Exercise has become a part of who I am; it’s solidified as a healthy habit and woven into my daily life and routine. I keep a long list of its benefits—weight loss, weight maintenance, mood regulation, stress relief, sleep enhancement—front of mind. It has become a faithful ally. But that wasn’t always the case. Getting consistent with my workouts was a struggle for most of my life. I fell short on executing my workout goals and lacked the commitment to exercise consistently. That changed when I figured out how to use the 10-minute rule to turn the voice in my head saying, “Just Do It,” into an actionable first step.
Now that I’m in my 50s, I’m acutely aware of the power of exercise. My go-to exercise is rowing because it’s a great fit for my body’s particular strengths. I love the movement and rhythm of rowing, and I count on it to keep my heart healthy. My strength training workouts probably do the most to keep me at a healthy weight, improve my balance and flexibility, develop a sense of empowerment and manage my moods (especially anger and depression). Even while recognizing and reaping all these benefits of exercise, there are times when I don’t want to do it. Not just once a month, but nearly every week. That’s right; I must confess that at least once a week, I’ll find myself trying to chuck my exercise routine. That’s when I take out my secret weapon (the 10-minute rule).
I Love Exercise (and Then Some Days I Don‘t)
The 10-minute rule never fails to get me back on track. Here’s my weekly exercise routine: rowing on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and weight training on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I may sprinkle in walking and dancing once or twice a week for a fun, mental boost. So why is it that some days I have to use a special rule to get myself going? Inertia, dips in motivation, a desire for comfort? Probably all of those contribute. Add in this unusual (and often depressing) time of social distancing, the loss of my workout community when my local YMCA shut down, and the isolation of home workouts, and you can see why I’m trying to evade my workouts at times. The truth is, even in the best of times, I try to get out of workouts.
Let’s face it, my home workouts aren’t as much fun; they can’t compete with seeing a woman in her 70s tear the shit out of the rowing machine next to me at the gym, or having a loveable, funny-as-hell/sarcastic spin instructor sing along to disco songs like they just hit the Top 40 music charts. I’ll get that community back (and soon), but until then, I have a beautiful rower at home, along with weights, kettlebells and assorted workout options to keep me company. I’m lucky to have such great access to workout tools. When the voices start saying, “Perhaps I’ll skip today’s workout. It’s just one day,” I pull out my 10-minute rule and remind myself that being consistent with exercise offers a lifetime of health benefits (and improves the quality of that life one workout at a time).
What is the 10-Minute Rule?
The 10-minute rule is a self-initiated vow I make to myself to put on my exercise gear and get started on any workout for 10 minutes. After those 10 minutes are up, I can stop and count that as a workout. Over the many years that I’ve used this technique, it has probably only failed me a handful of times, and it really wasn’t a failure. Those times, I felt under the weather and didn’t realize something was coming on, or I was in such an emotional state that I needed to process my feelings. In other words, exercise wasn’t self-care at that moment because I needed to regroup mentally (and by directly dealing with the emotional issue or situation at hand). All the other times, I’ve exercised past the 10 minutes and paradoxically felt incrementally better after the workout. So much so that now I know that the more I don’t want to exercise, the more I need it. My body needs it; my mind needs it; my hormones need it; my senses need it; my work/life balance needs it; my diet needs it. I could go on and on.
Here’s How to Work the 10-Minute Rule
- Put on Exercise Gear (It Should Never Be Far Away) Don’t think about it at all. Just do it. The act of putting on the gear, especially the sneakers, signals your mind and body that it’s time to exercise. You’ve made a decision, and your body is going to see it through. Don’t indulge that inner voice that is saying, “I don’t wanna.” Will yourself to the exercise gear. Putting it on will show that you are more invested in exercising than that inner voice is giving you credit for. Also, make sure your exercise gear is never too far away. Put it in plain sight (somewhere you are guaranteed to see).
Think About How Good You’ll Feel Afterwards If you get in the habit of recognizing how good you feel after workouts, you can use that memory to help you start. Think for just a minute about how good you will feel after doing your workout. Recall the way your body feels—your muscles are energized and tingling, you are fully awake, and you likely have a smile on your face. You’ll be missing out on those feelings if you miss your workout today.
Commit to 10 minutes Only (and Mean It) This contract you are entering—to start exercising—has a 10-minute expiration. If you want to stop after 10 minutes, you can do that knowing that you’ve just gifted yourself 10 minutes of health-promoting benefits. Getting in a 10-minute “micro workout” that consists of cardio and/or strength training has health benefits, especially if you ramp up the intensity a bit.
Go Full Speed or Take It Slow & Easy You decide if you want your 10-minute mini-workout to be an easier routine (walking, gentle swimming, light-weight upper body circuit) or all-out (HITT, interval sprints). You may find that the 10-minute bouts are perfect for trying out some HIIT workouts. If that’s true, get in—work out in beast mode—then get out! Other days, a slow walk in nature where you contemplate new ideas and connect with your body feels just right. No one is keeping score. These 10-minute sessions are here to keep your body moving and empower your mind to overcome the slight discomfort or physical inertia that stops you from working out consistently.
Reap the Rewards of Facing Some Discomfort Remind yourself that sometimes you do things that don’t feel great at the beginning. We have to face some discomfort in life and often work through it to achieve some of the best moments of our lives. Accept some discomfort and focus on the rewards you will feel. If you are like me, right around the 8 or 9-minute mark, you will start to sweat as you notice your body begin to get in the groove with the workout movements. The endorphins are coming—those feel-good brain chemicals that turn on and may have you thinking, “I want to go the full 30-40 minutes. I’ve got this.”
Immerse your Senses Take your workout outdoors and engage your senses. Try the park, by the water or in a forest. Remind yourself that as a living being, you need movement in nature to feel your own presence, move your body in unique ways and allow yourself to take in the world via touch, sight, smell and sound.
Make It Social Invite a friend. You can complain together for the first 10 minutes, but you probably won’t. The complaining will yield to laughter at some point. Good for you for supporting each other!
We can’t always expect to love our workouts, but our minds and bodies depend on us to provide the health benefits of consistent exercise. The 10-minute rule has never failed me. Mainly because we were all made to move. Our bodies are smart enough to remind us of that (and to reward us) once we get started.
Get the 10-minute rule on repeat!
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