What if you only have 20 minutes to do a workout? What if it’s one of those weeks when it seems at least one crisis a day pops up, requiring your immediate attention? You have 20 minutes to do something, but you haven’t done much anything else this week, should you do cardio or strength training? Is it even worth doing anything?
Absolutely! You can get a quality strength, cardio and stretch workout done in a mere 20 minutes and I call it a Timed Circuit.
I developed this workout for one of my clients, a mom of two young children and a full-time attorney. She enjoyed the traditional strength training circuits I had developed for her. They would take, on average, about 40 minutes. But, often she only had 20-30 minutes to do them in the wee hours of the morning before her children woke up. Sometimes that meant she could only get through one set of each exercise, other times it meant she could get a couple of sets in, but she had to eliminate some of the exercises in the workout to do so. In both cases, it left her feeling like she didn’t really get a quality workout. The next time it would happen, she would contemplate sleeping the extra half hour rather than do an incomplete workout.
She had the motivation, it was up to me, her trainer, to find a way to make working out fit into her tight schedule. And, just as important, to make each precious minute of her workouts count. Since I introduced her to timed circuits, she has consistently done two of them a week for over a year. On days when she has more time, she does traditional steady-state or interval cardio workouts. She sees and feels the results due to the consistency and balance in her training.
My husband has since asked me to develop timed circuits for him. He warms up jogging from his office to a nearby Planet Fitness, does his timed circuits and heads back to the office. A full, balanced workout done with only a 30 minute break from work.
I do them too. They are quick and so fast paced and challenging, I don’t have time to get bored.
The Concept: A traditional strength training circuit has one performing a maximum number of reps of 5-10 exercises, resting and then performing the circuit again for a second set of each exercise. The purpose is to work the targeted muscle groups to fatigue, through a high number of repetitions, thus forcing the body to regenerate the muscle tissue.
The timed circuit brings the muscles to fatigue in a different way. In the timed circuit, you go through the exercises at a fast pace with relatively low repetitions and limited rest. The exercises within the circuit are integrated rather than targeted. Meaning, each exercise will work several different muscle groups as opposed to targeting only one muscle or muscle group at a time.
All of this means that, after the circuit is complete, you will have worked all the major muscle groups to fatigue in a comparatively short amount of time. In addition, because there is an aerobic element – one is sustaining movement over several minutes and maintaining an elevated heart rate throughout – this also counts as a moderate cardio workout.
The entire workout consists of a warm up, two timed circuits with rest in between and post-workout stretching. The warm up, rest and stretch components of the workout take about six minutes in total. Therefore, the length of your two circuits depends upon the amount of time you have available.
For example, if you only have 20 minutes of available time, your circuit length will be seven minutes: 1 minute warm up + 1st 7 minute circuit + 1 minute rest + 2nd 7 minute circuit + 4 minute stretch = 20 minutes.
Timed Circuit Workout – No Equipment
Warm Up: Moderate cardio to slightly elevate heart rate: 1 minute minimum
Start Timer: Set to appropriate time for your preferred workout length:
- 20 minute workout = 7 minute circuits
- 26 minute workout = 10 minute circuits
- 30 minute workout = 12 minute circuits (Do not exceed 12 minute circuits)
Perform Timed Circuit: Perform each of the following exercises to the suggested repetition amount, in succession, with no rest in between exercises. One exercise should flow into the next. Continue performing the circuit in a continuous loop (Supermans through Glute Bridges), with no rest, until the timer is at zero. When the timer runs out, stop where you are, even if you’re in the middle of the circuit:
- Supermans: 10-15 reps; works shoulders, entire back, back of hips & legs
- Push-Ups: 10-15 reps; works chest, shoulders, arms & core; perform at your level, either on knees or toes.
- Bird-Dog: 10-15 reps each side; works shoulders, upper back, core & glutes
- Ab Crunches: 15-20 reps; works abs
- Bicycle Crunches: 10-15 reps each side; works obliques & hip flexors
- Single Leg Glute Bridges: 10-15 reps each side; works core, glutes & hamstrings
- Repeat circuit with no rest until timer exhausts. Even for the 7 minute circuits, you should be able to get through the full circuit at least two times.
Rest/Recovery: 1 Minute: You may perform dynamic or static stretches while you rest, if you wish. But the main purpose is to rest your muscles briefly and allow your heart rate to slow slightly before performing the second timed circuit.
