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Keep rest periods short to maintain your intensity.
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Twenty minutes might not sound like enough time to train, but if you have a solid plan in place, it's more than long enough for a great workout. The keys to a great 20-minute workout are to train with intensity, use full-body movements and take minimal rest between sets, according to Zach Even Esh of the Underground Strength Gym in New Jersey.
You don't have much time, so pick just a few exercises that give you big return. This means choosing exercises that work multiple muscle groups at once. Perform two lower-body and two upper-body movements. For your legs choose either back squats, front squats or lunges, plus a deadlift variation. For your upper-body, pick one pulling exercise such as a pulldown, barbell row or chinup and one pushing move like a pushup, dip, bench press or overhead press. You don't need specific exercises for smaller muscle groups such as your biceps, calves or triceps, as these get worked with the compound movements. Even your core gets a workout when you do squats, deadlifts, shoulder presses and chinups, according to strength coach Keith Scott.
Sets and Reps
The good news is that you don't need multiple sets to build muscle mass, strength and endurance, which is a huge bonus when you're under time constraints. A study from the University of Florida found that single sets were just as effective as multiple sets for improving body composition and performance improvement. Perform two to three light warm-up sets of each exercise, then one maximum set, reaching muscular failure on the last repetition. For strength perform one to six reps on your maximum set, and increase this to six to 12 reps for muscle growth or 12 to 20 reps for endurance.
To save more time, superset your exercises or perform them in a circuit style. Rather than taking a break after each set, which can take up valuable training time, move from one exercise straight to the next. Supersets increase the amount of work you do in a given time period, leading to a higher calorie expenditure and metabolism boost, notes personal trainer Jim Ryno. Perform your first light warm-up set on each exercise, rest for 60 to 90 seconds, then perform your second slightly heavier warm-up set on each, and rest for two to three minutes before attempting your final top working set on each.
Just because you're only training for 20 minutes doesn't mean you don't have time for cardio. Tabata training is the ideal way to get your cardio workout in when short on time. The Tabata protocol involves working at maximum intensity for 20 seconds, resting for 10 seconds and repeating seven more times. You can use any piece of cardio equipment for this, or try it with kettlebell swings, squat thrusts or jumping rope. This is extremely demanding, however, and you should only attempt a Tabata workout if you're an advanced trainer.