20-Minute Strength Training Workout

As triathletes, we scour every 24-hour period for time to get a swim, bike, run or multisport workout in the log book—not to mention family time, career and maybe even a little socializing. Strength training often becomes the sacrificial lamb on the schedule.

Not to worry. Even 13 to 17 minutes of simple strength exercises are enough to help prevent injury, promote strength, develop flexibility and keep your muscles happy from the attention. Compound exercises without rest between sets will empower you to squeeze in a strength training workout in about a quarter of an hour. Your standard strength sessions are commonly longer, but these are ideal for those days when 24 hours just doesn't seem to be enough.

Warm Up

For this round of "grab and go" strength training, you will need a chair and a light to medium weight resistance band. The clock starts with a warm-up. If you are not combining this workout with another sport, simply walk for 1 minute followed by 30 seconds of jumping jacks.


The arms, chest, abs, and back all gain benefit from the first exercise, the pushup. If you are new to the movement, start on your knees. Keep your back straight and head in neutral alignment. Tighten your abs, breath in on the down and out on your steady push back up. Do as many as you can in 1 minute. That brings us about 2.5 minutes into the effort.

Bicep Squat Combo

No rest for the weary; we close in on the third minute and our next exercise by grabbing the resistance band and getting ready for a bicep squat combo. Stand with the feet wider than shoulder-width apart, toes turned out and resistance band stretched beneath feet while holding each end in your slightly bent arms. Keep the band tight, lower to a modified squat while keeping the knees behind the toes and conducting a bicep curl with the arms. Take 2 to 3 seconds for each repetition and do as many as you can for 1 minute bringing us close to the 4-minute mark.

Shoulder Press One-Legged Squat

Keep the band ready for our third exercise, the shoulder press one-legged squat. Hold onto a chair with your left hand while standing with the right foot on the band and left foot a few inches off the ground. The other end of the band is in your right hand held taut at about shoulder height. Bend the right leg smoothly down into a squat position keeping the knee behind the toe, butt back and head looking slightly up.

As you lower into the one-legged squat position, extend the right arm overhead tightening the band into an overhead shoulder press. Do this for two sets of 30 seconds each side for a total of 2 minutes. You have been rocking the muscles now for about 6 to 7 minutes depending on your breaks to sip water.

Dead-Lift Row

Since the band is warmed up, let's do a dead-lift row. Place your legs shoulder width apart and stand on the band, grabbing it taut in the hands at just about thigh height. Tip forward from the hips, keep the back flat, lowering your hands down to mid shin. While bent over at ninety degrees bend elbows smoothly and pull them up parallel to your chest while contracting the lower back. Lower the arms while standing back up to complete the first repetition of a 1-minute, non-stop set. Rest for about 30 seconds and do another full minute.


Set the band aside, and let's use the chair again for some triceps work. Take a seat, but not for a break. Place your hands next to hips on the chair with your fingers pointing to either side. Walk your feet forward as you slide hips off the front of the chair. Maintain your balance, keep your butt close to the chair, and lower yourself down a few inches by bending at the elbows. Don't slouch or lower past 90 degrees while maintaining stability and strength between the shoulders. Push back up and repeat for 1 minute to clock about 10 minutes of focused effort thus far.

Side Plank Twist

The side plank twist is a great abdominal core exercise that also opens up chest muscles. Begin by lying on your side. Push up so that your body is supported by the left arm directly beneath the shoulder. You can have the feet stacked or one in front of the other.

If you are new to this exercise, keep your right leg extended with the left leg bent and knee on the ground to help with balance. Extend your right arm upward. Open up the chest as you lean back slightly and breathe in. Exhale as you lower your arm, twisting your shoulders towards the floor while minimizing hip movement. Repeat for two sets of 30 seconds on each side, remember to inhale as you reach up and exhale on the downward movement.  

Cool Down

You're sweating, your heart rate is up and about 15 minutes have gone by since the warm-up. Cool down with about 3 to 5 minutes of walking and gentle stretching. If you have more time, then do more sets, or grab that training schedule and conduct the full strength training effort you have been meaning to do.

Wayne Spaulding is a 20-year veteran coach and triathlete. He is a Level II USA Triathlon certified coach who lives, races and coaches in Northern California. He can be reached at wspaulding@sportsbasement.com.


This article originally was published in USA Triathlon Life magazine. USA Triathlon is proud to serve as the national governing body for triathlon--the fastest growing sport in the world - as well as duathlon, aquathlon and winter triathlon in the United States. Visit usatriathlon.org.

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