How Long Before I See The Benefits Of A Workout?

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Different Workouts Take Different Amounts Of Time

As mentioned earlier, the type of workout you perform and the intensity at which you perform it at will determine how quickly you see the benefits. Why? Because your cardio-respiratory, muscular, and nervous systems all respond to training at a different rate. Since each type of workout is designed to stress a particular physiological system, the rate of adaptation will vary.

To make it simple, here is how quickly you’ll reap the benefits from each type of workout on your training schedule:

Speed Development

Speed development workouts target the nervous system and are designed to develop the communication between your brain and your muscles. More importantly, improvements to the nervous system allow your brain to activate a greater percentage of muscle fibers and fire them more forcefully.

These types of workouts aren’t the type of speed work most runners think about. Instead of lung busting intervals, speed development workouts consist of short, full-speed repetitions with full recovery. Examples of speed development workouts include explosive hill sprints, in-and-out short sprints, or 200m repeats with full recovery – yes, the type of stuff you see sprinters doing at the track.

Luckily, you can reap the benefits from a speed development workout very quickly, usually within a day or two. The nervous system responds quickly to new stimuli because the growth and recovery cycle is very short — according to this study, it’s the same principle behind and extensive warm-up that involves dynamic stretching and strides. The nervous system responds very quickly to new stimuli and changes.

VO2max Sessions and Hill Workouts

VO2max and hill workouts are designed to develop your anaerobic capacity, or your ability to withstand a large amount of oxygen debt. They will also benefit your muscular system.

Unfortunately, muscle strength and anaerobic capacity take longer to develop because of the intense demand on the body and the amount of time it takes for the muscle fibers to recover after intense sessions. Therefore, it takes anywhere from 10-14 days to realize the full benefit from an anaerobic capacity workout.

You should also note that because of the demanding nature of these workouts, you may actually feel like you’ve “lost fitness” for 7-8 days after these workouts. We all know running the day after an intense session of 400′s can be difficult, but the performance loss will carry through for a few extra days, so be wary.

Threshold Runs

Threshold runs, tempo runs, and marathon pace runs are designed to train your body to increase its ability to reconvert lactate back into energy. In general, these types of workouts are taxing, but they aren’t slug fests like a VO2 max workout might be. Therefore, the recovery cycle after a tempo run is faster, which enables you to reap the benefits from the workout within 7-10 days.

Long Runs

Finally, the goal of a long run is to build-up your aerobic system. Primarily, this is accomplished by increasing the number and size of the mitochondria in your muscle fibers, increasing the number of capillaries, and increasing the myoglobin content of your muscle fibers.

While these improvements to the aerobic system are great for long-term development, you don’t often “feel” the benefit from them right away. It can take 4 to 6 weeks to notice changes in your aerobic ability and for the actual training effect to be felt. Likewise, the more experienced you are, the less you will “feel” the benefits from a long run since your aerobic system is already quite developed.

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