When there’s no time to spare, your workouts need to enter a new level of intensity. Curious what the most efficient way to train is when you have less than 30 minutes to get a good sweat on? The answer should seem obvious: high intensity interval training. We came prepared with five 20-minute HIIT workouts that’ll torch fat and build muscle.
Before we begin, it’s important to recognize when you’re pressed for time, you need to reassess your rest intervals. Think about your typical one-hour workout and zero in on just how much time you actually spend lifting. You’ll realize in most cases it won’t be much more than 20 minutes. Pretty crazy, right?
The key is to leverage your work-to-rest ratio by amping up the volume where possible. If you can spend most of 20 minutes working out and not resting, you could end up ahead of the curve. That’s how these 20-minute HIIT workouts tend to operate, whether using weights or cardio equipment.
These 20-Minute HIIT Workouts Will Keep Your Fitness (and Ego) in Check
Workout 1: German Volume Training
German volume training is a tried, tested, and true training method for both muscle development and fat loss, and it’s no joke. Most useful in compound movements, it’s a true ego check wrapped up in 20 or so minutes of effort.
Directions: Take any big lift you like (squats, overhead press, and bench press are among the most common) and select 60 percent of your typical 10-rep max. Read that twice. You’re looking for a percentage of your 10RM, not your 1RM here. Then, perform 10 sets of 10 reps with that weight, staying true to good technique, tempo, and quality. Rest for only 1 minute between sets. Make sure you abide by that.
Pro Tip: Based on the fatigue factor, it’s smart to gear up the same way you might for heavy lifts. If you’re accustomed to squatting or deadfliting with a training belt, use it here. Even though the weight is lighter, the demand is higher overall, and you’ll likely be lifting fatigued for a good portion of this workout. Keep yourself safe.
Workout 2: Hill Sprints and Bodyweight Burnout
Alternating between sprints and bodyweight work is a great, safe way to really test your cardiovascular fitness in a short period of time for the greatest return on investment. Head outside and find a 40-meter hill on a decent grade. You can rest as long as possible between sets, but know you have to complete all 8 sets in 20 minutes.
Sets 1-4: 40-meter hill sprint + 20 pushups
Sets 5-8: 40-meter hill sprint + 5 hand walkouts (watch the video demonstration here)
Pro Tip: Leave something in the tank when sprinting. Go fast—really fast—but know there’s another gear you can reach that you’re keeping in reserve. It’s the best way to stay safe and sustain your efforts through the entire workout. You’re repeating this for 8 rounds after all.
Workout 3: Kettlebell Chaos
Directions: For this workout, you’ll need three kettlebells. One pair of the same weight, and one single bell that’s slightly heavier.
- Kettlebell Complex – 5×6 reps: Using your lighter pair of kettlebells, perform a squat to swing, full swing, and a snatch. (Watch the video demonstration here.)
- Single-Arm Kettlebell Press – 3×10 reps per side: Hold your heavy kettlebell bottoms up (bell toward ceiling), keeping your wrist perfectly straight, then press your arm up, extending your elbow. Carefully lower back to start. (Watch the video demonstration here)
- Turkish Getup – 3-minute AMRAP: Using your light kettlebell, complete 3 minutes of continuous getups, alternating hands on each rep. Here’s how: Lie faceup holding the kettlebell in left hand, arm extended, eyes on bell, left knee bent with foot planted. Extend right arm and leg to the side at a 45-degree angle. Forcefully roll onto your right hip and forearm, left arm still locked in place. With your right palm pressed into the floor and left arm still straight overhead, throw right leg behind you, placing right knee down on floor. Keeping your left arm straight and eyes on the bell, press through your left foot to raise hips high and come up onto right hand. Lift right hand off floor to rise to a kneel, maintaining left arm position with biceps close to ear. Look straight ahead and stand up, squeezing glutes and pulling your shoulder blades down and back. Reverse movement to return to start.
Workout 4: Prowler and Carry
This one requires a gym with a turf (or outdoor space)—a prowler and heavy dumbbells.
Directions: Map out a distance of 40 meters and perform a prowler push using the equivalent of your bodyweight for the entire distance. If you weigh 200 pounds, push a 200-pound sled. It’s best to go 20 meters to one end, then 20 meters back. Use a fast pace. Once finished with your prowler push, immediately perform a farmer’s carry—that’s a brisk walk carrying the heaviest dumbbells you can hold by your sides and properly walk. Repeat for as many rounds as possible in 20 minutes.
Workout 5: Push/Pull Ladder
You can still get a great upper-body workout when bodyweight and a pullup/dip station is all you have.
Directions: You’ll perform a superset of pushups to pullups inverse-ladder style. Start with 10 pushups and 1 pullup. Set by set, you’ll decrease the amount of pushups you perform and increase the amount of pullups. Try to complete two rounds of this ladder, following this format:
- Set 1: 10 pushups, 1 pullup
- Set 2: 9 pushups, 2 pullups
- Set 3: 8 pushups, 3 pullups
- Set 4: 7 pushups, 4 pullups
- Set 5: 6 pushups, 5 pullups
- Set 6: 5 pushups, 6 pullups
- Set 7: 4 pushups, 7 pullups
- Set 8: 3 pushups, 8 pullups
- Set 9: 2 pushups, 9 pullups
- Set 10: 1 pushup, 10 pullups