20 minute workouts | time efficient ways to improve fitness

The most common reason people give for not exercising is lack of time. But getting into the habit of regular exercise doesn’t necessarily mean having to schedule in long exercise sessions. The World Health Organisation recommendation is that we should get 75 minutes of exercise a week. This means it only takes four 20 minute workouts a week to reach the recommended level. If you plan your 20 minute workouts to easily fit into your day, then it shouldn’t be difficult to get into a regular routine.

20 minute workouts – exercise safety guidelines

Safety guidelines for short workouts

In a standard hour long workout, plenty of time is allowed for warming up, cooling down and stretching.  If you only have 20 minutes obviously this doesn’t allow much time for warm-up and cool down.  For this reason, it’s better to follow these guidelines:

  • Keep it low impact (no running, jumping, hopping etc.)
  • Don’t use complicated movements that need a high level of coordination
  • Avoid very challenging strength exercises (heavy weights, bands with high resistance etc.)
  • Even though time is limited, don’t stop cardio activities abruptly. You need to keep moving as the heart rate comes down to avoid blood pooling in the legs.
  • Don’t do exercises that challenge flexibility, for example high kicks

In summary, the best options for 20 minute workouts (or less) are low impact, simple movement cardio and muscular endurance exercises.  (Muscular endurance exercises are ones where you do lots of reps against low resistance, often body weight exercises.)  There’s an example of a suitable workout plan below.

What about stretching?

Warm up exercises should you stretch?

Flexibility is an important part of both general wellbeing and athletic performance.  Being able to move joints through a wide range makes sport and fitness activities easier and less likely to result in injury.  It also improves quality of life and helps to avoid the stiffening and slowing down associated with ageing.  However, there’s no conclusive evidence that it’s essential either before or after exercise sessions.  If you don’t have time to stretch after your workout, that’s OK.  On the other hand, if you want to have good flexibility, then it’s best to stretch muscles when they’re warm.  Following a workout would therefore be an ideal time to do it.

A 20 minute home workout

This workout should only take about 20 minutes, including a short warm up and recovery afterwards.  You don’t need any special equipment.  However, you will need a soft surface for the floor work.  If you don’t have an exercise mat, use a folded blanket or quilt.  Training shoes aren’t essential, but you should either do this barefoot or wear something with soles that grip (ie not socks).

The instructions for each exercise are below, together with a chart of reps and sets.  You can also download a printable with the exercises and reps.   (Note on sets:  2 sets means do all the exercises in that section, then repeat that section for a second set.)  Before you do this workout, please read these general guidelines.

20 minute workouts schedule

Side bends

Hamstring curls

Toe taps behind

Heel taps in front

Knee lift

Butterfly squats

20 minute workouts arm reach

Side leg raise

Hip extension

20 minute workouts squats

Curl ups

20 minute workouts bicycle crunch

Elbow plank

When you’ve finished, do this stretch routine if you have time, if not just lie on the floor and hug your knees into your chest for 30 seconds, then stretch your legs out straight and your arms above your head for 30 seconds.

Download an A4 size printable of the workout

Download a letter size printable of the workout

 

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You don't have to do long workouts to benefit from exercise. As long as you choose the right exercises, you can get fitness benefits from 20 minute workouts. This post explains how to get the most out of short workout routines and has an example 20 minute workout with printable download | The Fit Look

Other short workouts for you to try:

Cardio workout circuitWorkouts for abs 5 minute routines 2709Wall exercises for whole leg workout