Training

51 essential lunchtime training sessions

Pushed for training time? Then the lunch break-friendly session is key for triathlon gains. Dermott Hayes serves up 51 essential sets for the time-crunched triathlete...

Squeezed for time? You’re not alone. As triathletes we have three disciplines to train for. Plus add in work, family and friends, any semblance of a social life, and it’s clear that we need to maximise our training opportunities to stay on top of the multisport competition. This means fitting something productive into a lunch hour or grabbing some time before or after work. 

At every level of racing – from super sprint to Ironman – triathlon is an endurance sport. Therefore, it’s easy to fall into the habit of thinking that a short session isn’t worth doing. This is the wrong path to take. If your session has an objective – and you nail it – then it’s definitely worth getting your kit on for. Here we’ve come up with 51 sessions that should take less than an hour to complete, including warm-up and cool-down, plus time to get changed before a quick stroll back to work.

The swims are all based on a 25m pool so you can change the structure of the sessions if needed. For some of the sets, you’ll need various pieces of swim equipment including a kickboard, pull buoy and paddles where stated. The bike sessions are mostly based indoors and are a mixture of turbo, gym or spin class, although some can be adapted to the outdoors for variation. 

The bike sets are mostly 30-35mins in duration and it helps to have an existing knowledge of your capabilities. If not, you can complete the 30min ‘Test’ to help you figure out cadence, power and your average speed per kilometre. The run sessions are a mix of location and terrain. They offer a variety of speed, strength and endurance options that’ll give you a great kick in the winter months.

THE SWIM

A 30-minute swim session will give you plenty of time to work on speed, technique and endurance. Here are 15 varied sets for boosting your triathlon swim

1. 200 Tests

Complete a testing session to give yourself some baseline figures. Execute multiple 200m efforts as hard as possible allowing 1min rest between sets; you should complete as many as appropriate for your chosen racing distance. Work out your average pace per 100m and call this your Test Pace (TP). Repeat each 4-6wks.

2. Can I Kick It?

Look to improve your poor and ineffective leg kick by including it as part of a bigger set. This’ll help with improving body position and also for changes in pace. Complete 8 x 200m sets with the final 50m of each 200m using a kickboard and working hard kicking from the hips and glutes. Take 30secs rest between sets.

3. Descending 100s

This is a simple but effective 1,500m main set that works on endurance and a change in swim pace. Start at 500m and reduce by 100m each set, i.e. 500/400/300/200/100. As you decrease the distance, aim to increase your pace by 2-3secs per 100m each time. 30secs rest after each set.

4. Zone Out

Sometimes it’s okay to simply get in the pool and have a recovery swim without any specific objective of time or pace. Use this kind of session to think about your technique. If you’ve had a very tough week of training this can be very useful as an active recovery session. Just don’t make every session like this!

5 100s Off

This is possibly the most common – yet easy and effective session – for any triathlete in the pool. Set a target time for your 100s based on your TP time (see swim session 1) and add 10-15secs for recovery. This becomes your combined ‘OFF’ time. For example, 15 x 100m OFF 2:10mins. The faster you swim, the more recovery time you’ll get.

6 Tumbles

Look like a ‘real’ swimmer by practising tumble turns in a main set (it helps if the pool is quiet when you do this session). Swim a steady pace 300m and then include a tumble turn on the next four lengths making it a 400m set. Repeat 4 x more sets of the 400m block to give you a great 2km.

7 Mix & Medley

Great swimmers use all strokes and you should too… even butterfly! If you can do fly, it’s a great stroke for highlighting a propulsive pull phase. Breakdown a continuous 250m block into 100m crawl/75m breast/50m back/25m fly. Take 1min rest at the end of the fly… you might need it!

8. 1,600m in 400s

A simple way to break up a 1,600m swim is to drop it down into 400s with 90secs rest between. But to keep it interesting, work at different paces and make each 400m different. Try 400m easy; 2 x 200m moderate; 4 x 100m vigorous; and finally 8 x 50m max effort. Take no more than 20secs rest in between the intervals. And really focus on the fast 50s.

