It only takes four minutes

Scott McDermott discusses the improtance of four minutes while working out

You could easily think I was referring to the slew of fitness stuff out there quoting fitness in 4 minutes. 4 minute abs, 4 minute workout, even the 4 hour body and all that….. but that’s not it. I do happen to love a good 4 minute Tabata workout, but I am referring to our biggest challenge:

The FIRST 4 minutes of any workout.

Well, ok…. The biggest challenge is actually getting off your duff and starting…. True, but once you start, then that first 4 minutes is the big challenge. Then we get to ‘why’ that is such a big challenge.

I am visiting family up in northern British Columbia as I write this, and with my comeback Ironman race looming in the distance just a short 6 weeks away I needed to train here on my holiday. A few days ago, we went out on the lake with my brother’s boat. While they all fooled around on the tube, knee board and did some fishing, I got into my wetsuit and jumped overboard. There was a lot of mental resistance given that I have not been in a lake yet this year, and with knee surgery and a chest infection in June, I have hardly swam at all in the past 6 weeks. But I said I was going to jump in, and I was not going back on my word in front of family. So, I stuffed my resistant body into the suit, and jumped in to the algae laden water reciting the motto ‘don’t think, don’t think, don’t think….’ Which is what I do when my brain is arguing with me about what I know I need to do, but do not feel like doing. I told myself I would just check it out, no pressure, just get that first lake swim done.

I told my brother I was going to swim ‘that way for a bit’ and off I started. Boy…. Those first 4 minutes were HORRIBLE! It was like I didn’t know how to swim. Thankfully I have been coaching long enough to know a few tricks. A wetsuit is like putting a rubber band around your lungs and you must breathe against it. The chilly water, the algae, the lack of lane lines or buoys in an open lake and the lack of training, all of that was in my face big time! I wanted to quit SO badly…. For about 4 minutes.

Maybe you don’t swim in a lake for fitness, but does this sound familiar? Maybe for running, or boot camp class, or yoga or cycling? Those first 4 minutes are the hardest, when stopping for any excuse seems wise.

So, what is going on? Well, apart from the mental demons, there is a physical change happening that needs to be considered, and can actually be avoided. When you start to exercise from a standstill, your body has no idea what is going on yet and it resists. The body loves things to be the same, efficient and easy. When you start to exercise with effort suddenly, all sorts of stuff has to happen. Your muscles immediately demand more blood, and it takes a second or two for your heart and lungs to figure that out. They begin to react, and then all of your other systems in turn begin to get on board. As this happens, your body will seem to say ‘give me a moment! I’m not ready!’.

In these times, you might feel a little niggle here and there in your knees, shoulders, back or wherever you hold your tension. Those systems too are telling you that they are not warm and ready to play yet. This is when your mind will start to tell you that it was far better on the couch, or maybe today just isn’t the day, or you feel a cold coming on, or a headache, or you haven’t eaten enough, or too much, etc.

All you have to do… is hang on! Give it 4 minutes and watch what happens! Back to that lake swim, I stopped swimming for a moment right at about 4 minutes, I treaded water, I reset my watch, I took a deep breath and started again…. and you know what? I got into the groove. I thought I might swim 5 or 10 minutes, maybe 500 meters. I swam for 48 minutes and clocked over 2.3kms. I felt good again and was SO glad I kept going!

Another way you can defeat this issue is to warm up first. We trainers say that a lot, but it’s true. Before bootcamp, a nice fun and relaxed stationary bike for 10 minutes will have you starting class all ready to go! Normally before a swim I do a series of warm up drills, but on my brother’s boat, I just hopped in and started swimming…. Not brilliant, and harder because of it.

There you have it: warm up, and whatever you do, ignore the noise for 4 minutes and then keep going!

Happy Training!


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