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These 20-minute workouts are all you need to get in shape

These short workouts are just as effective as a full gym session.

A man in a red shirt with a fitness watch on, doing push-ups on a park bench at sunset.

All you need for a good workout is 20 minutes and some open space -- no equipment necessary.

Getty Images

Point blank: You're busy and it's hard to get to the gym sometimes -- OK, a lot of times. I've been there, even as a personal trainer and someone who actually enjoys exercising. Working out can often seem like an extra bullet on the never-ending to-do list, nagging at you as more of a chore than anything.

There are a lot of ways you can make exercise more attainable, such as making it fun or enlisting an accountability buddy, but when time is the issue, the best thing you can do is to just work out less.   

Contrary to popular belief, you don't need to spend hours upon hours in the gym or on the road to see fitness gains. To reap the many health benefits of exercise, you just need to get your heart rate up for a bit and focus on strengthening the major muscles -- and you can do all of that in 20 minutes or less. 

Read more: The 7 best fitness subscription boxes in 2019 for every workout style  

Read more: This is the absolute easiest way to track your workouts 

Benefits of short workouts

Remember with the high-intensity interval training craze started in the mid-2010s? Trainers and exercisers everywhere started evangelizing the benefits of short, intense, interval-based workouts, and it turns out that all the preaching is based on solid science: HIIT has been proven more effective than steady-state aerobic exercise (like jogging) time and time again. HIIT may also be more effective than weight training alone, at the very least from a time standpoint.

Even exercise "snacks" -- bursts of activity as short as 20 seconds -- can seriously improve your fitness when done a few times each day

This is largely because HIIT challenges both your cardiorespiratory fitness and your musculoskeletal fitness, bringing about improvements to your heart, lungs, muscles, nervous system and pretty much everything else

Of course, the ideal is a balanced workout regimen that combines steady-state aerobic exercise, interval training and resistance training over the course of a week, but this article isn't for people who have time to do all that. 

Read more: 3 ways to find free group workout classes

orangetheory-1

Many popular fitness programs, such as Orangetheory Fitness and CrossFit, utilize HIIT in their programming.

Orangetheory Fitness

How to get the most out of short workouts 

When it comes to short workouts, you want to focus on intensity over all else (except good form, of course). 

The following elements make for effective short workouts: 

  • Compound movements that utilize more than one muscle group, such as push-ups and squats
  • Explosive movements that require power, such as tuck jumps and long jumps (also known as plyometric movements)
  • Full-body movements that tax your cardiovascular system, such as burpees and mountain climbers

4 workouts you can do in 20 minutes or less

Now that you know all about the benefits of short, intense workouts, it's time to put that knowledge into sweaty action -- below are five workouts you can do in less time than it takes to eat lunch. For the sake of simplicity, I designed all of these workouts as bodyweight-only sessions you can do anywhere.

Oh, and before you start: Don't skimp on your warm-up and make sure you pump up the tunes for a better burn

Workout 1: Lower body

Complete the following for time (as fast as possible):

  • 50 air squats
  • 20 jump squats
  • 50 alternating lunges
  • 20 alternating jump lunges
  • 50 cossack squats
  • 20 tuck jumps

Give yourself a time cap to make it more challenging. 

A woman in black fitness leggings and a black sports bra doing lunges in an empty studio.

One key to a good workout, intense or not, is good form. You'll reduce your risk of injury and improve the effectiveness of your workout. 

Workout 2: Full body cardio

In 20 minutes, complete as many rounds as possible of the following:

  • 50 high knees
  • 50 Russian twists
  • 50 tuck jumps
  • 50 mountain climbers

Choose your own rest intervals in between sets and rounds.

Workout 3: Upper body and core

Complete the following sequence one time through (12 minutes total): 

For four minutes, complete as many rounds as possible of:

  • 10 push-ups (modify if needed)
  • 10 plank shoulder taps

For four minutes, complete as many rounds as possible of:

  • 5 burpees
  • 5 v-ups (or sit-ups)
  • 5 Supermans

For four minutes, complete as many rounds as possible of:

  • 10 downward dog push-ups
  • 30-second plank
m968-csh-190509-mirror-3382-fnl

There's a lot of fancy fitness equipment out there, like this smart Mirror, but you can get fit with just your body and some effective programming. 

Mirror

Workout 4: Lower body

Complete each movement on the minute for 16 minutes (4 rounds):

  • Minute 1: 40-second wall sit (squat hold if you don't have a wall)
  • Minute 2: 40 seconds of alternating single-leg deadlift hops
  • Minute 3: 40-second glute bridge
  • Minute 4: 40 seconds of alternating lunges

Rest the remaining 20 seconds of each minute.

Now that you've worked up a sweat, learn how to recover from your workout and soothe post-workout muscle soreness with compression boots, foam rollers, massage guns and stretching


The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives. 

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.