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Crazy busy? Us too. That's why we were ecstatic when trainer Annette Lang, a FITNESS advisory board member, designed this quickie workout that can help you get stronger, leaner, and totally energized in only 20 minutes a day. The key is consistency: Each day for 20 days, you'll pick a strength workout, a cardio routine, or a series of relaxation and stretching exercises. In less than three weeks, you'll see (and feel) major changes in your body and your energy level; best of all, you'll actually want to work out.
See the moves! Check out the 20-minute miracle workout in our free exercise video channel.
How it works: Each day, pick from one of five series options: upper-body strength, lower-body strength, core strength, cardio, or relaxation. Do at least three different series each week. Schedule your cardio on two nonconsecutive days.
What you'll need: A set of 5- to 10-pound dumbbells (if the exercise feels easy after 20 reps, bump up the weight) and a weight bench or large sofa cushion for strength workouts.
Targets arms, chest, core
Challenge yourself: Do walking push-ups, lifting up one hand and moving it a few inches to the side; follow with the other hand; go back and forth for a total of 12 reps.
Targets arms, back
Challenge yourself: Do the move as above, but alternate arms.
Targets shoulders, arms
Challenge yourself: Begin by doing a biceps curl, then rotate arms so palms face forward, and do an overhead press.
Targets arms, chest, back
Challenge yourself: Lift legs toward chest and keep them raised to work your core.
Challenge yourself: As you step forward, rotate trunk to the same direction as front leg (so twist toward right as you step forward with right leg).
Challenge yourself: Do the move as above without the weights, but as you stand, jump up explosively, then immediately squat down again.
Challenge yourself: After lunging to the right side, lift right knee in front of you and balance on left leg for 2 to 3 seconds; repeat.
Challenge yourself: Do the move while balancing on one leg; switch legs after 8 to 10 reps.
Challenge yourself: Walk hands and feet a few feet to the right, then lift left hand off the floor, rotating body to the left. Keep hips and legs stacked as you reach left hand toward ceiling. Return to full push-up position and repeat on right side, reaching right hand toward ceiling. Walk back to start and repeat.
Challenge yourself: Do the move with your forearms on the floor.
Targets lower back
Challenge yourself: Lift both your thighs and upper body off the floor.
Challenge yourself: Touch elbow to opposite knee as you pull your arm and leg in.
0-5 minutes: Warm up, gradually increasing intensity (RPE 4).
5-6 minutes: Increase effort level until you're somewhat breathless (RPE 7 to 8).
6-7 minutes: Reduce intensity and catch your breath (RPE 5).
7-19 minutes: Repeat minutes 5 to 7, alternating 1 minute of high effort with 1 minute of moderate intensity six more times.
19-20 minutes: Cool down, reducing intensity (RPE 4).
You'd think relaxing would be second nature, but the fact is most of us are just too darn keyed up to wind down. That's why we asked Annette Lang to develop these "active" relaxation exercises. "Relaxation helps you regroup and recover," she explains. These moves also improve flexibility and help prevent injury -- especially if you sit in front of a computer most of the day.
Belly breathing: Sit up tall in a chair (or lie down with your knees bent, feet on the floor), placing both hands on your belly. Inhale through your nose, feeling your belly gently expand as it fills with air, then gently pull it in as you exhale through your mouth. Repeat 20 times.
Seated twist: Sit tall on a chair. Place your right ankle on your left thigh and gently turn toward the right. Hold there for 5 full breaths, deepening the stretch with each exhalation. To increase the stretch, gently pull your right knee toward your chest. Do the exercise 5 times on each side.
Side stretch: Lie faceup with knees bent and feet on the floor. Cross right thigh over left, allowing both legs to gradually fall to the right; you should feel the stretch along your left side. Hold there for 5 breaths, deepening the stretch with each exhalation. Return to center and repeat, switching legs. Do the stretch 5 times on each side.
Back and neck stretch: Sit up tall in a chair. Lower your right ear toward your right shoulder, feeling a stretch on the left side of your neck and upper back. Hold for 5 full breaths. To increase the stretch, place your right hand on the top of your head and gently pull down.
Mindful meditation: Sit quietly with your eyes closed. Be aware of thoughts that come and go, but try to keep your mind calm the entire time -- don't let anything linger in there for too long. Remain seated like this for at least 5 minutes.
Originally published in FITNESS magazine, April 2007.