Short on time and not sure what you can achieve? We talk about what you can achieve in 20 minutes. 

How to workout when you are short on time



“If you only have 20 minutes, then you need to know what you can achieve in that time,” says trainer Prue Houston. “If you are really time poor, you may only be able to dedicate short periods of your day to working out. If this is the case, the onus is on getting the most bang for your buck.”

That’s intense

“If you are looking to maintain your fitness or encourage weight loss, then 20 minutes a day, providing it’s at the right intensity, is great,” says Houston. “And this is the key – if you’re going for a short burst you need to put in your absolute best effort.” Research has shown that by cramming more ‘work’ into your workout, you’ll achieve the same results in less time. A 2006 study in The Journal of Physiology that asked cyclists to complete 30 seconds of ‘all-out’ four to six times and separated by a four-minute break – found that this shorter, higher-intensity training had similar results completing 90 to 120 minutes of continuous cycling (at around 65 per cent of their Vo2 peak).

What can I achieve in 20 minutes?

While a solid HIIT session often lasts for fewer than 20 minutes it is essentially catabolic, so you need to train with heavy weights too.  So much for short.

Can I burn that fajita? 

According to a study published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, HIIT burnt around four calories more per minute than aerobic or resistance training. Another study published in Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism found that HIIT training results in the same 24-hour energy expenditure (EPOC) as moderate-intensity exercise, in half the time due to superior EPOC.


Most high-intensity interval training will get your heart rate up (ideally right up, like 85 per cent of your maximum heart rate up). A 2008 study in the American Journal of Physiology: Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology found that Vo2 max, the best measure of cardiovascular fitness, was seven per cent higher than that of continuous training. Research has even shown that HIIT training increases oxidative enzymes in mitochondria, which enable muscles to break down oxygen and promote endurance training.

The weights routine:

“Don’t cheat on form thinking that you’ll save time – that is the fastest way to get injured,” says Houston. Supersetting your exercises can speed things up. A 2011 study by the University of Ohio found that subjects who supersetted their exercises not only demonstrated greater workout efficiency than those who didn’t, but achieved similar or better muscle gain. It’s also harder work. A study from Connecticut State University found that supersetting weights equated to a greater loss of body fat and higher level of anaerobic fitness than traditional weights.