I workout most days - and this simple trick for when I really CBA always gets me up and out the door

Trust me on this one.

Five minute rule: Ally Head working out
(Image credit: Ally Head)

As a Health Editor and nine-time marathon runner who tests fit kit, workouts, and health trends for a living, it's fair to say that I'm fairly active. Mind you, this wasn't always the case - 18-year-old Ally wouldn't have been seen dead in a pair of running trainers - and, spoiler alert, this also doesn't mean that I have exercise motivation coming out of my ears. That is, until I discovered the five minute rule.

Wondering how I can be a Health Editor and not always look forward to a bit of movement? I'm only human, and while keeping active is very much a part of my life now, I'm just as susceptible as the next person to a snoozed alarm or lie-in after a busy week. 

While my eagerness to keep bettering myself, improving my fitness and mental health, and building a body for life are all motivating to an extent, there are definitely days - especially in twenty-week marathon blocks where the goal seems lightyears away and the sessions feel never ending - when I really, really, really don't fancy getting a sweat on. 

Lucky for me, I get to chat to some of the most respected industry experts day in, day out as part of my line of work, many of whom have studied the psychology behind exercise motivation for years. Below, they've shared their wisdom with me in the form of the ultimate exercise motivation hack. All I'm going to say is - trust me on this one. Keen to read more fitness tips? Don't miss the expert's take on the best morning workout routine and morning routine ideas, while you're here.

The five minute rule has transformed my exercise motivation - how to try it

What is the five minute rule?

First things first - a bit of background on the theory for you and an explainer on what it actually is. While there are several iterations of the rule promising to boost productivity and focus, with Elon Musk said to be a fan, this one relates specifically to workout motivation.

As personal trainer Kayla Itsines explains, it's a simple hack and proven cognitive-behavioural technique that makes moving less daunting. In a nutshell, when you're feeling like you'd rather stay in bed or skip a scheduled workout altogether, the five-minute rule challenges you to set a timer and do just five minutes of movement, the theory being that five minutes isn't a daunting amount of time to move for, plus you'll know whether your body needs rest after giving it a short go.

Reassessing how you feel when the five minutes is up is key here, because of course there are days when skipping your workout is better for both your physical and mental health. If you're on the fence, though, it can be a great decider and boost your morale as you know that you tried.

Often, the biggest hurdle when it comes to movement is actually starting, and once you get going you'll feel motivated to keep going. Think about it: hour-long workouts can feel pretty daunting, but there's research to back the power of breaking your workouts down into smaller segments, too. Rather than thinking of a ten-mile run as a ten-miler, I often break it down in my head into a two-mile warm-up (doable), a six-mile run (not too bad), and a two-mile cool down, too - less mentally daunting than a ten-mile total, but actually the same.

When I trained for my 37-mile ultra marathon back in 2020, personal trainer Harvey Lawton of The Movement Blueprint and record-breaking ultra runner and running coach Carla Molinaro both backed the effectiveness of this mindset tool. They advise breaking your workout down into more manageable chunks.


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How does the five minute rule work?

It's pretty simple - on those days when you want to skip a session, instead, throw on your comfiest workout clothes and set a timer. Then, get going - it can be a five-minute run, walk, strength session or Pilates workout

As Danielle Frost, Elite Personal Trainer at Third Space explains: "Even on the busiest days, we all have five spare minutes for a little movement. This can be anything from a walk, to stretch, a yoga flow or a strength training workout you've been putting off."

When the five minutes is up, do a full body scan and reassess how you're feeling. Consider:

  • How does my body feel - do I feel energised or fatigued?
  • How does my mind feel - did I convince myself this would be worse than it actually is?
  • Do I want to continue, or would it be better to throw in the towel now?

It's an effective tool as five minutes is all you need to test the water and decide whether it's best to opt for rest and recovery instead. Do note, though: if you feel any pain during your workouts, it's always worth checking in with a physiotherapist or doctor to ensure you're not risking injury.

Scientifically speaking, five minutes is enough time to get your blood pumping, elevate your heart rate, and boost your endorphins, meaning even if you do decide that you don't feel up to a workout, the short five-minute burst of movement will have boosted your wellbeing (exercise snacking, for the win). 

5 benefits of the five minute rule

There are many, but the main benefits span: 

  • It increases workout motivation
  • It makes exercise less daunting 
  • It's quick
  • It boosts endorphins, blood flow and heart rate even if only for a short amount of time
  • It uses positive reinforcement psychology - you'll know you've tried.

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What the experts reckon

According to Frost, this time of year can be exciting but also brings a huge amount of pressure to set big goals, both in and out of the gym. 

This is where the five minute rule can be handy, she reckons. "It can be a great tool to take the pressure off and simply get you started and plays into the trend of habit stacking (adding new habits to existing ones to make your to-do list feel less daunting)."

Remember, little and often adds up and the five-minute rule enables you to take a short amount of time to do something for your mind and body, whatever the outcome.

Personal trainer and Head Coach at Mejor Jonny Stephens agrees, adding that getting started on something is normally always the hard part. "Actually, once you get going, it’s normally not too bad - in fact, it can be great," he shares. "Setting small achievable goals that set you up for a win is a great way to kick start your session, whether it's a five-minute jog to your local park or a five-minute circuit that makes you feel strong and like you've worked hard.”

His advice? Aim for movement that you know you can do and you'll enjoy - that way, you'll feel good whether you decide to carry on and complete the full workout or not.

"Completing that small something is usually enough to make you feel a sense of achievement. Then, while riding that wave of achievement, you're presented with the perfect opportunity to reassess how you are feeling - you'll either feel great and want to carry on or make peace with the fact you don't have it in you today, which is also okay," he shares.

Physiologically speaking, a small five-minute win is also usually enough time for your body to start to adapt to exercise and prime your body for more, he continues. "An increase in core temperature, elevated breathing and heart rates, and a surge of positive neurotransmitters (we’ve all heard about endorphins and dopamine) all make us feel more energetic and less sluggish," he details.

I swear by the five minute rule - here's why

You've probably guessed by now that I'm a fan of the five minute rule. Often, I put off my workouts as the length feels intimidating but actually, once I get moving, I realise there was nothing to be worried about.

Take my interval session on Tuesday as an example. I kept pushing my workout time back, making myself breakfast and tea instead because I was scared I wouldn't be able to hit the splits my coach had sent me. But then I reminded myself - it's always better to have given something a go than have not tried at all, and so I chucked on my gym kit and headed out the door. Ten minutes later, I was at the gym and set a five minute timer on my phone so that I could stop if I really wasn't feeling it.

Spoiler alert: it was one of my favourite sessions in ages and I hit splits I wouldn't have dreamed I could do.

Moral of the story: I nearly always feel better once I get moving, and more often than not, getting ready and out the door is actually more of a slog than the workout itself. Will you be giving the five minute rule a go this weekend?

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Ally Head
Senior Health, Sustainability and Relationships Editor

Ally Head is Marie Claire UK's Senior Health, Sustainability, and Relationships Editor, nine-time marathoner, and Boston Qualifying runner. Day-to-day, she works across site strategy, features, and e-commerce, reporting on the latest health updates, writing the must-read health and wellness content, and rounding up the genuinely sustainable and squat-proof gym leggings worth *adding to basket*. She's won a BSME for her sustainability work, regularly hosts panels and presents for events like the Sustainability Awards, and saw nine million total impressions on the January 2023 Wellness Issue she oversaw. Follow Ally on Instagram for more or get in touch.