 9. Pull for technique

The most commonly used swim toy has to be the pull buoy, which is great for helping body position and working on technique. Complete a 2km set as 4 sets of 3 x 100m, with a pull buoy placed between the tops of your thighs followed by an easy 200m. Each block of 3 x 100m could have a different technique focus.

10. Pace Pyramid

Work up and down a pyramid of distance changing the intensity each interval. Do 2km as: 4 x 50m max effort; 3 x 100m vigorous; 2 x 150m moderate; 1 x 400m easy; 2 x 150m moderate; 3 x 100m vigorous; 4 x 50m max effort. Take 20secs rest between sets.

11. Buddy Up

Pair up with a swimmer of equal ability to make your swim sessions more productive. Practise open-water skills such as drafting by swimming just to their side and being comfortable close to others. Also, include some 25m sprints against each other. The loser buys the post-swim coffee!

12. Paddle Time

Improve swim-specific strength and power in your stroke by using hand paddles. Start by including 3-4 lengths in a session and build to being able to swim 300-400m with them on. But don’t rush your stroke.

13.Timed 30

A really simple endurance session is swimming a continuous 30mins aiming to complete as many lengths as possible. Keep a record of your distance covered. If 30mins is too long to begin with, start with 15mins and build from there. Aim to keep consistent pacing per 100m.

 14. Tricep Terror

This is a fun but killer session for boosting upper-body strength. Complete a steady paced 10 x 150m, but at the end of each 150m you lift yourself out of the water and perform 10 tricep dips off the side of the pool,
or change it up for press-ups to make it more fun. There’s no rest during this session.

15. Negative Splits

These are perfect for feeling a change in your swim pace. Complete 6 x 300m efforts with a change in pace halfway through, i.e. first 150m moderate; second 150m hard. Aim to change your pace per 100m by at least 3-5secs. This session is great for working aerobic and anaerobic energy systems.

THE BIKE

Half an hour is too short for bike gains, right? Think again. Whether you gym, spin or hit the turbo, you can elevate your pacing, speed and aerodynamic abilities with these proven sets

16. Shape Shifter

It’s normal when riding that you change hand position to get comfortable or to get more aerodynamic. During a steady 30min ride spend time in different hand positions, e.g. 2mins on drops, 2mins on brake hoods and 2mins in aero position. Keep alternating and work on the position you’re least comfortable with.

 17. 1km Sprints

You need to be fully warmed up for this one. Complete as many 1km sprints as possible in 30mins allowing for 1min very easy spin recovery in between the efforts. Aim to maintain a reasonable consistency in 1km times and focus on finding the optimal gear and cadence.

18. Count the Cadence

Improve your ability to ride at varying cadences by setting a cadence target – e.g. 80rpm – and then aim to hold that for 4mins and don’t go below it. Take 1min easy spin recovery before starting again. Repeat for a session of 30-35mins. Slowly aim to increase up to 100rpm while using a consistent gear.

19. Spin to Win

Spin classes are often frowned upon by triathletes as not specific enough but, when time is tight, sometimes you need to let someone else control the workout for you. Work as hard or as easy as you like and enjoy the fact that you don’t have to think about the structure of the session.

20. Timed 30

Just like the swim test, this is a 30min test to see how far you can ride in 30mins. Aim for a consistent ride without large changes in gear, power or effort; you should be able to finish strong by not going off crazy at
the start. Use the data from this to help set targets for other bike workouts.

21. Hard Hills

Use this workout to increase short-term power on your hill climbing. The focus is on increasing the gears, getting out of the saddle and keeping the cadence high. Start with 20sec bursts followed by 2mins easy spin recovery and gradually build up to doing 10 x 1min climbs; 2mins recovery.

 22. Get Aero

Through the winter it’s a great time to help your body adapt into riding a more aerodynamic position. This can improve flexibility in the lower back and perfect the position ready for the racing season. Start with holding for 1min and build up to periods of 5-6mins holding your body really still.

