Here’s a recent exchange I had with a client that’s struggling to workout consistently.
Enter the 20-minute workout solution. Solving all workout and nutrition problems 20-minutes at a time.
Table of Contents
20-MINUTE WORKOUT SOLUTION PREP WORK
When most people want to get their fitness habits back they try to do what they’ve always done. 5 or 6 workouts per week. 60 to 90 minutes sessions at a time. Often, spending money on personal training and group fitness in hopes of “motivating” them to do it.
Try scaling back instead. If you can’t get 4 workouts in, get 3. If you can’t get 3, get 2. and if you can’t get 2 get 1.
And if you don’t have 60 minutes do what you can. 30-minutes, 20, 10, even 5 push-ups and 5 squats. Whatever gets you to do something. We’re looking for momentum, not perfection. Objects in motion tend to stay in motion, it’s science.
STEP 1: LOOK AT YOUR SCHEDULE EACH WEEK
Where can you fit in a 20-minute workout?
- What days
- Where? (gym, home, park)
Put it in your schedule. If it’s not in your schedule it doesn’t exist. Once it’s there, own that shit. It’s an appointment with you.
STEP 2: MANAGE YOUR MINDSET AND CHANGE YOUR IDENTITY
In his book Atomic Habits, James Clear reminds us that we often get habit change wrong. We focus too much on achieving outcomes and changing processes, which are important. But real change starts with changing what you believe about yourself – your identity.
When most of us set health and fitness goals we start with the outcomes that we want.
- Lose 20 pounds
- Drop inches around my waste
- Get tone, lean, deadlift 300 pounds
In his book, James illustrates this for us.
The first circle is the outcome you want: It revolves entirely around a ‘result.’ Lose 20 pounds, drop inches around my waist, get more tone/lean/stronger/faster/stamina.
The second circle is changing the process: It revolves around changing your behaviors or the current ‘system’ you use. A new workout routine (20-minute workout fix), diet (Keto), or something else perhaps.
The third circle is changing your identity: This revolves around changing your belief system. How you see yourself, how other people see you [your impression], the world. This is where your beliefs, assumption, and biases are.
- I have a slow metabolism
- I don’t enjoy exercise
- I’m lazy
- I love food
- I’m just not very athletic
- At my age…
- I’m just so busy/unmotivated/…
To change your habits you MUST change your beliefs.
The most powerful way to do this is by focusing your energy and thoughts on who you want to become. Not in a woo woo way. But literally thinking about this shit.
There are only two simple steps to this process.
- Decide the type of person you want to be.
- Prove it to yourself with small wins.
What do you stand for? Who do you want to become? What are your values?
These questions may feel overwhelming? You may even be thinking, “Justin, I have no fucking clue!”
But I bet you know what kind of results you want. Try starting there and work backward. For example, let’s say you want to lose 20 pounds.
- Outcome: Lose 20 pounds
- Process: Weight train 3 days per week using the 20-minute workout solution (Monday, Wednesday, and Friday) at 6:30 pm after I get off of work in the gym near my house.
Now the identity part. During your day today, as you’re making various exercise, nutrition, and lifestyle choices. Stop and ask yourself who is the type of person that could [insert your goal]. What would they do here? What decisions would they make?
THE 20-MINUTE WORKOUT SOLUTION ROUTINE
This is a full-body routine designed to help you get your fitness habit back, become stronger, and improve mobility. Without a massive investment of time. It’s for those of you that are busy as hell, likely to skip the gym, and feel ‘lazy’ and unmotivated.
This isn’t a long-term solution. For optimal results, you’ll need more stimulation. But for the busy guy or girl that needs to be more consistent during a hectic time in their life, this is perfect.
