Why is the First Five Minutes of a Workout So Hard? 

Jake Newby

| 3 min read

Young woman plays on her smartphone on a yoga mat indoors
Some days it takes a lot of willpower to even get up and drive to the gym.
Then, once we manage to get there, dressed the part in our fitness gear, it can be a struggle to get moving. If you’ve felt sluggish in starting your workout routine, you are not alone. But if you can visualize what’s happening in your body and understand that you are about to turn a corner, maybe that’ll motivate you to get over that initial hump.

The science behind those difficult first five minutes

The fatigue we feel during the first few minutes of running, cycling, swimming, or lifting weights is a sensation caused by the body’s lag time in delivering adequate oxygen to working muscles.
The body doesn’t produce the amount of oxygen needed to move quickly or work multiple muscles at once during the early portion of an exercise routine. What it does instead is bounce around between different energy pathways to find adenosine triphosphate (ATP), an important form of chemical energy. Think of ATP as an oxygen substitute that your body either has stored or manufactures. ATP is used for a few minutes until the body’s aerobic energy system is ready to take over. The aerobic energy system efficiently supplies oxygen to the body, gets the blood pumping faster and allows our muscles to get into a rhythm and contract easier.
Now the body is awake and warmed up. Congrats, you made it past the first five minutes!

How to power through those first five minutes

The best thing you can do to avoid a sluggish start is to warm up. In other words, don’t jump on the treadmill and set the speed to 6.0 right away. Diving right into a high-intensity workout creates a higher demand for oxygen.
Instead, start slow and ramp up. If you want to take a gentler approach when you start exercising, use the first five minutes as an easy warmup (think stepping on the stair master at a slow speed). Then ramp up over the next five minutes, perhaps through dynamic stretching.
Dynamic stretching can prepare your body for the type of high-intensity workout you’re about to engage in. It involves moving a joint or muscle through its full range of motion at a controlled speed. These movements should typically be sports-specific motions that are performed in sets of 10 to 12 repetitions, targeting certain muscle groups. This type of stretching uses functional movements that consist of higher speeds and relatively explosive movements.
Sometimes willing ourselves to get up and drive to the gym can be half the battle. Don’t let those first five minutes of a workout do you in!
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Photo credit: Getty Images

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