To people who aren’t used to working out, a solid 20 minutes of exercise might seem like torture. Athletes who are trying to maximize their endurance, though, may well consider a 20-minute training session to be too short to deliver any meaningful results.
If better endurance is your ultimate goal, you probably tend to gravitate towards extend workouts in the one-hour range. Did you know there are some highly effective 20-minute workouts for endurance athletes out there, though?
Here are four key benefits delivered by shorter workouts:
1) 20 minutes is long enough to burn off some significant calories, which can help you stay closer to your ideal racing weight. To plug some numbers into a basic example, let’s say you’re a runner who weighs 150 pounds. 20 minutes spent running at moderate intensity will burn 280 calories. If you drop the occasional longer run out of your schedule (say once every 10 days), you could make up your deficit and even burn 10,000 extra calories in the course of a year by using 20-minute runs instead of longer ones.
2) Workouts for endurance athletes aren’t just about burning calories or building stamina. In a 20-minute workout, you’ll be repeating the same motions you use during competition. Efficient movement is a big part of doing well in endurance sports, whether you’re running, swimming, or cycling. Every little bit of practice you get helps you become more efficient.
3) Using 20-minute workouts lets you increase your total amount of glycogen turnover while training. According to a study conducted in Scotland, total training volume actually matters more to marathon performance than the distance run in individual training sessions. That means a runner who never pushes past 16 miles in any given training run will still do better than one who does 22-mile runs provided the former runner covers 50 miles a week and the latter runner only racks up 40.
To revisit the issue of glycogen turnover, it works like this: Depleting the levels of glycogen stored in the muscles over and over is the best way to build endurance. Training more frequently and more heavily will add to your total level of glycogen depletion, delivering better endurance improvements.
4) Shorter workouts for endurance athletes are a great way to incorporate high-intensity training into your overall workout plan. Pushing close to or past your anaerobic threshold can deliver big benefits, and you don’t need to spend that long doing it to realize them.
If you’re training for a marathon or other endurance event, you have two main ways to make 20-minute workouts a useful part of your exercise regimen. The first strategy is to substitute a 20-minute workout for a longer session whenever your schedule makes it impossible to do a full session.
Alternatively, you can make your overall schedule more aggressive and productive by adding 20-minute workouts on top of the work you’re already doing. This nudges up your total volume of training without putting you at risk of overtraining.
Great 20-minute workouts for endurance building include:
1) The Filler
This is a zero-stress way to get your heart rate up without a lot of stress. Just run, ride, or swim at a comfortable pace for 20 minutes. It’ll keep you from feeling guilty about letting a day slip by without training, but it won’t subject you to any undue strain.
2) Tabata Intervals
This workout starts with moderate activity for the first 16 minutes. You should finish off your session by doing eight maximum-intensity sprints for 20 seconds apiece. Take no more than 10-second breaks to recover in between.
3) Threshold Session
This calls for a light, five-minute warmup followed by 15 minutes of hard work at your anaerobic threshold. Aim for the kind of pace you could maintain for at least an hour in competition.
4) Fartlek Intervals
Spend the majority of your workout moving at a steady, moderate pace, but make sure you drop in five to 10 30-second bursts of high intensity.
5) Progression Exercise
Spend 15 minutes moving at a steady pace and then pour it on for a five-minute blowout at the end.
6) Time Trials
- For Swimmers: After warming up, swim 800 meters as quickly as possible. Stretch your cool-down period to cover the remainder of the 20-minute session.
- For Cyclists: As above, but use five km as your goal.
- For Runners: As above, using 1 mile as your goal.