03 Jun How Many Weeks Till You Get Lean (Checkpoint One)
The age old question, and one of the most popular questions asked:
How many weeks will it take me to get lean?
The funny thing about this question is it’s asked not just before starting a journey, but continually throughout too.
As coaches, we can always provide a rough idea, but the real answer is that ‘it depends’. If we left it at that, it’d be a complete cop out. So here we go…
What decides the timeframe to your first check point?
Before diving into the variables, it’s important to iterate that this article is focused only on how long it’ll take you to get lean. Not necessarily achieve the overall physique you’re after in the long term, but the first Transformation Checkpoint that you reach after phase two of the journey, which you can read about here.
1. It depends on the amount of time you have to give to the exercise / training side of the energy balance.
If you can give more to steps, cardio and training, you’ll create more fat loss from exercise and will rely less on driving hard with your diet to sustain a calorie deficit. In simple terms, the more you can exercise, the less food you’ll have to take away from your diet, which in turn should reduce your hunger levels and make it easier for long term compliance. This of course runs on a continuum, and doesn’t mean you can out train a bad diet!
2. It depends on how much structure, how many non-negotiables and the amount of priorities that are set towards your fat loss goal.
Some people won’t want to compromise on their social choices at all, and that’s completely fine. It’s just important to understand that it will take longer as a result, as it’s likely you’ll experience reduced fat loss in time of these events. That’s where perfecting the art of the guess and the buffer come into play, but these strategies still rely on guesswork, and will never beat a lifestyle moulded entirely around fat loss. Neither are right or wrong, they’re just important considerations to have in mind on your journey.
3. It depends on your body fat levels.
There’s only so much body fat that can be lost per week. Searching for and setting unrealistic expectations without knowing the ‘ins and outs’ may leave you disappointed and disheartened to continue. If you level your expectations at 1% of your bodyweight per week as an average, you’ll set yourself up for greater chances of success. Any more, and you’d have to be really pushing the limit of all of your boxes being ticked, and it may create something unsustainable in the long run for you. By setting the bar at 1%, it’s challenging enough to make you work, but not so much of a stretch that you miss out on positive feedback and reaching targets on a weekly basis.
4. It depends if you’ve successfully dieted and/or achieved the physique you’d like previously.
This one is critical. If it’s not the first time you’ve weighed your food, woke up in the morning to do cardio, written a detailed check in, and importantly, managed and dealt/accepted hunger as a necessary aspect of dieting, it will be a shorter journey. If it is your first time, then it will take a little longer as you work your way through these potential roadblocks.
The less you have to learn, and the more you only need to action, the more streamlined and efficient the procedure becomes. So if you’ve struggled with some aspects of the learning and structuring, or this is your first time dieting, expect it to take longer as setbacks will happen – it’s all part of the process.
5. It depends on what you’ll weigh when you’re lean.
If you haven’t read the article, ‘How Heavy Will You Be When Lean?’, this should be your next port of call. It’s proven time and time again to be correct (in men so far at least), and that we all underestimate how much bodyfat we have, and overestimate how much muscle we carry.
If you use the benchmarks written here (pasted below for reference) according to your height and training age, and then reverse engineer to your unique situation, you’ll realise just how far you have to go (or not go!).
Bodyweight approximates for lean, photoshoot level condition (men only here):
If you’re 5’5” – 5’6” – 54-62kg
If you’re 5’7 – 5’9” – 58-65kg
If you’re 5’10 – 5’11” – 63-70kg
If you’re 6 foot+ – 68-80kg
In our experience, we can count on one hand how many people who have broken the mould of these parameters, so if you’re someone with average genetics looking to get into shape, there’s a 99% chance the same guidelines will apply to you.
Pro tip: use the weights above to ‘future back’ your approach using the 1% bodyweight per week fat loss rule. This will give you your longest time period expected to take you if you follow a moderate calorie deficit and moderate level of consistent activity. When using the numbers above, always err on the lower end unless you have lots of quality training experience and you’ve build a solid foundation of muscle. The article linked above will give you a better idea on how to gauge this.
What To Do If You’re In The Tail End Of Your ‘Initial 3 Months’
If you’re reading this and you’re coming up to the end of your initial 3 month period and you’ve not reached your initial goal, there’s nothing to be disheartened about. A quick look at our Transformations page will show a very wide variety of timeframes listed. Despite the fitness industry driving people to only think in three month chunks, this timestamp often limits your ability to see into the long term.
You could be on the cusp of something great, and all you need is to continue riding the first wave to arrive at your first checkpoint. If you’re at the 3 month mark (this could be 4, 5 or 6 – whichever time frame you thought you had in mind initially), then you really need to double down on your work so far and get yourself invested into long term thinking.
If you want to make sure you reach this first transformation checkpoint, maintain your results, and build on it with a lifestyle solution after, you have to keep the same level of accountability, support and momentum until you get there.
A bold statement maybe, but as our very own Hitman of RNT likes to say, ‘everyone who is being coached through a set process thinks at some point they can do it themselves’. In the long term, absolutely, if your goals never evolve. But in the short term, throwing in the towel at 3 months can be risky business as you lose all accountability, structure and objective guidance that’s unique to you.
If we look across the board at those who stop short of their first checkpoint and are unable to view this checkpoint as merely chapter one, there’s a strong correlation to weight regain/ rebound. On the contrary, those who embrace the challenge with a long-term mindset end up creating a change for life, and with a real lifestyle solution that works for them to be in the shape of their life, for life. They’re also the ones who start new challenges, set new goals and work on continuously improving themselves everyday.
Increasing Your Chances Of Success
Using the earlier list of ‘it depends answers’ will help you decipher how you go about putting a timeframe to your initial fat loss goal, and will help manage expectations.
If you’re only willing to give 3 days per week in the gym and 10,000 steps with a moderate dietary calorie deficit, expect a low to medium level of fat loss (0.5-1% of BW/week). If you’re giving 4 to 5 days in the gym with 20,000 steps and 3 to 5 cardio sessions with a moderate dietary calorie deficit, then expect a faster rate of fat loss (1-2% of BW/week).
Upon embarking on this journey, you have to be honest with yourself, your ‘why’, and your commitment to change. This will be the biggest determinant in your timeframe, and when you combine this honesty with the bodyweight target ranges, you can effectively reverse engineer the goal.
It’s All A Journey
In closing, it’s important for us to finish here that it really doesn’t matter how long it takes you to get lean. If it takes 12 weeks or 12 months, it’s still an achievement you can be proud of. The best advice we can give is to run your race with the limitations you present, and work with them to be consistent and make gradual change.
The benefits you’ll get from seeing out the whole journey and not being distracted by the comparison syndrome over 8-12 week transformations will lead to long term sustainability, a sense of achievement, and the comfort of knowing that whatever the timeframe and circumstance, you achieved your goal.
Important Next Steps
It goes without saying that when you get lean, you absolutely cannot think it’s the end. We’ve referenced it multiple times so far, but it really is a checkpoint. When you’ve climbed Everest, you need to ensure a safe passage home. This comes from a well-executed Consolidation period, which serves as a lynchpin and connecting phase between you achieving your initial goals, and you keeping your gains over a long period of time.
Consequently, however many weeks you endeavour to complete your initial fat loss phase, you have to add on 3 to 6 weeks automatically to allow yourself to safely consolidate, and set yourself up for a long term lifestyle solution.
Key Readings To Follow
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