How to improve your fitness with 20 minute workouts

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

20 minute workouts safety guidelines

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 exercises which challenge muscular strength
  • 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.)  The 20 minute walk plan below is an easy way to fit some low impact cardio into your day.

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 walk workout

This 20 minute interval walk shouldn’t be too difficult to fit in to anyone’s day.  There are 3 levels of speed that you alternate between.  Picking up to a fast walk for 4 minutes gets the heart rate up for cardio training benefits and then it gradually comes down again as you work back down to a normal walking pace.  The three levels are:

Level 1 – a normal walking pace.  This is about 3mph for most people. The walk begins and ends at Level 1.

Level 2 – a bit faster.  At this level you should be breathing a little more heavily and feeling  warmer.  This would be about 3.75mph for the average person.

At Level 3, you should be starting to feel “out of breath” – holding a conversation is more difficult at this level.  For the average person, level 3 is about 4.5mph.

How to do the walk intervals

  • Stat with 4 minutes walking at level 1
  • Pick up the pace to level 2, so that you are getting warmer for 4 minutes
  • You should be ready for level 3 now.  Increase the speed a bit more, so that you feel a little out of breath
  • After 4 minutes at level 3, go back down to level 2.  You’ll find that for the first minute or so your body is recovering from level 3, so your heart rate and breathing will still be faster.  Do 4 minutes at level 2
  • Finally, the last 4 minutes is at level 1, to cool down.

20 minute walk plan

Planning a walking route

You’ll need to have some sort of idea of your walking route, to make sure you end up back home or wherever you want to be after 20 minutes.  To plan the route, you need to know how much distance you will cover.  This will vary from person to person depending on what your actual walking speed at the different levels are.  For example, one person might start to breathe more heavily and get warm at 3.75 mph, while for someone else it could be 4mph.  But we’ll take the average speeds given above to work out the distance, which should give a walk of around 20 minutes for most people.

  • 8 minutes at level 1 speed of 3mph would be 0.4 miles
  • 8 minutes at level 2 speed of 3.75mph   would be 0.5 miles
  • 4 minutes at level 3 speed  4mph  would be 0.3 miles

You therefore want to plan a route of about 1.2 miles.  There are plenty of online route planners you can use.  See here for a tutorial using

You will probably find when you try the walk that the distance isn’t exactly right and your final interval isn’t exactly 4 minutes, due to individual differences in walking speeds.  This doesn’t really matter if it’s only out by a couple of minutes.  If it’s a long way out, then double check the effort descriptions for the 3 levels and make sure you are keeping to them.  If you’re still a long way off 20 minutes, then adjust your route up or down as needed.

Progressing your walk workout

If possible, do the walk 3 or 4 times a week.  As you get fitter, your walking speeds will get faster, which means you’ll cover more distance in the time.  After a while therefore, you’ll need to adjust your walk distance to be a bit longer. Apart from increasing your walking spped, other ways of progressing are:

  • Walk for longer or more often
  • Choose a hilly route, or one with uneven surface
  • Carry some extra weight

To learn more about how to progress your walking workout, see this post.

For more on 20 minute workouts and other home fitness, follow my Pinterest board:


Other short workouts for you to try:

Lose weight by walking on your lunch breakMat Pilates 4 exercisesButt and thigh firming workout with printable exercise chart

How to improve your fitness with 20 minute workouts: you don't need to schedule in long workout sessions to make a difference to your fitness. This 20 minute interval walk can easily fit around your lifestyle. Ideally, do it 3 or 4 times a week.How to improve your fitness with 20 minute workouts: you don't need to schedule in long workout sessions to make a difference to your fitness. This 20 minute interval walk can easily fit around your lifestyle. Ideally, do it 3 or 4 times a week.