How to Get the Most Out of a 20-Minute Workout

By Leslie Goldman, July 11, 2018

It’s a scenario most working fitness buffs have experienced: You unexpectedly have time for a 20-minute workout, and you’d love to cram some exercise in. But is 20 minutes really long enough to get a decent workout? And if it is, should you try to work up a quick sweat on the elliptical, treadmill or other cardio machine, or bang out as many reps as possible in the weight room?

The answer, says U.S. Olympic Silver Medalist and traveling personal trainer Kim Glass, is yes…and neither.

“It’s absolutely possible to squeeze a quick workout into a sliver of your day, and you can maximize your time by performing a series of exercises back-to-back using weights—both free weights as well as your body weight,” Glass says.

Doing this will elevate your heart rate and metabolism while boosting strength and endurance. “You’ll build muscle, which torches fat and burns calories long after you’ve finished your workout, which doesn’t happen with steady state cardio.” (I.e. slogging away on the elliptical while you watch the news on T.V.)

Aubre Winters, an Equinox-certified Group Fitness Instructor who frequently partners with the W Los Angeles – West Beverly Hills to offer quick fitness bursts during meetings and group breakout sessions, seconds that notion.

“Try a high intensity interval training-style workout that incorporates moves like burpees, squat jumps, alternating lunges and abdominal work,” Winters suggests. Spend one minute on each movement before switching to the next, and set aside three minutes or so at the end to stretch, “so your body can fully recover before going on with your day.”

Winters says her No. 1 tip for travelers who want to slip in a workout, but who have minimal space, equipment and time, can be summed up in two words: Get creative.

No equipment? No excuses!

“Pretty much everything you see in your hotel room can be incorporated into your exercise routine,” Winters says. For instance, “one of my go-tos is to use a small hand towel for upper body and arm work.

“You hold onto each end of the towel and pull outward (pretend you’re trying to rip the towel in half) to create tension while performing bicep curls, overhead presses, and more. I recommend slowing down the pace of the work to create a longer lasting, more effective burn, and focus on flexing and squeezing into your targeted area. You will be amazed to see how a simple hand towel can enhance your arm workout.”

Winters points out that there are plenty of other unexpected workout tools in your average hotel room, like a desk chair (for triceps dips; or put your hands on the ground and your feet on the chair for decline push ups); the desk (hold on to it for barre class-inspired calf raises); and the bed (yep, you can do jump squats on the bed, and they’re unexpectedly difficult, she says.)

She also recommends turning on your favorite five-minute workout song, laying a towel on the ground and trying the following plank series. Start in a traditional forearm plank, hold it for 30 seconds, then move on to the next position, holding each one for 30 seconds. “Stay connected to your breath and start to feel how every part of your body becomes engaged.”

Forearm plank
Right forearm plank
Forearm plank
Left forearm plank
Press up to straight arm plank
Right straight arm plank
Straight arm plank
Left straight arm plank
Mountain Climbers (Cardio Burst)
Plank Jacks (Cardio Burst)

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