Short Workouts: Creating the Best 20-Minute Workout

Let’s say that you only had 20 minutes in your day to workout. What would you do? This is a common occurrence for many people, so short workouts need to be created. It just takes a little thought and you have to strip workouts down to the bare bones. But a great workout can still be had!

What are the essentials? It needs to be simple and basic involving free weights and compound exercises. As great as machines are, if someone is hogging the one you need then you are out of luck with such a short time window.

The Split

This workout split is based on working the upper body and lower body on different days. Depending on your availability you can either rest on the in between days or do cardio. This is just a sample as well. As long as you take at least one day off between doing both upper and lower body you can structure the routine over any sequence of days you like.

Body Part

  • Mon – Upper
  • Tues. – Lower
  • Wed. – Cardio or Off
  • Thurs. – Upper
  • Fri. – Lower
  • Sat. – Cardio or Off
  • Sun. – Cardio or Off

Doing Cardio

If you are doing cardio and only have 20 minutes the best options are either running on the treadmill or doing interval training on an elliptical machine. Do a two minute warm up and cool down to get the maximum amount of fat burning time from what is available.

The Workouts

The basic idea is supersets (when two exercises are performed in a row without stopping) and compound exercises. Ideally you do not rest between the two exercises. Keep the rest 30 seconds to a minute between supersets. Aim for steady, controlled movements and don’t rush.

Upper Body

  • Dumbbell Incline Bench Presses with Dumbbell Bent Rows – 3 sets of 6 to 8 reps
  • Dumbbell Shoulder Presses with Dumbbell Front Rows – 3 sets of 6 to 8 reps
  • Dips with Close Grip Underhand Chins – 3 sets of 6 to 8 reps

Lower Body

  • Dumbbell Squats with Dumbbell Stiff-Legged Deadlifts – 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps
  • Dumbbell Lunges with Standing Dumbbell Calf Raises – 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps
  • Jackknife Crunches with Planks – 3 sets of 30+ reps (and 30 second hold on the planks)

Between these two workouts you are touching on all the muscle groups in the body. By combining compound movements with dumbbell work you will be hitting stabilizing muscles as well for added difficulty. While having a little more time might be helpful, this routine will do a good job of getting you in shape or keeping you in shape depending on your goal.

Since you have limited workout time you need to make sure that you stretch at other times. Stretch at least twice daily on days when you workout to keep loose and help with the recovery process.



    • says

      That is why it is good to mix it up, Jan. I find that if I try to do the same thing on a consistent basis, I will end up stopping after a week or two. If I mix it up, I am more likely to keep moving.

  1. Katharina says

    I’m glad I found this! To think that I could start a 20 minute a day workout that actually works is something I’ve been looking for for a long time!
    Katharina {email address removed}

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