For access to all of our training, gear, and race coverage, plus exclusive training plans, FinisherPix photos, event discounts, and GPS apps, sign up for Outside+.
I only have an hour each morning to train. How can I make the most of each workout?
Pros have all the time in the world to train—that’s our job. But life still seems to get in the way and we all end up with a limited amount of time to sneak in a training session. I have compiled a few workouts over the years that I know I can get done under almost any circumstances. I have trained in an airport hotel gym on a two-hour layover, squeezed in a workout during the last 30 minutes of lap swim, hammered out a track session in the dark and even managed a little jog at a highway road stop on a cross-country adventure. Mini workouts (anything less than 45 minutes) can be fitted into even the busiest days. The key is to make up in quality what you are lacking in quantity. I personally know athletes who have done sub-nine-hour Ironmans on less than 12 hours per week of training, so it can definitely be done. Here are some favorite “quick and dirty” workouts that will give you the most bang for your buck.
The most efficient way to get a quality workout in a short time on the bike is on the indoor trainer. Most coaches agree that a solid hour on the trainer is worth 1.5–2 hours on the road due to the constant resistance and lack of stoplights, descents and coasting.
Trainer set: 10-minute spin warm-up, increasing resistance every 2 minutes. 15×1-minute big-gear hard effort with 30-second spin between, straight into 10 minutes steady state (Zone 3-4 or 40K race pace) then 5-minute easy spin cool-down.
If you have quick access to a short hill you can get a complete workout while only venturing a few miles, if that, from home.
Hills: 10–15 minutes easy spin warm-up, increasing effort every 3 minutes. 5×3 minutes (max effort) 4–6% grade with 2-minute spin down between, then 10-minute easy spin cool-down.
My favorite track workout is essentially a half-hour of 400s: 10-minute warm-up jog to the track, then run 400 repeats at 5–10K race pace with 200 easy jog between (continuous). Do as many as you can in a half-hour, then 5 minutes easy jog home.
Fartlek: Silly name, serious workout. 10-minute jog warm-up into 1 minute hard, 1 easy, 2 minutes hard, 1 easy, 3 minutes hard, 2 easy, 3 hard, 2 easy, 2 hard, 1 easy, 1 hard, 1 easy. 5–10-minute cool-down. Paces are as fast as you can consistently hold for each interval.
Tempo: 10-minute jog warm-up, straight into 20-minute tempo: 4x(3 minutes steady state/2 minutes 5K pace). 5-minute cool-down. This workout is deceptively hard due to the incomplete recovery.
The key to making the most of a tight schedule is to minimize time wasting and maximize training time. A few tips I find helpful when I need a quality workout, quickly:
1. Have training clothes in the car and go straight from work to the pool, track or trails. If I make a “quick stop” at home to change I always manage to lose 20–30 minutes to the couch/fridge/Facebook.
2. Work out first thing in the morning. Putting it off until later in the day guarantees that something more important will come up or fatigue will win out.
3. Plan to meet a training group or anal-retentive friend for a workout. A set time creates a deadline to get out the door and a scheduled workout means you are less likely to let other things take over your training time. An unforgiving training partner means you won’t dare be late.
4. Brick workouts are effective to combine two sports in one session, and they don’t have to be monster workouts. Instead of spinning down after a ride, finish your intervals at your door and grab some running shoes to cool down for 20 minutes on the run instead.
5. Chlorine and/or handy wipes = shower in a pinch. This can cut at least 10 minutes off your morning routine. Done occasionally, no one will notice.
6. Move near the pool/trails/track to cut down on the commute.
7. Quit your job.
Follow Triathlete on Twitter @Triathletemag for inspiration, new workout ideas, gear reviews from our editors and more.