23. Power Play

If you can read power on your training device this is a great session. Complete a 4min block that gradually increases the power targets. For example: 30secs @ 200W; 30secs @ 230W; 30secs @ 260W; 30secs @ 300W; 2mins @ 100W. Repeat the 4min block for a 30min workout. 

24. Recovery Ride

Recovery rides are sometimes overlooked as a waste of a ride, but sometimes you just need to spin your legs as a recovery session, often after a harder run. To pass the time you could listen to a tri podcast on the turbo, just keep an eye on the lower end of the targets to make sure you don’t switch off too much!

25. Overgearing

Learn to build more power by slowly working at increasing levels of resistance. Doing this by ‘over gearing’ means that you ride in one gear tougher than you would normally choose. Start with short periods and build the time. You should be able to maintain a consistent cadence when riding and stay seated for these.

26. 20-30-40

This tough session really passes so quickly. Get fully warmed up then complete this high intensity 3min block of 20secs sprint; 40secs recovery; 30secs sprint; 30secs recovery; 40secs sprint; 20secs recovery. After each 3min block spin easy for 1min. Choose to either sprint seated, standing or in an aerodynamic position on the aerobars if you’re using a turbo.

 27. Power Pyramid

Here’s a great 30min set on your power output. Work up and down a pyramid of power targets to promote endurance and strength. An example is 6mins @ 120W; 5mins @ 150W; 3mins @ 180W; 2mins @ 200W; 3mins 180W; 5mins @ 150W; 6mins @ 120W. Job done!

28. Legs of Steel

This isn’t for the faint hearted. It involves changing body position by shifting so your lower spine is touching the nose of the saddle but keep your spine upright. This loads the quads full of lactic acid to terrifying levels. Start by aiming for efforts of 10secs and build up to holding for 1min. Have a recovery spin in between.

29. Aero Bike and Run Brick

Mix up riding in an aero position to find your race pace on the bike with a short 500m run at an easy recovery pace. A 30min session can be broken down as 2 x 10-12min ride; 500m run. Get comfortable in the aero position and practise smooth transitions.

30. Race-Pace Brick

Practise that race-pace feeling with a high-intensity bike/run. Each 6min bike breaks down as 30secs to build pace, 5mins hard, 30secs to slow down. Each 3min run is simulating the run out of transition, so build pace in first minute and then into race pace. Take 1min full recovery after the run. Complete 4 x sets.  

THE RUN

From fartleks to hill reps and recovery runs, there’s a huge amount of variation you can squeeze into a 30min window. Here are 15 winning sessions to fire up your running

31. Buddy Up

Running can be a solitary sport, so try to team up with a friend or training group that are of a similar ability and help each other improve. Agree on a set route or distance and share the work on the front. Just be careful that every session doesn’t become too competitive… 

32. 5k Test

Use this session as a way to monitor progress and to help you set target paces for other sessions. 5km for a triathlete is usually the shortest race distance you’ll race over, so it’s great to know how to race it. Make this a route that you can repeat every 4-6wks.

34. Parkrun race

If you fancy a regular test against the clock in a more competitive environment, then a Saturday morning 5km Parkrun event keeps you honest. There should be a parkrun close to home but, depending on your long-term triathlon goals, this shouldn’t be a weekly occurrence due to the strain it puts on the body and chances of injury.

 35. Lactic Ladders

Try to find a long set of steps that you can include in an outdoor run; something that’ll ideally take you longer than 1min to climb is perfect. Really push hard as you scale the steps and feel the lactic acid build as you get to the top. Completing a number of step reps will build great running strength.

 36. Fartlek Time

A fartlek run can benefit triathletes of every race distance and at all times of the year, as it incorporates high and low intensities into the same set. Fartleks have no set structure but they include changes in pace for varying distances and over differing inclines. If you’re running outdoors you can use landmarks such as a tree or lamp post to sprint for. If you’re on a treadmill, perhaps use changes in the music you’re listening to. Anything goes here.

