The “But I Only Have 20 Minutes” Workout Solution


“But, Nia, I only had 20 minutes so I didn’t have enough time to do my workout!”

“There’s no way I can have an effective workout in 20 minutes.”

I’ve heard these statements before and I always respond with, “Correction. You dohave 20 minutes. That’s plenty of time for an effective workout.”

Don’t underestimate what you can accomplish in 20 minutes. If you do things right, that’s enough time for an effective, fast workout. Below you’ll see four sample 20-minute workouts, and they should give you some great ideas to create your own as well.

These 20-minute workouts are perfect for …

  • When you’re short on time and can’t perform your regular routine.
  • You just don’t feel like doing your regular routine!
  • You don’t want to spend more than 20 or so minutes working out.

And to get the greatest benefits from these sample 20-minute workouts, there are a few simple rules to apply.

4 Rules for 20-Minute Workouts

The main principle when you’re short on time (or just don’t want to spend much working out) is embracing the less, but better principle. You need to only follow four simple rules for effective 20 minute workouts:

  1. Use the best exercises – that means compound exercises that work a lot of muscle at once (e.g. squats, push-ups).
  2. Use a challenging load or variation.
  3. Don’t rest longer than necessary. If you’re limited on time, you can’t spend most of it resting and doing nothing.
  4. When you repeat the workout, improve your performance.

Easy-peezy lemon squeezy. Now that you know the rules, let’s dive into the sample 20-minute workouts.

Sample Workout 1 – Countdown

If you “only have 20 minutes” to devote to a workout, spend the first five doing a fast and simple warm-up. A great way to start is to perform 1-2 easy sets of the exercises in the workout.

After the warm-up get your weights ready, set a timer for 15 minutes, and perform as many circuits as possible in that time. When the buzzer sounds, you’re done. Here’s a terrific sample workout that’ll work your entire body.

1a. Goblet squat x 10-12 reps
1b. One arm dumbbell push press x 8-10 reps per arm
1c. Chin-up (or assisted chin-ups) x 8-10 reps

Perform those exercises, one after the other, in circuit fashion. Be prepared to experience how effective a 20-minute workout can be.

Each time you repeat the workout you can either perform more reps per set or strive to perform more circuits in the same 15 minute time period.

Sample Workout 2 – The Power of 3

You’ve seen this layout before in Triple-Exercise Total Body Workouts because it’s my favorite, tried-and-true format for a fast and effective workout.

Perform three exercises for three sets each.

1a. RDL or Single leg RDL
1b. Inverted row or One arm dumbbell row
1c. Push-up or Dumbbell bench press

Perform those three exercises in circuit fashion, one after the other, for a total of three circuits and keep the rest between exercises to a minimum. A good rep range to use is the standard 3×10-12 reps for each exercise. Or you can do 1×6, 1×10, and 1×15 for variety.

Remember, put 100% effort and focus into every rep of every set. Make it count!

Sample Workout 3 – AMAP

AMAP means as many as possible, and that’s what you’ll do with this workout. You’ll perform as many reps as possible for each exercise listed below in 60 seconds, and then move on to the next exercise and do the same thing until you perform all five.

1) Rear foot elevated split squat (right leg) x 60 seconds
2) Rear foot elevated split squat (left leg) x 60 seconds
3) Close grip push-up x 60 seconds
4) Face-pull x 60 seconds
5) Kettlebell or Dumbbell swing x 60 seconds

You may not be able to perform each exercise non-stop for 60 seconds, and that’s fine. Do as many as you can and rest only as needed.

Rest as little as possible between each exercise, and then repeat it a total of two to three times.

And now for the fourth sample workout …

Sample Workout 4 – Top of the Minute

After a five minute warm-up set a timer for 15 minutes and at the top of every minuteperform a set of an exercise.

You have dozens of options, but be sure to use a compound exercise like a deadlift or squat for strength-based workouts, but be sure to use a lighter weight than you normally would. You can also use a more conditioning-based exercise such as kettlebell swings, burpees, farmer carries, or even sled drags or pushes.

At the top of each minute, do a set.  For example with a deadlift or squat, you could do five reps at the top of every minute, and after the 15 minute time period is over, you’ll have performed 15 sets. For deadlifts and squats keep the reps in the 3-5 range and start with a weight you could lift for 10 reps or so. This may be easy for the first few minutes, but it will get more challenging as fatigue accumulates.

For kettlebell swings, burpees, or pulling a sled, do a set that takes approximately 15-20 seconds or so to complete. Then you’ll rest until the top of the next minute rolls around. Again, start conservatively!

What Can YOU Do in 20 Minutes?

These are just four examples for effective 20-minute workouts and there are myriad possibilities whether you work out at home with just your bodyweight or if you prefer to train at a gym. How much time you have isn’t the important thing – making the most ofwhat you do have is what matters most.

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