20 Minute Training Ideas For Endurance Athletes

Apr 12, 2022

Seriously? 20 minutes? We are endurance athletes. What most of us consider to be a ‘short workout’ would have most people hobbling around for a week, so what can we really achieve in 20 minutes? Well, a lot more than you might think.
20-minute workouts can have a range of benefits for endurance athletes, such as helping to increase your VO2 max, improving form or building power.
Whether you are a swimmer, cyclist, or a runner we have ideas for you all.

Increasing VO2 Max


HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) is the basic format of a warm up, followed by a series of maximum intensity efforts with recovery in between. Studies show that HIIT training can increase VO2 max, which is the ability for your heart to pump oxygenated blood to your muscles. Increase your VO2 max and you improve your performance.

Ideas For Swimmers – Take your best time for 50 meters freestyle and add 10%. Jump in the pool and do a 2 minute easy warm up and then get into the main session. 10 x 50 meters all within 10% of your best time. Take a one-minute rest between efforts to rest and see if you can meet the challenge.

Ideas For Cyclists – If you have a stationary bike then this is ideal, if not then find a straight and safe stretch of road to work on. Give yourself a 2-3 minute warm up and then accelerate for 30-second bursts at maximum effort and then allow yourself 1 minute to recover before going again. Do ten of these and cruise back home with a nice burn in the legs. If you have a speedometer then even better, you can use this to make sure you are not cheating by keeping your 30-second bursts above a minimum speed.

Ideas For Runners – 150-meter sprints with 45-second rests in between. You can leave your water bottle at one end of the stretch of track as a little something to look forward to, because after 6 of these you will be begging to stop. Remember to do a 2-3 minute gentle jog to warm up before you get going.


Improving form

We live in a day and age where we really have no excuses for poor form. Every one of us has a phone that we can set up and press record so that we can see what we look like, not what we think we look like, when we are training. Most of us skip this because we ‘don’t have time’, but adding a 20-minute form session into your training could provide huge gains.

Ideas For Swimmers – If you have a friend to help then this is useful as they can record you from side on and also head on. Take time to analyse your stroke. Check out our article on common freestyle mistakes and drills to fix them and then dedicate 20 minutes each week purely to form drills. After 4 weeks get your friend to record you again in order to see the improvements you have made.

Ideas For Cyclists – It is best to do this on an indoor trainer, for obvious safety reasons. Set up your phone and record yourself on the drops, and on the aerobars if you have them. You want to have your back as horizontal as possible in order to reduce drag but you would be surprised how many of us think we are horizontal when we are far from it. Tinkering with this position could save you a lot of time.

Ideas For Runners – As with all of these ideas, having something to record yourself is great because you can see the reality of your technique. Poor form in running is not only going to cost you time, but can also lead to injuries so these drills can really help.

Do each drill for 1 minute with a 30-second break between each one. Do the whole set 3 times through and focus on great technique throughout:

1. Skip with high knees – focus on driving your knee up with power as you push off the ground.

2. Run with high knees – focus on making sure your thigh passes the horizontal as you run.

3. Butt kicks – Be sure to keep your leg on a straight up-and-down rather than letting it arc outwards.

4. Bounding – go for as much height and distance as you can on each bound.

Building Power

There is an idea that endurance athletes and heavy weights do not go hand in hand. The reality is that added strength can reduce injuries and provide the extra kick when it is needed. The bonus is that you can see massive strength gains without spending hours in the gym.

With all of these exercises the key is to lift heavy and lift with good form. If you are new to weights, then get the assistance of a trainer to make sure you are lifting properly in order to avoid injury.

Ideas For Swimmers – 5 sets of 3-4 reps at 85% of your one rep max:


Ideas For Cyclists And Runners – 5 sets of 3-4 reps at 85% of your one rep max, except for final exercise:

Final Thoughts


If you are focused, and have a specific goal in mind, then a 20-minute work out can be incredibly effective. Whether you want to build your VO2 max, perfect your form, or build extra strength. So rather than skipping your next 2-hour run or pool session because you had to stay late at work, turn it into an opportunity to work on one of these areas.


Written for Innerforce by Stewart Spiessens

Photos. @natiavanheerden




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