Best Lunchtime Sessions

1. If it’s tough enough for the pros, it’s good enough for you

“Spring is the time of year when the first races are not too far off and we need to control our pace, as well as know what paces we can perform at. Both sessions here address these points – the difficult one is swimming. In a race we cannot keep looking at our heart-rate monitor or stopwatch,” says Bill Black, who coached the GB Men’s Triathlon Team at the Sydney Olympics. “But if we train at a certain pace in the pool we can keep cross-checking with the clock – plus every length is usually 25 metres,” he says.
“These one-hour sessions are not only practised by novices but also by elite and world-class triathletes.”

Swim session

This pace-control session should take around 45 minutes to complete.

  • 200m warm-up (50m easy swim, 25m pull and 25m kick. 30-second recovery, then repeat). Pulls and kicks are technique drills in which you use only your arms or legs, with a float or pull buoy to assist
  • Technique drills (pulls or kicks, or practise breathing on each stroke to help develop bilateral breathing – breathing on both sides) 12 x 25m, done as a 25m drill with a 10-second rest followed by 25m full stroke and a 10-second rest
  • Main-set pyramid (all with 20-30-second recovery) 8 x 25m, 4 x 50m, 2 x 100m, 1 x 200m, 2 x 100m, 4 x 50m, 8 x 25m.Keep to the same pace and stroke count throughout
  • Cool down with 200m easy non-free stroke. (This is any stroke other than freestyle, to help you become familiar with another stroke and to avoid overusing certain muscles.) Total distance 2.1K

Run session

Fartlek sessions [hard, medium and slow running over various distances during a session, from the Swedish term meaning ‘speed play’] are a good way of improving your pace and replicating the surges you would expect during a race. Beginners tend to run at the same pace and this session will help you speed up by building up your pace as the run progresses. This can be done in a park, on a road or on a treadmill.

  • Warm-up: 5-10 minutes, easy to moderate
  • Select three speeds – the first is easy, second is moderate and third is fast. They could be related to your previous running paces. For example, marathon pace as the slow one, half-marathon pace as the moderate and 10K pace as the fast one
  • Run three minutes at a slow pace, then two minutes at a moderate pace and, finally, one minute at a fast pace. This makes a six-minute unit that
  • you can repeat five times for a 30-minute workout or longer
  • Cool down by running at an easy pace for at least 10 minutes

2. Add a little variety to make the most of your training

Swim session

“For beginners it’s initially about working towards being able to cover race distance. So if you are limited to an hour you have to make sure you use that time efficiently,” says Paula Dewar, coach at VO2 Maximum Triathlon Coaching. “With swimming you would benefit from concentrating on drills. In my opinion, efficient swimming means faster swimming.”

  • 200m warm-up
  • 4 x 50m, alternating kicking and pulling
  • Drill set – 4-8 x 50m (25m drill and 25m swim) Try one-armed drills to improve technique
  • Short build set [this means gradually increasing your pace] of 50m
  • 10 x 50m (15-20 seconds’ rest after each 50m) When you’re feeling more confident and stronger in the pool, you can increase this section of the session to 8 x 75m (15-20 seconds rest) and later to 15 x 50m (10-15 seconds’ rest)
  • “Learn how to swim with the most efficient stroke you can. That way you’ll be able to hold the stroke for longer and you will become faster,” says Dewar.

Run session

The beauty of running is that you can mix it up easily. Try a fartlek session with speed work, using the local terrain. “This will help your strength and allow you to switch speeds during the run section if you need to. It can also help prepare you to race over different terrains and it adds variety to training,” says Dewar.

  • 10-minute gentle warm-up
  • 15-20 minute fartlek, varying the length and time of the faster bursts
  • 10-minute easy recovery run
  • 10 minutes of stretching

Dewar suggests using local landmarks such as lampposts to vary the distances that you pick up the pace. Run hard to a landmark, jog to recover, run to the next landmark, recover, and so on. “It’s important to emphasise variety and if you are using the same circuit around the streets or a park you can start to measure your speed as you progress through the weeks.”

