During this busy holiday season, I thought it was a perfect time to encourage people to keep up their workouts in spite of the multiple demands of work, family, shopping, decorating, and partying. Plus we all know that working out boosts our spirits (not meaning the liquid kind—thanks, endorphins) and sometimes we need that in the midst of December’s stress, darkness, and bleak weather.
Who can’t fit in a 20-minute workout? I hear a chorus of “Me’s!,” but look at it this way: the energizing effect of a workout will make you more productive and more cheerful, and as a bonus, you will be able to eat and drink more Christmas treats without guilt or waist expansion!
I’ve already written two 20-minute workout posts for this blog, but they are both suggestions for gym workouts. [View them here and here.] My bad knee forces me to be a “gym rat” much of the time, but it’s my outdoor workouts that give me bliss, the pure enjoyment of moving in beautiful places.
Is it possible to get a good running or “cardio” workout outside in 20 minutes? Of course it is. In this post I’ll describe my 20-minute workouts on the artificial turf soccer field in Port Moody.
I “discovered” this workout over a year ago when I had to stop running almost entirely for two months because my knee was acting up. I missed my twice-weekly 5K runs in Mundy Park immensely. On November 11, I was feeling especially sad because I couldn’t take part in the Remembrance Day 8K race in Stanley Park, a run that I’ve done repeatedly over the years.
Early that morning, just as it was getting light, I walked to Starbucks as usual to pick up my java. Instead of going directly back to my apartment, I decided to go to the soccer field and “test” my knee a bit, since I hadn’t tried running for about three weeks. I left my coffee mug and coat on a bench and started tentatively running on the field, as lightly as possible.
Through lucky experimentation, I found that if I ran on my toes, sprint-style, I didn’t feel the same discomfort in my knee joint as when I ran with the typical distance runner’s rolling heel-midfoot stride. That morning, I did only a few easy sprints back and forth on the soccer field. I was elated that I could run at all!
During November and December, I did no continuous runs. But I returned to the soccer field, impromptu-style, when the urge to run became too great to resist. I remember one very cold, clear day in December before the snow came. It was late afternoon, when beautiful twilight colours filled the sky. I had been at the library and wasn’t dressed to run, but when I saw the empty soccer field I put my books down and burst into a run. It was only for a few minutes, but I was immersed in running again: I could feel the searing cold air hitting my lungs, making me gasp, heating me up inside my coat and jeans. I walked home with the good feeling of stretched leg muscles, a new springiness, and a new hope that running would continue for me.
And so it did. By January I was able to resume my two short runs per week. Usually I did one of them in Mundy Park, but I also tried to dedicate one workout to the soccer field. At the field, I covered only 3K or 4K—roughly 15–20 minutes of alternating sprinting/jogging. It doesn’t sound like much, but it was surprisingly effective. Usually I followed up with weights and/or Pilates and stretching inside the rec centre. However, if you have limited time, this 20 minutes on a soccer field can be your only workout of the day. Read more to find out how to maximize your time!
The 20-minute running workout on a soccer field
- Start out by running at an easy pace for about three minutes.
- Next, do two laps of the field, including easy sprints of each length of the field and jogging on the short ends.
- Continue looping the field, sprinting fast on one length of the field and jogging the other sides. The goal of this part of the workout is to sprint fast—pretend you’re playing tag, running after a soccer ball, or being chased by a bear—while maintaining good form. Run on your toes. Pump your arms. Throw in two sprints per lap for variety or run diagonals of the field every now and then.
- During most of this workout, you should be breathing hard, but recovering sufficiently on the jogging sections to sprint the field lengths pretty fast. A finishing challenge might be to extend your final sprint to a full circuit of the field, and feel the lactic acid building up.
- You can stop this workout after 10 minutes, or 15, or 20. See the suggested add-ons below.
Benefits of this workout
- After the initial 2-3 minutes of easy running, you will be breathing hard for the rest of the workout. Like other 20-minute workouts, it replaces length with intensity.
- Since the sprints are so short, it’s easy to achieve two important goals: running fast and running with good form. Your legs will become accustomed to the quicker cadence of sprinting and you will be exercising your hamstrings with the extended stride of faster running. If you can run mostly on your toes, your calves and foot muscles will become stronger.
- Short sprints are fun rather than painful. You don’t experience the anaerobic pain that accompanies long sprints like 300m or 400m. Yet I’ve found that my 5K time improves significantly when I do my soccer field sprints regularly (i.e. once a week), even without doing any other speedwork. It’s almost miraculous how much difference such a short workout can make.
Extending the 20-minute sprint workout
If you have more than 20 minutes, you can extend this workout in several ways. Here are some suggestions:
- Add sprint drills after you’ve finished the running portion of the workout. An artificial turf soccer field is an excellent surface for doing these jumping and bounding exercises. If you aren’t familiar with sprint drills, find a running coach or personal trainer who can teach you how to do them correctly.
- If the weather is good or you have access to a nearby indoor exercise facility, follow up your running with stretching, yoga, or Pilates. Alternatively, get a total body workout by doing some upper-body exercises like pushups and chinups, as well as core exercises. The possibilities are endless—again, ask a coach or trainer for more ideas.
- Run a few more kilometres at a relaxed pace. You will have done your fast running while your muscles are fresh, and you’ll be surprised how easy your “steady” running pace now feels.
Don’t have access to a soccer field?
If you don’t have access to a soccer field or another smooth, soft surface (or if your usual training places are covered in snow or ice), you can adapt this workout to a gravel trail, pavement, or an indoor track. Remember, the goal is to develop speed and do an intense running workout in 20 minutes. That means keeping the sprinting distance short (under 100 metres) and keeping the jogging time short so you are always breathing hard.