20-Minute Workouts: How to Strengthen and Tone When You’re Pressed for Time

If you have to choose between doing something quickly and doing it right, what do you opt for? Answer: Both, especially when it comes to your workout. Research shows that people who work out in brief bursts—even as small as 10 minutes—throughout the day get many of the same health benefits as those who work out for longer stretches of time—as long as those mini workouts add up to the recommended 150 minutes of exercise a week.

So where do you start? Grab your Fitbit tracker, turn on exercise mode, and go. Twenty minutes may be a sweet spot. One study found that a 20-minute workout can improve cardiorespiratory endurance and burn as many as 360 calories (a 30-minute jog, comparatively, burns about 223).

Below, two fitness experts share the workouts they’d recommend for when you have 20 minutes or less to target your upper body, give your legs a one-two punch, or carve your core.

20-Minute Workout for Your Upper Body

“My favorite workout format when I’m trying to be efficient is an EMOM (every minute on the minute),” says Lindsey Corak, group training coordinator at Life Time Athletic MetroWest in Boston. “EMOM is a type of interval workout where you perform a specific exercise at the start of every minute.”

Because you have one minute to complete a designated amount of reps—and your rest period is whatever time is left over after you do—it helps set a pace and increases calorie burn, she explains. For a 20-minute upper-body EMOM, Corak recommends incorporating two push movements, two pull movements, and cardio, which will help you avoid muscle fatigue.

20-Minute Arm Workout:

Repeat 4 times for a total of 20 minutes

1st minute: 15 push-ups
2nd minute: 15 dumbbell rows
3rd minute: 15 shoulder presses
4th minute: 15 biceps curls
5th minute: 40 seconds jumping jacks; 20 seconds of rest

20-Minute Workout for Your Lower Body

If you’re going for economy in your workout, lower body is where it’s at. Lindsey Corak, group training coordinator at Life Time Athletic MetroWest in Boston, designed this calorie-torching lower-body Tabata workout with a 1:1 ratio for beginners.

An interval-style training, Tabata basically means a set period of work followed by a set period of rest. “In the time of work, you want to perform as many reps as possible,” says Corak. “I’ve found that people love this format because they feel like they are working for their rest period, so it keeps them motivated.” For more of a challenge, follow the routine below but with 40 seconds of work and 20 seconds of rest.

20-Minute Lower Body Workout:

Repeat 5 times, resting 30 seconds between sets.

30 seconds: Squats
30 seconds: Rest
30 seconds: Alternating lunges
30 seconds: Rest
30 seconds: Kettlebell deadlifts
30 seconds: Rest
30 seconds: High-knees

10-Minute Workout for Your Core

“If you want to see results with your ab and core work, you’re going to have to push past the burn,” says Jon Perrine, owner of Victory Performance Training in St. Charles, Missouri. One great exercise for building abdominal muscle is the jackknife crunch, he says, which hits the full range of muscles in the midsection.

For these, begin by lying on the floor with your legs straight out, arms extended over your head—your body should be in a straight line. Perform a crunch, lifting both your arms and legs off the floor, and touching your arms to your shins. You’ll look like a pocket knife folding and unfolding if you’re performing it correctly.

Follow the jackknife up with a one-minute plank to engage your core muscles even more.

10-Minute Core Workout:

Repeat 4 times, resting 30 seconds between sets.

1 minute: Jackknife crunches
1 minute: Plank

Great job completing your workout! Strap on your Ionic device and burn fat fast by aiming for your target heart rate zone.

25 Comments   Join the Conversation

25 CommentsLeave a comment

  • That’s great, sadly I can’t do most of those exercises, I am disable, with knees problems, for exampe I can’t lay down on the floor (sit and up) to do plank or do do Squats… I know the best exercise i can do is walk and swim but i would love to know if there is any work out to tone and strengthen my body, specialty knees, back, belly and arms (well… everything lol) My fitbit is helping me to try to control my hight heart rates, i have a heart murmur which makes it even more complicated.

    Thank you

    P.D. apologies in advance for my english, it is not my first language.