What a 20-minute workout solution routine looks like:
- Exercises that work with the biggest muscle groups
- Stretches between exercises instead of resting
- Cardiovascular or ‘conditioning’ as the last exercise
- 4 to 5 sets of each exercise
- 6-8 reps of each exercise
- 20 seconds of each stretch
- 20 seconds of each conditioning/cardiovascular exercise
- Lower body exercise
- Mobility drill (lower body)
- Upper body pressing exercise
- Mobility drill (upper body)
- Upper body pulling exercise
- Conditioning (jump rope, box jumps, sprints, farmer carry, etc…)
This is NOT a Crossfit style AMRAP workout out. Your goal is not to complete as many rounds and reps as possible in 20 minutes.
You want to move from one exercise to the next as quickly, but as comfortably as possible. You should be able to take a few deep breathes in-between exercises (I recommend 3-5) before starting your next mobility drill or exercise.
YOUR FIRST WEEK DOING THE 20-MINUTE WORKOUT
The first week is a feeler week. Your goal is to feel out the exercises and find weights you can lift with good form but are challenging. Start light and increase the weight on each set until you find a weight you can lift for 6 to 8 reps on the final set.
Weeks 2 and beyond your first two sets will be ‘warm-up’ or ‘feeler’ sets. Slowly increase the weight until you’ve reached a weight that feels like you can lift 10 times. But stop at 8. Finish your last set or two with this weight.
ONE WEEK 20-MINUTE WORKOUT SAMPLE ROUTINE [GYM]
Day 1: Monday
- Back squat, leg press, or goblet squat
- Hip opener/glute stretch
- Bent over barbell row, cable row, or TRX row
- Armchair stretch
- Dips, push-ups, or incline push-ups
Day 2: Wednesday
- Trap bar deadlift or dumbbell deadlift
- Couch stretch
- Pull-up or lat pull-down
- Lat stretch
- Incline dumbbell bench press
- Jump rope
Day 3: Friday
- Split squat
- Squat with external rotations
- Neutral grip pull-up or cable row
- Shoulder rolls
- Tall kneeling dumbbell press
- Box jump with step down
INBETWEEN WORKOUT DAYS
Don’t try to do too much. Depending on what your schedule will allow stick with the 20-minute theme.
- Foam roll
- Run, row, swim, bike
- Heavy bag work
- Meaningful movement
ONE WEEK 20-MINUTE WORKOUT SAMPLE ROUTINE [BODYWEIGHT]
Day 1: Monday
- Bodyweight squats, 8-20 reps
- Hip opener/glute stretch
- Resistance band bent over row, 8-20 reps
- Armchair stretch
- Push up, 8-20 reps
- Mountain climbers, 20-30 reps
Day 2: Wednesday
- One feet elevated glute bridge, 8-20 reps
- Couch stretch
- Single-arm resistance band row, 8-20 reps
- Lat stretch
- Yoga push up, 8-20 reps
- Jumping jacks, 20-30 reps
Day 3: Friday
- Split squat, 8-20 per leg
- Squat with external rotations
- Resistance band lat pull down, 8-20 reps
- Shoulder rolls (can use a towel or broomstick)
- Inch work, 8-20 reps
- Speed burpee, 8-12 reps
THE 20-MINUTE WORKOUT NUTRITION SOLUTION
If you’re busy, trying to learn another diet to follow or recipes to make will take time. Instead, focus on simplifying your diet and learning nutrition skills.
20-MINUTE NUTRITION SOLUTION SKILL #1: EAT SLOWER AND EAT TO 80% FULL
The majority of my clients want to lose fat. To do this you need to create a caloric deficit through training and nutrition. But you already knew this – the hard part is implementing it on a daily basis. There are a number of ways you can go about this.
You can follow a “diet” like Paleo, keto, or become a vegan. You can count calories and track macros. Try things like intermittent fasting or juice cleanse. All of which will work because they can help you create a caloric deficit in one of two ways:
- Eliminate certain food groups like grains, dairy, meat, carbs in general. Or entire meals (Intermittent fasting and cleanses).
