Your weeks are getting tougher. The responsibilities at home and work are mounting, and you’re beginning to think you’ll never achieve your dream of getting fit. Your only chance to train is at lunchtime or before breakfast – if you can learn to snap to attention at the sound of your alarm. The cruel reality is, you discover, that you have just 45 minutes each day to get your fitness moving in an upward direction. Can you really be very fit on a diet of 45-minute training sessions?
In a word, yes! The truth is that quality sessions do not have to last any longer than 45 minutes to produce major gains in fitness. Take, for example, the classic study carried out at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm several years ago, in which a group of runners added only one thing to their usual training: a weekly, 20-minute continuous run completed at a pace which was about 10-12 seconds per mile slower than 10K race speed. In just a little over three months, these 20-minute sessions lifted the lactate threshold running speeds of the Swedish runners by four per cent and trimmed their 10K times by over a minute. In short, work-outs don’t have to be lengthy to be effective.
You will need a careful plan for your 45-minute sessions, however, so that you don’t waste precious time. (Time wasted means lost fitness.) Fortunately, the blueprint for each session is simple. You’ll spend 10 minutes warming up, 30 minutes working hard, and then five minutes cooling down.
Since you’re going to be working strenuously during the 30-minute middle portion of your training, your warm-up must prepare you for the intense effort to come. In fact, your warm-up should boost your heart rate, increase your muscular flexibility and improve your coordination, so that you can perform the hard work efficiently. So begin your warm-up by jogging very easily for three minutes, keeping your legs and hips as loose as possible. Then walk on your toes for 20 metres, and do the same thing on your heels. Next, toe-walk for 20 metres with your toes pointed outwards – and then for 20 metres with your toes pointed in. Do the same thing on your heels.
Continue the warm-up by skipping along aggressively, landing in the midfoot area on each contact with the ground, with your toes pointed straight ahead, then outwards, and then inwards (20 metres each). Spend one minute jogging with extremely springy steps, landing on your midfoot area with each contact with the ground and springing upwards immediately after impact. Your ankles should feel like coiled springs, compressing and then recoiling to propel your body upwards and forwards. (Take short steps at first, expanding your strides as you get stronger.) Then run hard for 30 seconds, taking long, fluid strides.
This whole routine (jogging, toe-walking, heel-walking, skipping, springing, and running hard) will take about nine minutes. Spend the final minute of the warm-up jogging easily, and then embark on your 30 minutes of hard effort, choosing from the menu below:
The Absolute Beginner
You’re simply trying to get stronger and increase the amount of time that you can run without stopping. So, after the warm-up, begin jogging at a moderately hard pace – one which makes you feel that you’re really working, yet doesn’t leave you gasping for each breath. If you feel that you must stop and take a break, do so without guilt (all novice runners rely on brief ‘intermissions’), but limit your walking breaks to no more than one minute. After the minute has elapsed, start jogging again, and continue in this manner until it’s time for your five-minute cool-down.
The Inexperienced Runner Who’s Ready To Try A 10K
You need to work on your ability to sustain a quality pace for a rather substantial distance – 6.2 miles, to be exact. So, on a day when you’re feeling good, test yourself by running two miles as fast as possible, and record your pace per mile. Then, for your ideal 45-minute work-out, warm up (as indicated above) before running continuously for 12 minutes at a pace which is 30 seconds per mile slower than your test pace. Jog easily for six minutes, complete another 12 minutes at the same quality pace (the one which is 30 seconds per mile slower than your test speed), and finally jog for five minutes to cool down.
The Overweight Runner
You want to burn up as many calories as possible during your work-out, yet your overall fitness may not permit sustained, intense running. The solution is to complete your warm-up and then run for one minute at a pace which is just a little harder than your warm-up speed. Increase your speed a bit more during the second minute, and more still for the third. Finally, work as hard as you possibly can during the fourth minute. Walk for two minutes to simmer down, and then alternate the escalating four-minute pattern with two-minute recoveries until the 30 minutes have elapsed. Don’t make the four-minute progressions too ‘soft’: the more quality work you can sustain, the better off you’ll be in the long term.
