Why the First Ten Minutes of Exercise are the Hardest

DISCLAIMER WARNING STUFF FIRST

It’s very important to know your body.  There are certain warning signs that may let you know that your body is in distress.  I talk about some of those signs in this document here.  I call them the dashboard indicators.  If you are new to exercise you should read up on these signs before you begin.  If these dashboard indicators appear, you will need to STOP and figure out what’s going on before you continue with exercise.  If  however, you are not experiencing these dashboard indicators and just hate the first ten minutes of your workout, then please read on.

WE NOW RETURN YOU TO YOUR REGULARLY SCHEDULED BLOG…

It’s a common theme with my exercise students.  They often say, “After about ten minutes of working out, I feel pretty good, but those first ten minutes, really SUCK!”  First of all, let me assure you that the first ten minutes are fairly hard for everybody.  And there’s actually a pretty clear and well-understood reason for it, too.

WARNING…SCIENCE TYPE STUFF AHEAD

When we go from standing or sitting still to exercising, our body demands far more energy in the form of oxygen than our body is ready to supply.  Our muscles need a chemical called ATP in order to contract.  But the aerobic systems in our bodies only have about ten seconds worth of ATP laying around at any given moment.  After ten seconds your body needs to start making ATP.  Your anaerobic systems can supply maybe another two or three minutes worth of ATP, but after that, your body needs to switch over to the aerobic system again to start producing more ATP.  Your body doesn’t know that it needs to switch over to the other system until your oxygen is significantly depleted and your carbon dioxide levels have started to go up.   And even after your body knows to switch to the aerobic system, that switchover from the anaerobic system to the aerobic system can be kind of rough.  At this point, you begin to breathe harder and your heart rate rises.  But by this point, you not only need to create enough ATP to keep moving, you have to repay your “oxygen debt” where your body’s need for oxygen lags behind your body’s ability to make oxygen.

This sloth may be experiencing an oxygen debt.  Or not…

This period of time, while you are working through the “oxygen debt” can feel pretty yucky.  You may feel a burning sensation in your legs and feel significantly out of breath.  Your heart rate will ramp up pretty quickly and after just a few short minutes, you may feel like running right back home.  But if you stay with exercise for just a few minutes longer, you may well find that your efforts “smooth out”.  Your body’s need for oxygen lines up with your body’s ability to deliver oxygen and you feel a lot better.

Many, many exercisers (including me) experience this sensation.  Being really fit may help you move through this transition a little more quickly and smoothly but won’t necessarily help you avoid this “oxygen debt” altogether.  But there is something you CAN do to make this transition a little easier–a proper warmup.

Doing a gradual ramp up to exercise, starting slowly for a few minutes before you start to run or cycle or dance away can really help you through the “terrible ten” minutes at the start of a workout.  Start with a walk, or a very slow roll on the bike or a very slow dance.  This signals your body to “start the aerobic energy pipeline” without creating such a huge oxygen debt.  Less oxygen debt means less discomfort and a shorter period of discomfort.  Try a warmup before your next workout and see if you don’t feel better.

But it can also be extremely helpful just to realize that this is perfectly normal.  It doesn’t mean that your body is defective.  It doesn’t mean you suck at exercise.  It just means that you have to get your body to accept, “hey, we’re gonna exercise now.”  Your body may respond like a seven year old kid saying, “I don’t wanna go to school!”  You may find it helpful to sneak up on your body by starting out with a warmup and gradually working into the whole exercise thing.  But you may just have to accept that the first few minutes are gonna suck and slog through it.  Better miles are ahead!

Love, Jeanette (AKA The Fat Chick)

Want to learn more helpful stuff about exercise?  Why not check out my book?

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