Chances are, you probably figure that you, too, could have a body like one of the athletes and models in the essay on website EssayLab if all you had to do each day was work out and show up for an occasional photo shoot. But, hey, life’s busy! Most of us have jobs outside the home that keep us going at high speed, or we’re busy juggling kids’ schedules, trying to get them to soccer practice and still find time to prepare a good dinner.

Lack of time is the most common deterrent to exercise. So how can I be so naive as to suggest that you should find two hours to spend in the gym each day? The good news is that you can still get the results you want if you work out smarter, training both more efficiently and effectively in a shorter period.

The 20-minute program I present here is fast and thorough, and you can do it in the comfort of your own home with minimal equipment – no precious time wasted traveling to the gym or money spent on high-tech exercise gadgets. All you need to get started are an exercise tube with handles, a set of hand weights and an exercise bench (optional).

What makes the program so effective is a technique called pre-exhaust training, which pairs exercises in a way that exhausts the target muscle group so you have to perform only one set of each exercise. You first do a single-joint exercise to target a particular muscle group, let’s say kickback for triceps. This restricts action to the elbow joint to specifically target the triceps. After doing a single set of the exercise to fatigue, immediately and without any rest perform a second exercise for the triceps, but this one should be a compound (or multijoint) exercise. This means activity is taking place at two or more joints, so additional muscles besides the triceps are involved in the movement. A good second exercise for triceps would be a dips or close-grip push-ups. The theory is that in the first set, you’ll fully fatigue the triceps, and then in the second set, the muscle will continue to work but it’ll be assisted by other muscles.

The seven exercise combinations presented here work all the major muscle groups, but I’ve skipped specific exercises for biceps, triceps, and inner and outer thighs because these muscles are involved as secondary and supporting muscle groups in many of the exercises listed. So even though you won’t perform a set to isolate any of these particular muscles, you’ll experience a training effect by performing the other movements.

20 Minute Workout Guidelines

  1. Do one set of each exercise, starting with the pre-exhaust movement. When you work just one leg or arm at a time, finish the compound component first before doing the other side. Also, if you’re more experienced, you can add a second or third set to maximize the training effect.
  2. How many reps you should do is difficult to tell until you try the movements. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends one set of 8-12 repetitions (10-15 if you’re 50 years or older) for each major muscle group, twice a week to improve overall muscle conditioning. However, since most of the exercises included in this workout use only your bodyweight, you may find that a set of 8-12 isn’t sufficient to fully fatigue the target muscles. When you’re not using external resistance, perform more repetitions to hit maximum fatigue and stimulate the muscles.
  3. Don’t be too concerned with number of repetitions just yet; instead focus on doing each exercise right and reaching maximum muscle fatigue on every single set you perform. You’ll know you’ve hit this point if you absolutely can’t perform another repetition with perfect form. You may want to add some resistance on your next training day. Note: Beginners should focus on technique and basic conditioning the first eight weeks of training, stopping each set just short of maximum muscle fatigue.
  4. Quality and execution of movement is critical. It makes no sense to perform 20 sloppy reps; it’s far better to do eight reps with perfect form. Resistance training, done properly, isn’t a fast activity. Lifting (and lowering the weight) at a moderate speed will help you focus on control and technique.
  5. Move quickly from one exercise to the next. Because of the sequencing of exercises, you don’t need to take any recovery breaks. Keep moving the whole time.
  6. A proper breathing rhythm will make each set more effective. Focus on exhaling as you lift the weight (or upon exertion), and inhale as you recover or lower the weight.
  7. Never go past muscle fatigue. Train to fatigue using good form, but don’t try to complete additional reps by arching your back or swinging a weight up using momentum.
  8. Your muscles require 48-72 hours of rest in between to fully recover.
  9. Put your mind into your workout. There’s a strong connection between the brain, the nerves and the working muscles. If you concentrate on what you’re doing, you can significantly increase the muscle activity during exercise.
  10. Change your program regularly. A program designed today may be perfect, but in a month or two may no longer stimulate your muscles as effectively. The body needs to be challenged to progress. You can change your program in a variety of ways: Add or lower the resistance, change the exercises you perform or the order in which you perform them, the number of sets or reps you do, the amount of recovery time you take between exercises, and/or the number of days you work out each week. Working out with a qualified personal trainer might also help spur some changes in your workout.
  11. Stretch it out. Even though you’re in a hurry, take an additional couple of minutes to slow down and stretch. Include some relaxing stretches after each workout, and hold each stretch for 20-30 seconds to the point of tension, not pain. Choose stretches that work all the major muscles you’ve trained – legs (quads, glutes, inner thighs, hamstrings, calves), midsection (lower back) and upper body (chest, shoulders, upper back).