Start Timer Again (same time interval as first circuit)
Perform 2nd Timed Circuit: same as above
Perform Stretches: Hold each stretch for 20-30 seconds:
- Standing Chest Stretch: exercise provides progression for deeper stretch
- Overhead Triceps Stretch: stretches arms & shoulders (stretch both sides)
- Standing Triangle Straddle Bends: stretches back, waist & outer thighs (stretch both sides)
- Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch: stretches hip flexors & quads (stretch both sides)
- Seated Toe Touches: stretches back, glutes, hamstrings, calves & shins
Author’s Note: Always consult your physician before beginning any new exercise program.
- Not For Beginners: While most of my Workouts of the Month are fitness level neutral, this isn’t. Fatigue will set in quickly and, under those circumstances, proper form and breathing are difficult to maintain even for the most experienced. Even knowing intellectually how an exercise is supposed to be performed isn’t enough, developing muscle memory is imperative. The only way to accomplish that is to perform these exercises in a traditional format consistently and regularly over several weeks.
- Ensure Proper Recovery & Frequency: This workout is hard on your muscles. You must observe at least 48 hours of rest from any type of strength training after doing a timed circuit workout. You may do a cardio workout the next day, if you wish. In addition, while it might be okay to do this workout three times in one week if you are doing 7 minute circuits, I wouldn’t recommend doing more than two in a week if you’re performing 10 or 12 minute circuits. Ultimately, your body will tell you what it can tolerate in terms of length of circuits and frequency, which leads to…
- Listen to Your Body: If you’re feeling achy or especially fatigued, it’s probably a sign of overtraining or under-fueling. Adjust some or all of the following variables until you have found the right balance for your body:
- Sleep: When training at a high level, it’s important to get proper sleep on a regular basis. Seven to eight hours of sleep per night is a must.
- Frequency or Length of Circuits: Reduce the number of timed circuits you perform per week by one and/or reduce the length of your circuits.
- Rest & Recovery: Add another 24 hours to your recovery after the last timed circuit workout or, if you’re performing a cardio workout the following day, reduce the intensity or duration of that workout. Alternatively, make your rest day immediately following one of your timed circuit days.
- Protein Intake: You will need to consume more protein on your timed circuit days as compared to other days. I recommend consuming primarily animal-based proteins, which are complete proteins, such as dairy, eggs, poultry, meat and fish. Plant proteins, most are partial proteins, can be good to supplement the complete proteins on those days. Examples are nuts, seeds, legumes (beans) and some grains, such as quinoa. Protein bars are helpful if you’re on the go. I prefer whey-based bars over soy-based. Quest Bars are my personal favorite.
- Hydration: Because this isn’t a major sweat-inducing workout, it’s easy to forget to hydrate. Make sure you’re getting enough hydration on these days.
Fit&Happier Workout of the Month defined: These are 30 minute general fitness workouts designed to offer a complete and balanced approach to strength and cardiovascular training in the most efficient way possible. Strength training workouts will each feature a different form of resistance, or load, so that you can choose the type of resistance based on equipment availability and your preference. These will offer full-body strength training and muscle toning with base exercises appropriate for beginners and progressions for those more experienced in strength training. Cardio workouts are designed to get the most calorie burn possible in the time allotted. Combo workouts combine strength and cardio training into one, efficient, full-body, calorie-burning workout. All workouts conclude with flexibility training as no workout is complete without it. Click on the exercises to link to step-by-step written and video instructions provided by ACE Fitness.
Previous Fit&Happier Workouts of the Month – January: Body Weight Strength Training; February: Resistance Band Strength Training; March: Free Weight Strength Training; April: Medicine Ball Strength Training; May: Strength Training with Stability Ball; June: Strength & Balance Training; July: Functional Training; August: Interval Training; September: Playground Combo Workout; October: Outdoor Cardio-Strength Combo
Check back the second week in December for the Fit&Happier December Workout of the Month: HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training-Cardio)
Click on the link to view previous Activity-Specific Workouts of the Month: Hockey & Cross-Country Skiing, Snowboarding & Figure Skating, Golf & Softball, Distance Running, Racquet Sports, Swimming, Waterskiing & Surfing, Cycling, Rowing & Desk Jockeys, Track, Field & Court Sports, Throwing & Pitching, Dancing, Downhill Skiing