Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
Do you think it’s not even worth changing into workout clothes if you only have 20 minutes to train? Think again.
To most non-athletes, 20 minutes of exercise seems like an eternity. But to endurance athletes in marathon training or triathlon training, a 20-minute workout may seem like it’s hardly worth the bother. After all, if your average workout lasts an hour, what can a 20-minute session possibly do to increase your fitness? Quite a lot, actually—even for the fittest endurance athlete. Consider these four benefits:
1. 20-minute workouts burn a meaningful amount of calories and, thereby, help you reach and maintain your optimal racing weight. For example, a 150-lb. runner burns approximately 280 calories in a moderate-intensity 20-minute run. If you normally miss a scheduled longer run roughly once every 10 days due to lack of time, you could burn an extra 10,000 calories over the course of a year by squeezing in 20-minute runs instead.
2. 20-minute workouts provide extra repetitions of the running stride, swim stroke, or pedal stroke that stimulate improvements in efficiency. A big part of what makes you a better, more efficient swimmer, runner, or cyclist is simply time spent practicing the movement. So, even short workouts count as additional movement practice.
3. 20-minute workouts can increase endurance by adding to total weekly glycogen turnover. An interesting Scottish study found that weekly training volume was a better predictor of marathon performance than the distance of the longest training run. In other words, the study suggested that marathon runners are better off running 50 miles a week with a maximum long run of 16 miles than running 40 miles a week with a maximum long run of 22 miles. The reason is that endurance improves through the repeated depletion of muscle glycogen stores in training. And a heavy week of training will result in more total muscle glycogen depletion, and thus build more endurance, than a lighter week. 20-minute workouts can add a meaningful amount of glycogen-depleting volume to your training week.
4. 20-minute workouts can produce an excellent high-intensity training stimulus. A little swimming, cycling, or running at anaerobic threshold intensity and above goes a long way. Twenty minutes is plenty of time to get all the high-intensity work you need to take your fitness up a notch.
There are basically two ways to incorporate 20-minute workouts into your marathon training, triathlon training, or any other endurance sport training. One is to do a 20-minute workout instead of taking a day off whenever you are too pressed for time to complete a longer workout. The other way is to add one or more 20-minute workouts to your weekly training schedule to increase your overall training volume without creating a significant risk of overtraining.
The Filler – Simply swim, ride, or run at an easy tempo for 20 minutes. This is a great workout to do when you want to avoid the guilt of doing nothing but you’re not mentally or physically ready for anything challenging.
Tabata Intervals – Swim, ride, or run at an easy tempo for 16 minutes, then complete 8 x 20-second all-out sprints with 10-second passive recoveries between sprints.
Fartlek Intervals – Sprinkle 5 to 10 fast 30-second efforts throughout an otherwise moderate, steady-pace workout.
Threshold Session – Warm up for five minutes at a comfortable tempo, then go for 15 minutes at anaerobic threshold intensity (the fastest pace you could hold for one hour in a race).
Progression Workout – Swim, ride, or run for 15 minutes at a steady, moderate pace, then blast the last five minutes.
Time Trial – Swimming: Warm up, then swim 800 meters (875 yards) as fast as you can. Cool down as long as necessary to make the total workout 20 minutes. Cycling: Warm up, then ride 5 km as fast as you can. Cool down as long as necessary to make the total workout 20 minutes. Running: Warm up, then run 1 mile as fast as you can. Cool down as long as necessary to make the total workout 20 minutes.
RELATED: One-Hour Workouts