37. FourOne

This really tough 30min session can have great impact on your speed endurance. Complete 4mins @ 5km test pace then walk for 1min. Keep repeating the 5min block until you have your 30mins. The aim is to not slow down on your hard 4min efforts.

 38. Recovery Run

As with the swim and bike it’s very sensible to include occasional recovery runs into your plan. Make a deal with yourself that you won’t run faster than a set pace, or you won’t exceed a specific heart rate, and stick to it. Enjoy these easier workouts.

 39. 800 Shuttles

Don’t panic… these are best done outdoors on a flat route or a track. Run an 800m effort, stop and recover for 30secs, then run back aiming to maintain a desired pace. Keep repeating until you can no longer hold the desired pace. Complete for 30mins.

40. Pace Pyramid

Pyramids can be set on time or distance, and this great 40min session is on time. Set a desired pace you want to hold throughout the session then complete 2mins; 4mins; 6mins; 8mins; 6mins; 4mins; 2mins, taking 1min complete rest between intervals. Harder than it sounds.

 41. Hill Reps

This is easily done on a treadmill or by finding a suitable hill outdoors. Get warmed up then include a fast-paced climb of 2-3mins, taking 2mins recovery to come back down. Complete for 35mins. Attack the climb and think about holding good run form, hips forward and don’t look down!

 42. Tempo Time

Use this session to help your body feel what it’s like to run at different paces. The changes in pace don’t need to be vast but enough to make a difference. Do 3 x [6mins at marathon pace/3mins at 10km pace/1min at 1km pace]. There’s no rest period in between.

 43. Faster & Faster

You must be well warmed up and ready for this, and have an idea of how fast you can run for a 1min period. Start with a steady pace and build the speed each minute until, by the sixth minute, you’re going full gas. Then jog for 1min and walk for 1min. Repeat this 8min block a further three times for a super tough 32min duration.

44. Hill Bricks

This is best done indoors on a treadmill and indoor bike so you can move between run and bike quickly. Start the 30min session with a 3min steady bike then onto a 7min hill run with an approximately 2-3% incline. Repeat a further two times. The run should aim to hold a consistent hard pace and use the following bike leg as an active recovery ride.

45. 1-mile Run Brick

Use this session to practise building pace when running off the bike out of transition. Start with a 5min bike to get your legs moving and then straight into a 1.5km run where you increase the pace slightly each 500m to finally be at your desired race pace. Repeat to make sure it wasn’t a fluke!

STRENGTH AND CONDITIONING

Often neglected, always recommended. Working on your core and flexibility will ensure you become a fitter and more productive triathlete. And it’ll limit your chances of injury, too

46. Squat Set

Choose a day when you’re fairly fresh and hit the legs with squats, leg curls, calf raises, deadlifts, step-ups and lunges. Start with bodyweight if you’re new to weight training and then build in free weights like dumbbells or barbells.

47. Yogilates

Don’t be put off trying yoga or pilates because you’re a triathlete. Doing a class will improve your flexibility and range of movement and turn you into a different athlete. The overall core strength and balance skills that you’ll gain are invaluable.

48. Back to Basics

Back strength can dictate your ability as an athlete, so including exercises like dorsal raises, lat pull-downs, spinal rotations and upright rows will improve the chain that holds you together. And focusing on neck strength is also vital for longer-distance cyclists.

49. Plyometrics

Exercises that you often see in a circuit class can be great for improving power to your muscles. Any movements that include jumping, lunging or bounding are also superb for balance and help to strengthen connective tissues like tendons.

50. The Gun Show

Apart from giving you sculpted arms and shoulders, working on your upper body with exercises like curls, dips, press-ups and rowing will help give you extra power for your swim stroke, as well as propulsion in your run form. 

 51. Master the Middle

If there’s one area that triathletes neglect at their peril, it’s their core strength. A weak core will see the body collapse as you fatigue, especially in the later stages of long-distance racing. Plenty of time doing planks is the way forward, and also include bridges, side bends and crunches to help achieve a solid middle section. 


 
 

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