Workout Routines

The 20-30-40 Minute Workout

Working long hours and having precious little time to train sucks, but your workouts don’t have to. Streamline your training with this time-conscious total-body program.

Once again, it’s on. Precious minutes are draining from your schedule, and all the gains you’ve sweated and bled for all year are at risk of evaporating right before your eyes. That’s what happens when reality sets in and work, friends, and family take up the vast majority of your time. But it can all be prevented with a time-efficient full-body routine that leaves no stone—or muscle—unturned.

We’ve employed trainer Jef Bell, C.S.C.S., owner of Bell Fitness Co. in New York City, to come up with a plan that will get your body through any busy season.

The Hard Basics

Keeping your hard-earned progress intact in the midst of a hectic schedule doesn’t have to be difcult as long as you focus on working the right muscle groups. The idea is to implement a three-day schedule that relies primarily on heavy, multi-joint exercises performed circuit-style to burn more calories and fat. “The smartest choice you can make is a high-intensity full-body plan that stimulates as many muscle fibers as possible,” Bell says.

Bell’s routine uses some variety of four foundation exercises that target your larger muscle groups (legs, back, and chest) to give you the best possible session in the shortest amount of time. It also includes several unique moves—renegade rows and crucifix shoulder extensions—designed to challenge your body in unfamiliar ways.

“By training your muscles through a greater diversity of angles throughout the week, you’ll recruit a greater amount of muscle fibers, which will burn extra calories in the process,” Bell says. “You’ll also train every possible muscle group at least once a week, if not several times, so they’re reminded to stay as strong as possible until you can return to your usual routine.”

Time Management

The primary goal of this workout is to keep your muscles powerful and pumped by taking advantage of the principle of muscle confusion. If you find a few extra minutes to spare on certain days, however, this routine is easily adjustable, with room for up to six more movements and even better results.

The basic template is a full-body routine you’ll perform three times a week. If you have 20 minutes to work with, you’ll hit four main exercises as a circuit, resting 15–60 seconds between exercises. Working your way through all four moves is one round. Three rounds is the gold standard for a 20-minute session, but if you’re feeling particularly energetic, go for four.

With 30 minutes of workout time, add the “bonus” exercise to the template, making each round consist of five moves. For 40 minutes, add the sixth “bonus” move, keeping the circuit-style performance of the rounds the same.

Regardless of how many minutes you’re able to exercise each day, Bell recommends taking one day of between sessions. No matter how hard you push your muscles, they still need a full 48 hours to recover, so make sure you’re planning to give them enough time to rest and rebuild between your workouts.