  • I am a mom who works and walks 10,000 steps a day. I have been trying to lose my 17 year old baby belly

  • I am a nearly 70 yr. old senior..been WW for 5 years in July & live the lifestyle except..seniors eating habits & exercise change..I am still working in a stressful profession..as a realtor w. seniors..and find looking after myself not up on priority list..& have a knee replacement which ‘works’ but prohibits walking any distances at any one time & stairs etc. so I do the best I can w. what I have. My brain is the only stimulation to carry on physically most days! I would like to see exercises for seniors from slow to go ‘mode’. This high energy stuff is good for youth but seniors need guidance in assisting them w. all their aches & pains & in slow mo’.. they have earned in a lifetime of hard work. I used to work very hard physically & thought this is my exercise & now realize, how wrong I was…I carried 5 gallon water cans from a pump house to my house. half country block..10 years old..carried in wood after splitting ..washed clothes by hand on a board.. hanged to dry on clothesline then heat iron on wood stove!..also..made & baked bread weekly & lit wood stove to bake it..by this time I was 12 yrs. old & ‘lady’ of the household. There are worse stories in this world ..I know..however…wouldn’t it be a start to help the seniors get through the day? thank you for your support behind your product. I still have fitbit but seem to be falling behind as sometimes I cannot even keep up to myself! on a daily basis of competing..been trying 10,000 steps but saw that my bit was not working on the program so could be by changing computer, it never got synced proper..therefore..tired of tech work..until I have time out to try reset. by then the battery will be dead..better it then me..on a lighter note..thanks again support crew..hope I have shed a good light for ideas.. BTW..not giving up!

  • Surely you should address the fitness and age level of the proposed exerciser.

    The Jackknife is not a particularly safe or effective maneuver. The “born again” fitness newbie will assume FIT BIT tidbits are gospel.
    That and the light that turns on all through the night to disturb my sleep by the FitBit2 makes me wish more review to posts and design of the watch were considered…..

  • Your routine sounds very doable. But too much thinking, i think, detours people away from exercise. I’ve always found 60 minutes, 3 days a week is easy to remember, and follow through with. 20 minutes cardio, any, and 40 minutes light to medium weights…or even push ups and pull ups, stretching etc. It has kept my body and weight the same since i was 35. I’ll turn 57 next week. I appreciate your advice, and what you do.

  • I just discovered pickled, hard boiled eggs…..yummmmmmm! I keep them in a jar along with red beets. Delish snack or mini meal

  • All this for an 80 year old! I love my fitbit and enjoy the walking would like a program for the oldies.

  • Doing a crunch from flat out on the floor like that is going to damage your lower back big time, especially if you have never done this before.

  • Hi Amanda! My name is Christina. I like your condensed exercise routine suggestions! I often think a little bit of exercise is not enough and have this mind set that I have to spend an hour in the gym 3 times a week to be fit, but I know that is not true. I also like your anything and everything pickled idea! Would you mind sharing some of your favourite recipes? One last thing, just want to mention to you, that I lost my Fitbit a few weeks ago, when I had just finished a 6 km., run, checked my time and that is the last I have seen of it. I know that the attachment at the top of the watch was sometimes popping loose and I am sure that is how lost it. Do you have any suggestions how I can replace my Fitbit at a low cost? Thank you for your time!

  • Any short cardio workout tips for those with impact restrictions? Running and jumping are no-no’s for my hip replacement. I usually have to reley on bikes and ellipticals for my cardio.

  • Repeat what 5 times? Each exercise f times and then go to the next, to go thru the whole list once and go back to the beginning 5 times?

  • At my gym the trainer is a highly qualified physiotherapist. We are told that lifting our legs at the same time is not good for the back. Comments?

  • It would be really helpful if you were to present a workout schedule that would be appropriate for someone with Osteoarthritis. Push ups and some of the other exercises would not be appropriate for someone over 60 with OA. Gentle stretches, moderate weights, stretch bands, etc. would work well. Thanks!

  • I wish you would present these in a printable way for just the exercise portion. For 2 pages, I had to print 10. Only needed 5 &6

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