscle shakes that often occur when you first start lifting weights).
“It takes six to eight weeks before changes become visible,” he says. “Unfortunately, that’s also when most people give up — right before they’d see results.” Be sure to stick with it long enough to see the fruit of your labor.
6. No matter how much you work out, if you don’t eat well you won’t see changes
There’s a saying, “You can’t exercise your way out of a bad diet,” which refers to expecting to see results when you’re eating too much or too much of the wrong foods such as fast food, Holland says. “In order to lose weight and see results you must get your diet under control.”
Unhealthy food choices not only make you less likely to lose weight, but you may also feel sluggish and less motivated to stick to your exercise goals.