Honest answer? I have no clue. And….wait for it…it depends.
Early mornings at Planet Fitness are quiet. As fall sneaks in softly up here in Eugene, the minutes are lopped off each day, folks trickle in from 5 am on to get the hard work done early. The parking lot is dark, more often than not strewn with damp leaves. Too dark to see what color.
I was there yesterday at 6:15. My left hand sports a fractured middle knuckle on my flip-off finger. Two weeks ago, I couldn’t curl it around a dumbell at all. Picking up anything heavier than ten pounds was an agony.
Then, constant PT, the kind that hurts.
Go the gym, force the issue. Not hard, but in that determined way that communicates to the multitudes that make up my physical me that I expect healing. Stretching. Movement.
Yesterday, my fingers almost curled completely around a 15-lb dumbell. I was able to do one single pullup on the bar across my bedroom door.
How long is this gonna take?
I have no idea. It depends.
It depends on how often I hit the gym. How long I work. How many times I stop and do the PT exercises, which hurt, between my sets.
It depends on how often I will do those exercises during the day, when it’s easy to forget. How often I use my steering wheel to force that finger to do the work.
When you hit mid-life, or later in life, and your life and/or your body didn’t quite keep up with your expectations (sound familiar?), and you buy that long-overdue gym subscription, you may ask:
How long is this gonna take (for me to get back in shape, lose the weight, etc.)?
Well, it depends.
You start that diet. You buy the magical exercise machine. Whatever.
You wanna know, how long is this gonna take?
I won’t say it again.
It’s ever our impatience that is more likely to torpedo our best efforts than anything else. That’s why, for those of us dedicated gym rats, the gym empties in its entirety by March every year. Those of us so dedicated that we are there on New Year’s Eve night when everyone else is heading out to party, well.
Our fitness levels speak to that commitment. It costs: time, effort, sweat, patience.
The other day I was talking to a long-time friend. About two years ago his once-tight body had put on some pounds. Too many donuts, too many sweets. He was nearing fifty. His belly was starting to slop over into his lap for the first time in his life.
A combination of sugar creep, bad dietary habits and extreme stress had led to an extra twenty on a body that had once won all-natural bodybuilding competitions.
In all fairness, this is a guy who has studied kinesiology and nutrition. Unlike most of us, he is perfectly aware of what his body needs. And he’s also perfectly aware that as he’s aged out of his youth those nutritional needs have shifted.
But like most of us, he responded to the stresses in his life with more donuts.
I did too. Under quarantine, my drug of choice was a huge bag of chocolate almonds. And more than one chocolate-covered Krispy Kreme.
We both put on twenty pounds. For me, a touch more than that.
These days, he’s back to 220 lbs of mostly solid muscle. He hasn’t had a donut in four months. I’m back to 120 lbs, the result of extreme stress and the need to drastically retool my diet. While I don’t recommend the latter for anyone, I’m now on the kind of diet which allows me to maintain.
In 1984, I was living in the small beach town of Elsternwick just down the Nepean Highway from Melbourne, Australia. I was 205 lbs, not muscle (trust me). I had a Come Home to Mama moment one morning, and turned that moment into a year’s worth of dedicated, hard damned work. I cut out the cream, the donuts, the cookies and fish and chips. I was already a runner but now I added cycling. Lots of it. But the change in diet had the greater effect.
A year later, I had dropped nearly ninety pounds.
No bariatric surgery. No diet pills. No short cuts. No hurry. I put my head down, and like so many others whose stories I’ve read, did the work. Steady as she goes.
Just fundamental lifestyle changes. Steady discipline and solid effort. Day after day, choice to choice, minute to minute.
That was nearly forty years ago. Until quarantine this year I’d hardly shifted five pounds. On occasion I did, but I knew how to get that under control.
Like my friend, I love the gym. Been lifting for nearly 47 years. I love the noise, the camaraderie, the challenge, the results I get. It’s not for everyone. When I began in my early twenties, especially in the Army, I was often the only girl in the room.