- Force you to become aware of your intake. This is done when you weigh and measure everything that you’re eating and drinking
I’m more of a nutritional agnostic. I don’t really believe one method is better than another. There are a number of ways you can approach nutrition to help you lose fat and build muscle. However, for most of the people, I’ve worked with following “diets” and counting calories is never a long-term solution.
Counting calories work but can be a pain in the ass and most people hate doing it. Following a specific diet comes with a steep learning curve and most people get frustrated trying to figure out what they can and can’t eat.
My first suggestion is always to eat more mindfully. But since no one really knows what the fuck mindful means – I want you to eat slower and learn to eat to 80% full. You’ll start eating less without changing the food you eat.
HOW TO EAT SLOWER
Most people eat far too fast and don’t let their tummy signal to their brain that they’re actually full. It takes roughly 20-minutes for this to happen. If you finish a meal in 2-minutes, there are 18-minutes in which you can still keep eating without realizing you’ve had enough to eat.
Set a timer, use chopsticks, and put utensils down in-between bites. Give yourself a chance to feel full. Studies are showing that just by slowing down when you eat you’ll consume fewer calories. Enough to lose 20 pounds a year without making any other changes.
HOW TO EAT TO 80% FULL
We’ve been conditioned at a very young age to clear our plates – Because you know, there are starving kids out there and somehow us overeating, even though we’ve had enough will save them all. Learning when you’ve had enough to eat can be tough but if you’re eating slowly it will give you a chance to check in with yourself and assess how much hunger you actually have.
A few ways to eat to 80% full are to use smaller plates or purposely leave 20% of your meal on your plate at the 20-minute mark of eating (then ask yourself how much hunger you still have).
20-MINUTE NUTRITION SOLUTION SKILL #2: – PROTEIN AND VEGGIES WITH EVERY MEAL
Protein with every meal will help you lose body fat and maintain lean muscle. Adding a serving of vegetables with that source of protein will help reduce your appetite and keep you feeling full for a longer period of time. Thus, you’ll be eating less over a 24 hour period. But how much protein and veggies per meal?
- For men: 2 palms of protein or roughly 8 ounces and 2-3 fists of veggies
- For women: 1 palm of protein or roughly 4-6 ounces and 1-2 fists of veggies
Mix and match your favorite sources and get creative with herbs, spices, and various seasonings to create meals you’ll enjoy.
20-MINUTE NUTRITION SOLUTION SKILL #3 – EAT SMART CARBS AND SWAPS GRAINS WITH GREENS
Before we jump in I want you to know a little secret. Carbs are not bad for you. They don’t make you fat. Whew, glad I got that off my chest.
Restaurants want you to feel like you’re getting your money’s worth so they give you large servings of inexpensive foods like rice, bread, and other grains. Carbohydrates are also typically easy to prepare. Making a sandwich takes less time and clean up than cooking a meal for yourself. Pouring a bowl of cereal is less time consuming than mixing up some oatmeal and scrambling a few eggs.
Make smarter carb choices by including a fist-sized serving of berries with a meal or two. When you eat starchy carbs like sweet potato, bread, or rice aim for the serving sizes below.
20-MINUTE NUTRITION SOLUTION SKILL #4 – HAVE SOME HEALTHY FATS WITH EACH MEAL
Healthy fats are not only important for proper hormonal function but also help with satiety and controlling hunger. Most people severely undereat healthy fats and this can lead to an inefficient metabolism, blood sugar swings, and difficulty controlling appetite.
- For men, 1-2 thumb-sized servings or tablespoons of healthy fat will do the trick
- For women, 1 thumb or 1 tablespoon of healthy fat is a good place to start.
Healthy fats like grass-fed butter, coconut oil, olive oil, avocado, and nuts and seeds are perfect for this.
20-MINUTE NUTRITION SOLUTION SKILL #5 – DRINK ZERO-CALORIE BEVERAGES… MOSTLY
I say mostly because whiskey is good. But seriously, try your best to reduce your liquid calories. They can really add up.
