When you’re time-crunched, squeezing in your usual workout can feel so impossible that you may decide to skip it altogether—but just 20 minutes of exercise can still deliver impressive benefits. While longer exercise sessions are important for overall health and fitness, quick workouts can help you tone up, reduce stress and manage your weight.
In fact, a study from the University of Copenhagen found that men who exercised for 30 minutes a day lost more weight over three months than those who worked out twice that long. (The researchers suspect that those who worked out for a half hour had more energy to be active the rest of the day and therefore burned more calories overall during the study.) Still, longer workouts have an important place in your schedule, when time allows you to do them: Experts have found that spending at least 30 minutes—and ideally 60 minutes—breaking a sweat most days is the best way to improve your bone density, strengthen your heart, boost your mood and reduce anxiety.
When you do need to log a quickie session, try one of the 20-minute combination strength-and-cardio workouts from the three options below.
*Intensity: For these workouts, your exertion level is based on a 1 to 10 scale, with 1 being no exertion at all, and 10 being so difficult that you find it extremely difficult to say more than one or two words at a time and can’t maintain the effort for long.
20-Minute Gym Workout
Grab a resistance band and then do this workout on your favorite cardio machine.
|0-3||Begin to step, stride or pedal at a comfortable pace.||Work up to level 5 or 6.|
|3-4||Increase the inclince (treadmill) or resistance (other machines).||Level 7 to 8|
|4-5||Lower the incline/resistance.||Level 5 to 6|
|5-7||Increase the incline/resistance.||Level 7 to 8|
|7-9||Lower the incline/resistance.||Level 5 to 6|
|9-12||Increase the incline/resistance.||Level 7 to 8|
|12-15||Lower the incline/resistance.||Level 5 to 6|
Get off and head to the stretching area. Tie a medium to heavy resistance band around a pole or bar at waist height.
|15-16||Lunge and press||Stand with your back to the band, holding one end in each hand, elbows bent and hands near your chest. Take a step forward with your right foot, and bend both knees to lower into a lunge, simultaneously pressing straight forward with both arms. Reverse to start position and repeat, alternating legs. That’s one rep; continue for 15 to 20 reps.|
|16-17||Squat and row||Turn around to face the band, one end still in each hand. With feet hip-width apart, bend your knees to sit back into a squat, with your arms extended in front of you. In the squat position, bend both of your elbows, pulling them straight back so that you can feel your shoulder blades draw together. Release your arms, then stand and repeat for 15 to 20 reps.|
|17-18||Lunge and press||Do a second set (follow above instructions).|
|18-19||Squat and row||Do a second set (follow above instructions).|
|19-20||Plank||Get into push-up position on your hands and toes, with your body in a straight line from head to heels. Hold for one minute|
20-Minute Home or Hotel Workout
You’ll need a jump rope for this routine. If you don’t have one or space won’t allow, just pretend, hopping and turning your wrists without the rope.
|minutes||activity||How-to and intensity*|
|0-3||March in place||Swing your arms at your sides and gradually bring your knees higher as your muscles warm up. Work up to a level 5 to 6.|
|3-4||Elevated push-ups||Place your hands shoulder-width apart on a sturdy chair, couch or bed and walk your feet back until your body is in a straight line (see image above). If you use a bed, hold onto its edge rather putting your hands flat on top of the mattress. Bend your elbows to lower toward your chest, then press back up. Do 10 to 15 reps.|
|4-5||Jumpking jacks||The classic. Hop your feet to your sides until they’re more than hip-width-wide, then hop them back together, simultaneously swinging your arms to overhead, then to your sides. Continue for one minute going fast enough that you’re working at a level 7 to 8.|
|5-6||Dips||Sit on the edge of the chair or bed you used for the push-ups, palms resting on either side of your hips. Shift your hips forward off the seat, and support your body weight with your hands as you bend your elbows straight back to lower your hips toward the floor. Press into your palms to lift back up and repeat for 10 to 15 reps.|
|6-7||Skater side shuffles||Standing with your knees soft and elbows bent at your sides, jump to the right, landing on your right foot and letting your left foot reach across behind you. Reverse the motion, jumping left and letting your right leg cross behind you. Continue to hop from side to side for one minute, going as far as you comfortably can with each leap. You should be working at a level 5 to 6.|
|7-8||Burpees||Standing with feet hip-width apart, bend your knees and place your hands on the floor in front of your feet. Shifting your weight into your hands, hop your feet straight back. Do a push-up if you can, or just jump your feet back in, stand, and hop, reaching your arms overhead. Repeat for one minute, pushing yourself to a level 7 to 8.|
|8-9||Superhero lifts||Lie on your stomach, arms extended forward. Lift your arms and legs off the floor, hold for a moment, then lower with control. Do 20 reps.|
|9-10||Jump rope||With your feet together, hop just an inch off the floor, keeping your elbows close to your sides and turning just your wrists for one minute, at a level 5 to 6.|
|10-11||Plank||Get into push-up position on your hands and toes, with your body in a straight line from head to heels. Hold for one minute.|
|11-19||Repeat the instructions for minutes 3-11.|
|19-20||March in place||For a cool-down, swing your arms at your sides with your knees high, gradually slowing down and lowering your knees to a level 3 to 4|
20-Minute Outdoor Workout
Head to a park or another safe outdoor exercise space that has benches and do the routine below.
|Minutes||activity||how-to and intensity*|
|0-5||Walk or jog||For a warm-up, work up to level 5 or 6.|
|5-6||Walking lunges||Take a big step forward with your right foot and bend both your knees to lower yourself until your front thigh and back shin are about parallel with the ground. Step forward with your left foot and continue moving forward in this manner|
|6-7||Power walk or run||Push yourself to level 7 to 8.|
|7-8||Walk or jog||Ease up to level 5 to 6.|
|8-9||Bench push-ups||Place your hands shoulder-width apart on the seat of a park bench and walk your feet back until your body is in a straight line. Bend your elbows to lower your face toward the bench, and then press back up. Do 10 to 15 reps.|
|9-10||Power walk or run||Push yourself to level 7 to 8.|
|10-11||Walk or jog||Ease up to level 5 to 6.|
|11-12||Squats with optional jump||Stand with your feet hip-width apart and bend your knees, sitting back as though into a chair until your thighs are about parallel with ground. Stand, and if you feel comfortable doing so, add a jump, reaching your hands overhead. Do 15 to 20 reps.|
|12-13||Power walk or run||Push yourself to level 7 to 8.|
|13-14||Walk or jog||Ease up to level 5 to 6.|
|14-15||Bench dips||Sit on the edge of a bench, palms resting on either side of your hips. Shift your hips forward off the seat, and support your weight with your hands as you bend your elbows straight back to lower your hips toward the ground. Press into your palms to lift yourself back up and repeat for 10 to 15 reps.|
|15-16||Power walk or run||Push yourself to level 7 to 8.|
|16-17||Walk or jog||Ease up to level 5 to 6.|
|17-18||Bench step-ups||Stand facing a bench. Step onto the seat with your right foot, and step up with left foot to meet it. Step down with your left, then your right and continue stepping up and down from the seat, alternating your lead foot.|
|18-19||Power walk or run||Push yourself to level 7 to 8.|
|19-20||Walk or jog||Ease yourself to level 3 to 4 for a final cool-down.|