Getting/Staying in Tune: The 15 Minute Rule

As a student in college I remember living by what we used to call, “the fifteen minute rule.” The rule applied whenever a professor was 15 minutes late to the listed start time of class. When fifteen minutes had past and the professor had not yet shown to begin class, students would invoke the rule and leave. Uncertain of any actual credibility, the rule was heralded as unwritten law and nearly every student lived by it.  I like to apply such a rule to my athletes training when it comes to understanding in their body. Below is the beginning of when and when not to consider the fifteen minute rule in your training/workout sessions.

Experienced athletes know that there are going to be days that we call on our body to deliver a certain intensity and/or effort, and it simply won’t respond at a level that we know (or believe) it’s capable of. In fact, there times that it may not respond at all, raising the questions: 1) What the heck is going on today? 2) What do I do now?

The key to being able to answer these questions lies within the ability to differentiate between a mental shut down and a physiological response (or lack thereof) in the body. The mind is a powerful thing; it can will the body to do amazing things, but it can also will the body to not do amazing things—or even ordinary things. It can also trick us into thinking “I’m not strong, I’m not fit”, etc. Enter the fifteen minute rule.

As you begin any kind of exercise session, begin with a good warm up routine as I know everyone does (sarcasm). This should consist of some dynamic stretching, mobilizing and easy aerobic work dictated by perceived effort; add a few short eclectic bursts as a means of activating all energy systems and muscle fibers. Total warm up time should be a total of 10-15 minutes.

If, after your warm up you’ve gotten 15 minutes into the “main set” or focus of your workout session and you’re finding it nearly impossible, it is important to do a quick self- assessment. I like to begin with questions like: How was I feeling before I started my warm up? How did I feel when the day started? What have I eaten today? What activity did I do yesterday and or the day before that? This allows me to peel the onion that hides the answers to the two questions above. Further, I might ask: How was the work day? What’s up at home? What other stressors do I have? These are all valid considerations.

The idea is simple in concept, but not always in application. Depending on how you answer these questions, you will get a clearer picture telling you if it’s your mind or body rebelling. As a rule of thumb, if you are mentally tired, go ahead and work through the session. Chances are you will find as the session progresses, so do you and you will be back to your athletic self by the end of the session. These can even lead to “breakthrough sessions” that we never knew were in us.

On the other hand, if you conclude that your body that is waving a flag in surrender, it is usually best to call it and live to fight another day. Ignoring signs and symptoms from the body has taken down way too many athletes, sometimes for long periods of time.

Learning to differentiate between a rare mental or physical hiccup is an art that requires a quick, honest self-evaluation in that moment. Often times, it is the difference between progress and injury. Stay tuned for more on getting the most out of yourself and staying injury free.