3. Less swimming and  running but still a great workout

Swim session

“This session has less swimming than you might expect, but this is compensated by the injury prevention for the shoulders, the core work and stretching,” says Simon Ward, founder of “All have benefits far beyond the credit given to them by most triathletes.”

Shoulder exercises (six minutes)

  • 1 x 15 reps internal rotations (see description below) and 1 x 15 reps external rotations, left arm (see description below)
  • 1 x 15 reps internal rotations and 1 x 15 reps external rotations (right arm)
  • 1 x 15 reps shoulder extensions (see description below)
  • 1 x 15 reps shoulder retractions (see description below)       

Core strengthening (five minutes)

  • 30-second plank hold. Lie face-down on the floor, resting on your forearms, with palms flat. Rise onto your toes and forearms, keeping your elbows directly under your shoulders and your back flat. Contract your abdominals and hold (15-second rest)
  • 30-second left-side bridge. Lie on your side with your legs straight, one on top of the other. Prop yourself up with your forearm, keeping it perpendicular to your body. Lift your hip and thigh and maintain a straight line (15-second rest)
  • 30-second supine bridge. Lie flat on the ground. Bend your knees to about 45 degrees, and place your heels on the floor. Contract your glutes and hamstrings and raise your hips until they’re fully extended (15-second rest)
  • 30-second right-side bridge (15-second rest)


  • Warm-up
  • Swim 200m (pulling 150m, kick 50m)
  • 6 x 50m (25m trail fingers, 25m build pace). Trail fingers is an arm drill. As the arm recovers over the water, trail the fingers along the top of the water. This promotes efficient, high-elbow recovery
  • 12 x 100m (maximum sustainable pace)
  • 4 x 25m backstroke, cool down
  • 10 minutes stretching – all upper-body muscles for 30 seconds per stretch

Run session

This circuit includes high-intensity running intervals as well as a general full-body conditioning routine.
“Research has shown that while a strength routine like this may not directly help athletes to run faster, they often achieve a better running economy at the same top-end speed,” says Ward.

  • 10 minutes easy running

40-minute circuit, comprising:

  • Press-ups
  • Squats
  • Chin-ups/Lat pull-down
  • Swiss-ball plank
  • 800m run at 85 per cent effort  
  • Dumbbell press
  • Lunges
  • Seated rows
  • Back extensions
  • 400m run at 90 per cent effort

(Perform each conditioning exercise for 30 seconds and rest for 30 seconds). Complete three circuits of this and finish with:

  • Five minutes of easy running
  • Five minutes of full body stretches

“In a 60-minute run probably only half of the running would be of a decent quality so this actually provides a better workout, despite the apparently lower volume of running,” says Ward. For more information log on to

Internal rotation
Fix a resistance band to something solid (door handle, wall bar etc) at hip height and then take hold of one end in each hand. Stand side-on to the fixing point with it on your right and tuck your right elbow into your ribs. Hold the other end of the band down out of the way. Start with some tension in the band and rotate your arm inwards until your arm is across the front of your body. Keeping the elbow pressed into the rib cage slowly let the arm rotate outwards until you reach a comfortable end point. Repeat for the left arm.

External rotation
Fix the resistance band to something solid at hip height and then take hold of one end in each hand. Stand side-on to the fixing point with it on your right and tuck your right elbow into your ribs. Hold the other end of the band down out of the way. Start with your right arm across your chest, with some tension in the band and then, keeping the elbow pressed into the rib cage, slowly rotate the arm outwards, increasing tension throughout the movement until you reach a comfortable end point. Return to the start position by allowing your arm to rotate inwards until the arm is across the front of your body. Repeat for the left arm.

Shoulder extensions
Fix the resistance band to something solid at hip height. Take hold of one end in each hand. Stand facing the fixing point, arms straight, hands by your sides. Stand far enough away to create tension. Extend both arms back about 15-20cm and slowly return the hands to the hips. Repeat.

Shoulder retractions
Fix the resistance band to something solid at shoulder height and take hold of one end in each hand. Stand facing the fixing point, far enough away to create some tension, arms straight out in front. Squeeze the shoulder blades together. Then allow them to stretch apart. There will be a very small movement stretching and relaxing the band but remember to keep the arms straight throughout. Repeat.