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30-Minute Survival Workouts

By Marty Gaal | Nov. 25, 2014, 1:32 p.m. (ET)

Most of us will have days, and sometimes weeks, where life, work and family duties demand a lot of our time and energy. You might be traveling for work and engaged with clients from sunup to sundown; your children may be out of school and you need to keep them entertained while also logging 40-plus hours of work or your dog is sick and you can't leave her alone for too long. Let the fun begin! 


Whatever the cause, you find yourself overwhelmed, stressed out and just generally unable to get much time to yourself. You might be tempted to just chuck all your training and sit on the couch in those few moments you do have to relax. But if you really are goal-oriented and in training for some big event down the road … don't give in.


This is where short workouts come in. I call them 30-minute survival workouts. Why? Because those 30-minute workouts will help your fitness survive until you have the wherewithal to get back out and about for your 'real' training sessions.


The validity of this has been researched quite a bit, and some further reading links are provided at the end of this article.


To sum the research up: If you stop exercising, you will lose fitness. Surprise! The longer you go without any training, the more fitness you will lose. The newer to the sport you are, the quicker you will lose that fitness. The reverse here is also true: The longer you've been in a sport the slower you will lose that specific fitness. However, two to four weeks for just about everyone means you will lose a lot of fitness — reduction in V02 max, threshold, maximal power, strength and so on.


Any amount of training during this busy time will help maintain some of your fitness gains. And including just a little bit of higher intensity training (near lactate threshold and above) will help you maintain a lot of the fitness you gained previously. And by a little bit, we're talking about 5-10 minutes worth.


All jokes about 8-minute abs aside (I can't be the only one who thinks that's the funniest part of the movie “There's Something About Mary”), you really can keep that fitness rolling if you just get yourself moving.


So, what to do? From a triathlon perspective, you want to hit your personal weaknesses first during times like these. If you come from a swimming background that will be the last skill you will lose. So go run. Or ride. Or do a quick plyometric/body weight strength routine. You should have a pretty good idea of what you're good at and where you need more work.


To reiterate, any training will help. So if you're stressed and tired and don't have the mental energy to do harder sessions, just get something in. Twenty to 30 minutes easy jogging. A few hundred yards swimming. Anything will help. 


If you have the energy, you can include a few short intervals, even if your overall training goal is a long-distance triathlon or run. Here are a few workout ideas that are in the 30-minute range. 


Run Workout 1

Warm up 10 minutes

Quick dynamic stretch (drills/plyos)

6 x 1 minute at or near threshold/1 minute easy

5-minute cooldown


Run Workout 2

Warm up 10 minutes

Quick dynamic stretch (drills/plyos)

5 minutes steady 

10 x 20 second over-threshold/40 seconds easy

5 minutes easy


Bike Workout

Warm up 10 minutes

Stretch or stand/sit a few times to loosen up

3 x 20 seconds hard (100%+ FTP)/40 seconds easy

4 x 2 minutes sub-threshold (90-100% FTP)/1 minute easy

5 minutes easy


Swim Workout

Warm up 300 yards

100 kick (unless your kick takes 10 minutes — work on that)

4 x 50 build each from easy to fast on 15 seconds rest

300 steady pull with paddles 

6 x 100 moderate-hard to hard (sub-threshold to threshold) on 20 seconds rest

100 easy 


Workout for All Disciplines

Warm up 10 minutes easy

Build into moderate- hard/tempo for 10-15 minutes

5-minute cooldown


I know it can be tough, but like anything worthwhile in life, high aspirations like completing your first triathlon, running a marathon or qualifying for the IRONMAN World Championship, require time, discipline, hard work and consistency. The links below are worth a read if you ever find yourself asking "why should I bother?"


Further reading:

Pub Med Abstract: The effect of detraining and reduced training on the physiological adaptations to aerobic exercise training - Neufer PD


Pub Med Abstract: Detraining: loss of training-induced physiological and performance adaptations. Part II: Long term insufficient training stimulus - Mujika, Padilla S


Fitness: Use it or lose it – Quinn, Elizabeth


How much downtime is too much: The concept of detraining – Mantak, Melissa 


Marty Gaal is a USA Triathlon Coach and NSCA certified strength and conditioning specialist. He’s been coaching long-distance athletes since 2002. Read all about his coaching services at


The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.