When you start exercising for the first time, you can expect large initial gains in fitness, followed by smaller gains as you continue. But how long does this process take? A study by German researchers published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise explored this question by getting 18 sedentary volunteers to undertake one year of training, three times a week for 45 minutes. The subjects maintained a constant moderate effort level for their walk-jog program by monitoring their heart rate. That meant that, by the end of the year, they were running farther and faster than at the beginning, but the effort and time remained the same.
The researchers monitored fitness by measuring maximum oxygen uptake, running speed, and heart rate during exercise and at rest. The largest gains were seen in the first three months; by six months, most of the markers had begun to plateau. As a result, the researchers conclude, “beginners in recreational endurance exercise should be advised to increase the training stimulus after six months of training to maintain training effectiveness.” It’s important to note that even though the subjects were running faster by the end of the year, the stimulus was still the same because they weren’t trying any harder. So to keep progressing, try making one of your runs a little farther or a little faster each week.
– Alex Hutchinson
Originally published in Canadian Running Magazine