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If I Only Had 20 Minutes to Workout…

Last Updated on May 12, 2017 by Jeff

20 Minute WorkoutFinding time to work out is one of the biggest challenges I hear people struggle with in their workout regimens. It’s becoming harder than ever with longer work hours, more traffic and more distractions in our lives. Here is what I would do if I only had 20 minutes to work out.

Why 20 minutes? Because we can all find 20 minutes in our day. Whether we have to get up 20 minutes earlier or spend half of our lunch break working out, everyone has the ability to find 20 minutes for themselves.

If you’re honest, you probably spend more time than that browsing Facebook and watching TV every day. You could easily use that time more effectively.

If I only had 20 minutes to work out I would…

Do density training:

  • Density training is a style of training that is most easily described as doing as much work in a given timeframe as possible. The more work completed, the more ‘dense’ your workout is. Set the timer for 20 minutes and do as much work as possible. You could make it as many total reps in the given time. Or to as many total sets of 5/10/whatever reps. You could set up a circuit and do as many circuits as possible in the given time. There are lots of ways to do density training, but the idea is always to do as much work as possible in the timeframe. From there, you simply aim to do more work in subsequent sessions. Every time you train, try to do more reps/sets/circuits than you did last time. After a few weeks, change the exercises or increase the weight. This will keep challenging your body and help you toward making progress.

Do bodyweight training:

  • Bodyweight training is great for a number of reasons. It requires no set-up or equipment, so it’s a good option when you’re pushed for time. Plus, it engages the whole body, so you’re working many muscle groups in each exercise. It lends itself well to density training (or any kind of intense training) because it is safe. You can go to failure and fatigue, without worry of dropping weights on yourself or getting pinned underneath a weight. You will simply get to a point where you can’t lift any more and then stop. This allows you to really push yourself to the max, without the need for a spotter or having to stop a couple of reps short for safety reasons. Over time, those reps add up and will make a big difference to your outcomes. Bodyweight training can also be done just about anywhere. If you have some floor space and a pull up bar, you can get a great workout in. This means you can do it at home, in the park, or just about anywhere else, which is a big bonus if you’re pushed for time. You might not be able to find the time to get to the gym, but I guarantee you can find 20 minutes to work out at home every day.


  • HIIT stands for High Intensity Interval Training. This is the most ‘bang for your buck’ way of doing cardio that will get you fit and shed body fat quicker than anything else. The best part about it is that you actually can’t do it for more than 20 minutes anyway. You’re not trying to game the system by only doing 20 minutes of HIIT—that is the most you should try to do (possibly much less). Interval training is where you switch between a high intensity ‘work’ phase and a lower intensity ‘rest’ phase. The phases can be divided by time or distance. For example, 20 seconds of sprinting followed by 40 seconds of gentle jogging or rowing 500 meters as hard as you can, then rowing another 500 meters at half the stroke rate. HIIT is most effective when you genuinely go all out on the work phases. Keep them short—under 30 seconds—and give it everything. With a 5 minute warm up and cool down, you can get a killer workout in just 10 minutes doing HIIT.Of course, that’s not an invitation to be lazy because you’re only really working for 10 minutes. Those 10 minutes should be so intense that you simply cannot go on any longer. There’s an inverse relationship between intensity and duration. The higher the intensity, the less time you can sustain that workload. Simply up the intensity in all of your training and you can get the same outcome in less time.

Superset just 2 key exercises:

  • This is another of my favorite time-poor workouts. Pick 2 key exercises—big , multi-joint, compound exercises that hit all of the different muscles groups. Pair them together and just alternate doing sets of one and then the other. Good exercises to choose could be squats and pull ups, or dead lifts and dumbbell bench press. You can combine this with density training, setting a time period to do as many total reps or sets as possible. You can also do, say 5 sets of 8-10 reps on each, with the most weight you can use and strict rest periods. If you complete 5 sets of 10, increase the weight next time. You really don’t need to do 15 different exercises every time you’re in the gym. Most people would get great results by doing just 6 key exercises, consistently and with intensity. Unfortunately, maintaining consistency and genuinely pushing intensity to the limit is hard. So people look for the ‘perfect plan’ and change their routine all the time. They think they need to do 17 exercises per body part to get an effective workout. This is simply not the case.

You can get a great workout in a limited amount of time. It just requires the commitment to not let a lack of time stop you, and the desire to work as hard as possible in the time that you do have.