20 Minute Workouts that Really Work

Last Updated Mar 24, 2011 6:11 PM EDT

Probably the biggest excuse that professionals give for not working out regularly is lack of time. Who can take two hours out of their busy work day to exercise?

Well, cross that excuse off your list.

According to the Physical Activity Guidelines published by the National Institutes of Health, which was based on an exhaustive reading of the medical literature, you don't need to take a one-hour lunch break to work out to be in shape. You can get substantial health benefits from 75 minutes a week of high intensity physical activity. These benefits include a reduced risk of heart disease, stroke, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, depression and dying prematurely. Exercise can also improve your mood, energy level and mental sharpness, which all translate to better performance at work.

A general rule of thumb is that two minutes of moderate-intensity activity (like brisk walking, easy biking, doubles tennis) is equal to one minute of vigorous-intensity activity (jogging, swimming laps, singles tennis, kickboxing, and spinning).

So, though your workout will be shorter, you will need to be sucking wind. Which shouldn't be too hard to accomplish, as more and more gyms are offering "express" high-intensity workouts--you're in and out in 30 minutes, or even 20.

And you won't be sacrificing your heart or health benefits either.

There are a number of quickie classes offered, like Kickboxing Express and Ripped Rotation, in cities across the country.

If you're not into classes, New York Sports Clubs offers XpressLine, a 22 minute circuit on the machines supervised by trainers, and of course, the 30-minute workout is what the Curves franchise was built on. There are also 30, 20 and even 10 minute at home workouts available on DVDs or on the internet.

Here are some fast-workout tips from fitness expert Jennifer Cohen, author of No Gym Required and trainer of the new reality show Shedding for the Wedding on The CW.

  1. Warm up for four to five minutes and stretch for five minutes at the end.
  2. Keep your heart rate between 65% and 85% the whole time, higher in the range if possible.
  3. Wear a heart rate monitor (Cohen likes the Polar heart rate monitor for its ease of use and price). It's tough to estimate how hard you're working without one, but if you don't wear one, aim for heavy breathing with an inability to carry on a conversation.
  4. Do high-intensity intervals, with very short lower-intensity "breaks".
  5. Good high intensity exercises incorporate several muscle groups at once, such as squats with a shoulder press, or going from a jump to a plank to a push-up. If your workout is more of a strength training workout, focusing on one muscle group at a time, your heart rate won't rise high enough to qualify as high-intensity.
  6. On your off days, do an easy workout, like a long walk.
Do you do a fast workout and what does it consist of?
Laurie Tarkan is an award-winning health journalist who writes for the New York Times, national magazines and websites including Health, Prevention, iVillage and the Huffington Post. Follow her on twitter.
Image courtesy of flickr user, Ed Yourdon
  • Laurie Tarkan

    Laurie Tarkan is an award-winning health journalist who writes for The New York Times and many national magazines. She is a contributing editor at Fit Pregnancy magazine and the author of three books, Perfect Hormone Balance for Fertility, Perfect Hormone Balance for Pregnancy and My Mother's Breast: Daughters Ace Their Mothers' Cancer.. You can follow her on Twitter at @LaurieTarkan.