But it suited me. I soon learned that patience and perseverance were my friends.
Those building blocks, as for my friend, have served for those times when we’ve been injured. When life, circumstances or disease have sidelined us, as they invariably do.
Age can also shift us, in that way that suddenly one morning you wake up a sixty-year-old man and there is nothing in the basket any more. Strength is gone, flexibility is a joke, and endurance?
There’s a reason those Cialis commercials tell you to ask your doctor if it’s safe to have sex. It can kill you.
Look, you might die with a smile on your face, but most of us would prefer to hang around for the afterglow, if not do it all over again.
If it didn’t kill us the first time.
Look, we all want sex THAT good. But we also wanna do it again. Just saying.
One of the reasons that the classic New Years’ Resolutions of losing weight, getting in shape and others are so cyclical is that we are immensely impatient. We have bought into the fast-food version of fitness, believing that some Miracle Cure is going to deliver us that fabled six-pack in six weeks.
As with diets, the day we get there, the day we can rip off our shirt and show off those results, we take a photo. Here I am, we say to the world.
Shortly afterwards that turns into There I was. One photo of you in competition shape is meaningless if you begin to lose it the day after you got there. Which is what so many of us do.
We go from Before to After….and Before again, sometimes with unfortunate results.
I have done that more times than I can count. Until I built the habits of patience.
As for that fabled six-pack?
As a dedicated body builder barking at seventy, I can tell you. Ain’t gonna happen unless you already have the propensity to be very lean. Even if you can achieve it, the question is why, because maintenance is a bitch. What are you gonna do, Skeezix, walk around town with your shirt pulled up so that we can all see it?
That’s gonna land you an executive job. Sure it is.
You can always fake it:
That’s just so American.
You and I all have those abs, often under slabs of fat. Some of us were never meant to have a six-pack. Getting one doesn’t convey moral superiority or bragging rights, particularly if what you have is fake, and you can’t do a situp to save your life.
Don’t try sex with those, either.
How long does it take to get cobblestone abs?
Who cares, really? Because the larger question is why you want them. If being fit is your purpose then doubling down on a regular workout program which sculpts you into a much fitter you rather than a comic-book version of yourself might make more sense.
The doubling-down part is the time. The patience. The emotional maturity that it takes to coax, encourage and ease our bodies into better versions of our natural selves. Those are what last. Even more so, the habits you and I learn along the way naturally spill over into other areas like work, relationships and learning new skills. Being in shape isn’t strictly about the body. It’s about being in LIFE.
When you ask your PT, your doctor, your trainer (my training session starts in an hour) you can ask,
“How long is this gonna take?” to get fit, to get ripped, to get better, to regain strength.
They have no idea.
My hand surgeon was delighted when I showed up three weeks ago with a healed finger.
My PT was delighted when I showed up last week with a finger that I could now bend just past 90 degrees.
That’s the hand that holds my reins when I ride. That’s the hand that does yeoman’s work when I work out. You’re damned right I want it back to full use.
How long is it gonna take?
I have no idea.
What I do know is that I will absolutely, positively get there.
That is the great gift of patience with our bodies, patience with the process, forgiving ourselves backslides and side trips to Domino’s, and all the life-conformable delays that we toss in our own paths.
It’s okay for it to take a while. Because along the way we learn such extraordinary life skills that we can call into play when later on, we need them again. Like my friend, who is now 220 lbs of good solid muscle, like he used to be when he competed.
And kindly, before you gaslight me about how it’s all about bodybuilding, that’s not the point. The point is finding what works to keep you healthy and happy, and having enough respect for the remarkable machine that is the physical you to allow it to get where it needs to be to serve you. Walk, run, lift, do yoga, cycle, hike, makes no difference.
Patience is the point.
How long is this gonna take?
Up to you.