Tag Archives: dashboard indicators

Why the First Ten Minutes of Exercise are the Hardest


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.


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.


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)

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How do I know when I’m exercising hard enough?


This question can be a bit difficult for beginners to navigate.  Given all the mixed messages we’ve heard about exercise from the notion that working out feels like being kissed by angels to the notion that all real exercise is accompanied by excruciating pain, it’s a little tough to know just how you should feel while working out.

As with most things,the truth is somewhere in the middle.  You should feel like you are expending some energy as you exercise.  At the same time, you should not be experiencing pain as you exercise either.  And the way you feel during exercise will also be impacted by what type of exercise you are doing, how familiar you are with that form of exercise and what fitness goals you are trying to achieve.  Let me give you a basic rundown based on exercise type.


Aerobic Exercise:  During this form of exercise, the goal is to raise  your heart rate and sustain it at a slightly elevated level during your workout.  There’s lots of information available about what heart rate you should reach and not exceed.  But I find for most people, it is more helpful to use the “Rate of Perceived Exertion) or RPE to determine their appropriate exercise levels.  I like to use a tool I call the “sweat scale” to determine your RPE.  If you imagine a scale from 1 to 10, with 1 being how you feel when you are sitting on the sofa watching TV and eating cheezy poofs and 10 being how you feel when you are working out so hard you feel like somebody better call 911 because you are having a heart attack, we generally want to work out at between 6 and 8 on this scale to achieve maximum benefit from your workout.  This generally feels like you are working moderately hard.  You are breathing more deeply than usual, but not gasping for air.  You should be able to speak in short sentences, but you probably can’t sing while you are working at this level.  You are usually pretty sure you can keep exercising another 5 minutes at this level, but not sure you can work out another half hour or more.  Now you don’t have to work out at this level to be aerobic.  Any level over your normal resting level can count towards aerobic exercise.  But you generally don’t want to work out over this level for any sustained level of time.

One thing you’ll want to be very aware of as you exercise are any “warning signs” or what I call “dashboard indicators” from your body that let you know that something is wrong.  If you are unfamiliar with exercise “warning signs” please go here on my website and read the “Five Things You Should Know Before You Work Out” article.  It is really important to know this stuff, and it can save your life.


Flexibility Training: This very important, but often overlooked type of exercise encompasses such practices as yoga and stretching.  Flexibility training not only makes it easier to move around, but also helps you avoid falls and prevent injuries in everyday life.  The key to flexibility exercise is to move your body to a point of gentle tension but not pain.  A good stretch feels a little bit like a yawn.  Your body reaches and expands, you feel a pleasant sense that you are moving your body a bit beyond it’s average range and you feel a gentle tug in your muscles.  Once again, this should not feel painful.  With this form of exercise, it’s particularly important to tune in and pay attention to the messages your body is giving you.  You may even wish to keep a journal and write down how various stretches feel to you, so you can get a sense of what works well for you in your practice.  Remember that in general you want to do static stretches, where you move your body into position and hold the stretch for ten to fifteen seconds.  Bouncing as you stretch or “ballistic stretching” can easily move your body outside of a good range of motion and lead to injury.


Strength Training: Also called resistance training, this is where you use some sort of resistance to help build muscle mass and make you stronger.  This resistance can come in the form of weights (everything from dumbbells to water bottles), elastic bands (also called resistance bands), weight machines (including nautilus, and other cable systems) or even just the pull of gravity against your body (including things like crunches and squats).  Strength training is also a time when it is particularly important to tune into your body’s messages.  Good strength training should make you feel a gentle burn or warmth in your muscle.  It should be clear that your body is doing extra work, but you should not feel pain.  You also shouldn’t feel a sense of impending loss of muscle control.  If you are exercising alone and without a trainer, you probably don’t want to work your muscle to exhaustion, where your muscles begin to shake and it’s clear you can’t do one more rep.  That said, it’s quite normal for your muscles to feel tired after a certain number of reps.  Remember to check out that document on my website, and familiarize yourself with the exercise warning signs.

When you are first starting out, it’s pretty normal to feel some confusion about how hard you should be exercising.  This is a place where working with a personal trainer or group exercise instructor can really help.  Even if you can’t afford to work with a trainer for months on end, you could meet with a trainer for a few sessions, just to learn what your body can do and make sure you’ve gotten off to a good start.

But no matter how you approach it, remember to listen to your body and do what feels best for you.

Love, Jeanette (AKA The Fat Chick)

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