Ask a Trainer: If I Only Have 20 Minutes to Work Out, What Should I Do?

Nike master trainer Holly Rilinger reveals how to get the most bang for your buck during a short workout.

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You know that exercise has a host of health benefits, so you’ve decided to give this whole “working out on a regular basis” thing a chance. The problem is, however, that life has a way of getting in the way your fitness goals. 

You wanted to work out Monday at lunch but that budget meeting ran long. You wanted to go for a run after work but your buddy suggested a catch-up happy hour. You wanted to wake up early for Spin class but you stayed up until 2 am binge-watching your favorite show on Netflix.

Sometimes a workout is in the cards, and sometimes it’s not. But other times it’s just about how creative you can get to make sure you fit a workout into your hectic lifestyle. Remember: Whether it’s a straight hour, a few 10-minute jaunts, or a quick 20 minutes during lunch, doing something is better than doing nothing.

Here, Nike master trainer Holly Rilinger talks about the best exercises to do when you’re short on time.

“If you only have 20 minutes, I think the best bang for your buck is using HIIT, which is high intensity interval training,” says Rilinger. HIIT is a type of exercise where you push yourself as hard as you can for a brief period of time, then recover and repeat (such as sprinting then walking, or running up stairs and walking down).

“The reason this works so well is you actually spike your heart rate—you work harder and you work more intensely for a short amount of time,” says Rilinger. The high-intensity bursts in HIIT have been shown to help burn more calories in less time and also help reduce subcutaneous abdominal fat (the belly fat you can pinch). Learn more about how different types of belly fat affect your health

What’s more, working out intensely for 15 minutes is roughly the equivalent of working at a moderate intensity for 30, says Rilinger.


20-Minute HIIT Workouts

When doing HIIT, it doesn’t matter if you have equipment or don’t, the formula is the same, says Rilinger. “A great way to start out is using a 1:2 ratio. So, working out intensely for 30 seconds, and then recovering for 60. And then you’ll do that for 15-20 minutes.”

If you don’t have equipment, you can use your body weight. Choose five exercises: Two that work your upper body (push-ups and a plank, for example), two lower body exercises (such as squats and lunges), and one core movement (like a v-up, which is a sit-up, with arms and legs straight to make a “V”).

If you have equipment, you could use a set of dumbells or an elliptical or stationary bike and also do five exercises. “[For upper body] you can do chest presses and bent-over rows, and lower body you can do squats and lunges, and for core movement you can do Russian twists or dumbbell toe touches,” says Rilinger. 

Ready for more? Try this 12-minute no-gym HIIT workout hosted by Holly.