The Lazy Runner
Hard work bothers you, so you’re going to have to make a game out of the intense portion of your training session. After your warm-up, run a mile at a moderately hard pace (this should feel like your very best 10K tempo) – without looking at your stopwatch until the very end. Before you glance at your wrist, see if you can guess your time to within five seconds. Jog easily for four minutes to recover, and then run half a mile at close to your best pace, guessing your time once again. Ease up for another two minutes, and then run two miles at a very hard pace, again attempting to predict your total time (don’t cheat – you’re not allowed to look at your watch halfway through!). After these last two miles, cool down for five minutes and you’re done!
The Young Runner
Your priority is to improve your whole-body strength, because doing so will reduce your risk of injury, increase the consistency of your training and make you a more efficient runner. So, after your warm-up, complete the following circuit:
- Run 3/4 mile at 10K pace
- Do five chin-ups
- Complete 40 abdominal crunches
- Perform 20 push-ups
- Do 20 fast body-weight squats
- Complete 20 squat thrusts with jumps (burpees)
- Run 3/4 mile at 10K pace
- Perform 12 press-ups with your feet elevated
- Perform 40 lower-back extensions
- Complete 20 bench dips
- Do 15 squat and dumbbell presses (with 15lb dumbbells)
- Complete 20 lunges with each leg
- Go back to step (1) and continue moving through the circuit(s) until the 30 minutes have elapsed.
The Older Runner
Your two key needs are preserving your speed and heightening your lactate threshold (and out of the three key physiological variables – VO2max, running economy and lactate threshold – lactate threshold is the most responsive to training in older runners). So, warm up and then run for two miles without stopping, at a pace which is just slightly slower than 10K racing speed (great for your threshold!). Recover with five minutes of light jogging, and then begin running 400m repetitions at a speed which is eight seconds per 400 faster than your 10K rate. Your recoveries should take the same amount of time as the 400m reps. Continue running 400s in this way until your 30 minutes are up. These 400s are terrific speed-savers!
The Cross-Training Runner
You’re looking for a maximal boost to your cardiovascular system. So, warm up for 10 minutes by pedalling easily on an exercise bicycle (this replaces the warm-up routine outlined earlier), and then alternate very difficult four-minute cycling intervals (they should feel slightly harder than running a 10K race) with two minutes of very light, relaxed pedalling. Once you’ve completed the five work intervals and recoveries, cool down with five minutes of easy riding.
The Marathon Runner
You need to increase your efficiency at race pace, so start running at your planned marathon speed immediately after the warm-up. Every five minutes, pick up speed to approximately 10K tempo for one minute, and then ease back to marathon intensity. You can save your long runs for the weekend.
After any one of these work-outs, remember that your five-minute cool-down should ease your body back into its normal routine, bringing your breathing and heart rates back to more normal levels. Just jog for five minutes at a progressively slower – and very relaxed – pace to cool down properly.
Many of these sessions are pretty tough, so you shouldn’t carry them out every day of the week. On days when you want an easier work-out, simply jog steadily for 45 minutes at a conversational pace (or use the cross- training session above). Use our time-saving tips (see panel, above) to keep your work-outs within the three-quarters of an hour barrier, and remember that your 45-minute exertions don’t have to be a meek attempt to preserve your status quo – they can actually make you fitter!
1. Know exactly what you’re going to do before you begin your session; don’t make things up as you go along. Indecision is the biggest squanderer of precious training time.
2. Memorise your warm-up and make it part of your routine, so that you can rattle it off quickly in no more than 10 minutes. Once you get better (and faster) at doing the toe- and heel-walks, skips and springs, you can add other elements, such as rapid one-legged hops.
3. If you train before breakfast, lay out everything you’ll need the night before, so that you won’t lose time searching for a missing sock or running vest. When you first wake up, resist the temptation to collapse back into bed, reminding yourself that the fog of fatigue in your head will be gone as soon as you take the first few strides of your warm-up.