The following list is the average amount of calories in some of our favorite beverages (calorie king).
- Fruit juice (8oz.): 115 calories, 29 grams of carbohydrates, and 27 grams of sugar
- Soda (12oz.): 140 calories, 39 grams of carbohydrates, 39 grams of sugar
- Vitamin Water (20oz.): 125 calories, 33 grams of sugar
- Beer: 153 calories, 12 grams of carbohydrate
- Coffee w/cream & sugar: 120 calories, 19 grams of carbohydrate, 17 grams of sugar
By eliminating caloric beverages you can save yourself hundreds and sometimes thousands of calories per day. That’s enough alone to lose a pound or two each week. Ami, a client of mine lost 15 pounds in one month just by swapping a rum and coke each night with water.
20-MINUTE WORKOUT NUTRITION FIX: 1-2-3 MEALS
The fitness industry has made nutrition way too confusing. It leads most people to ask what’s the best diet to follow and what’s the fastest way to the results I’m after. Thus, most people bounce from one diet to another or do nothing at all.
Let’s get back to the basics mentioned above:
- Eat meals slowly and to 80% full
- Protein and veggies with most meals
- Smart carbohydrates
- Healthy Fats
- Zero-calorie beverages
- 2-4 meals per day with no snacking
- Watch the picking, nibbling, and grabbing
The 1-2-3 meal method is great because it simplifies meal planning but still allows for variety and flexibility in what you’re eating.
To follow it you will make 1 breakfast for the entire week and eat it every day. You’ll make 2 different lunches for the week. You’ll make 3 different dinners (or eat out) for the week.
- Healthy captain crunch cereal
- Chicken and apple celery salad
- Black lemon berry lunch
- Streak and asparagus stir-fry
- Jalapeno burgers
- Eating out with family and friends (following the basic nutrition habits above)
20-MINUTE WORKOUT SOLUTION FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
If you have questions about the 20-minute workout solution you can email me here. I read and respond to every single message that I get. Below I’ve answered what I anticipate to be some of those questions.
Is a 20-minute workout effective?
If it gets you to work out when you normally wouldn’t, then yes. A 20-minute workout you’re doing is better than the 60-minute workout you’re not doing. By applying progressive overload you can still build strength, and by creating a calorie deficit through diet you can still lose fat.
How do I warm-up for the 20-minute workout solution?
Your first 2 sets will be “feeler” sets. Start with a weight you are confident you can do 10-12 reps with good form but only do 6-8 reps. On your second set add a little more weight and do only 6 to 8 reps. Add a little more weight to your third set. This should be when the 6 to 8 reps start to get tough.
How much weight should I use?
This takes experience in the gym. The first week of a new routine is always a feeling out the week. Use that to test different weights out and see how you feel. As you can more experience you’ll get better at estimating a good starting point.
Don’t worry about this too much. The 20-minute workout solution is more about consistency then intensity. You being in the gym (or at home) doing the work is what we’re looking for.
How long do I rest between exercises?
I like to use my breath as a rest. Shoot for 3-5 deep breaths. If you need more, take it.
What if I don’t even have 20-minutes?
Work with what you have. If you have 15 or even 10-minutes to train. Take it. Do fewer sets and get in the work. I repeat… consistency first.
The 20-minute workout solution doesn’t feel hard?
This program is designed to be challenging but not destroy you. For you to be consistent in training first and to add intensity second. If you want to make the workout harder try lifting heavier weights or shortening rest periods.
I want to speed up fat loss. What should I do?
- Make sure that you’re following the 5 habits consistently.
- Look for hidden calories and eliminate them. Common culprits are beverages, sauces, dressings, too many nuts/seeds, and weekend and nighttime overeating.
- Reduce the serving sizes at once of your meals. I suggest starting with your carbohydrate servings.
- Track your food for a week or two.
Can you start the 20-minute workout solution this week?