An Effective, Quick Workout For Busy People: Get Lean with 20 Minutes of Intense Exercise | Not Your Average Fitness Tips

An Effective, Quick Workout For Busy People: Get Lean with 20 Minutes of Intense Exercise

Are you too busy to go to the gym for an hour every day?  What’s the biggest thing preventing you from getting a faster, more time-efficient workout?  For me, it’s that my muscles need to rest between sets.  However, there are a variety of methods that you can use to reduce your workout time to 20-25 minutes per day and still achieve a lean, defined look.  The key is intensity and effective use of rest time between sets.

Next time you’re at the gym, look around.  How many people do you see resting between sets, talking to friends, or simply admiring themselves in the mirror?  How much actual exercising do you think these people are doing in the hour or more that they are there?  My best estimate is that it takes 30-45 seconds to perform a set of exercises.  Rest time is 1-2 minutes.  That means as much as 80% of time in the gym may be spent resting!

The problem is that you can’t expect to eliminate resting between sets as your muscles need time to recover.  Unfortunately, this means you’re going to have to work out harder and smarter.  I’d like to briefly discuss a few different methods to reducing your downtime while resting between sets.

Circuit Training

Circuit training involves going from one exercise station to the next with little or no rest.  This type of workout is generally thought of as a glorified form of cardio that involves weights.  It can be so much more though.  A proper circuit training workout can allow you to get the full benefits of a regular strength training routine in a quarter of the time.  You will need to remain focused and keep your intensity elevated for 10-20 minutes depending on the length of the circuit.

A circuit may involve 5-20 different exercises designed to work your entire body.  If you’re using circuit training to reduce time spent in the gym, the importance of exercise order cannot be understated.  Your workout will not be any more effective if you do bench press followed by pushups followed by chest flies.  You may as well have just done a bunch of reps on the bench press without rest.  The value in circuit training is that you can exercise a different group of muscles while the muscles you just worked rest.  For example, you can do bench press followed by leg extension followed by bicep curls followed by leg curls and so on.  Try to structure your workout so that you go through a few different exercises without hitting the same muscles.

An intense circuit training routine does also serve as a nice cardio workout as your heart rate should be elevated from going exercise to exercise without resting.  Consider this an added bonus.  The best feature of circuit training is that you’ll spend less time in the gym.  Assuming you spread out the different muscles that you work, you’ll still be able to lift relatively heavy weights and get the benefits of your regular strength or mass building workout.


Supersets, like circuit training, allow you to get more exercises done in less time.  A superset involves performing one exercise and then performing another exercise during your rest time.  You can do competing or non-competing supersets.  A competing superset involves doing two exercises that work the same muscles such as barbell curls followed by dumbbell curls.  Competing supersets lead to greater muscle fatigue.

I prefer non-competing supersets in which you work muscles that have little relation to one another.  For example, you would do a set of bench press and then immediately do a set of squats.  Depending on how long the squats took, you may need further rest before performing the next set of bench press.  Nothing really changes about your workout except that you get more done in less time by maximizing the use of your rest time to get another exercise done.


I’m always amused when I see people doing long, boring, slow, steady state cardio.  These people watch TV or read a book while they walk or jog on the treadmill, bike, or elliptical.  I’m not saying there’s no place for this type of cardio (there is, in fact), but they could be so much more efficient by upping the intensity.

If you want a fast, fat burning workout, give HIIT a try.  HIIT stands for high intensity interval training.  You push really hard for a short period of time and then engage in active recovery for a period of time.  For example, you may run really fast for 30 seconds and then walk or jog for 1 minute.  The advantage of this method over steady state cardio is that you get a significant “after burn effect” where you will continue burning calories for hours after the completion of your cardio.  You can effectively burn the same number of calories in less time.

20 Minutes of Intensity

If you want the most time-efficient workout, I’d recommend ramping up the intensity in the gym.  Try to eliminate down time while resting between sets by making use of circuit training or supersets.  Don’t spend hours doing steady state cardio when 20-25 minutes of HIIT can give you the same fat burning results.  With these tips, I’m confident you can get as much benefit from a 20-25 minute workout routine (weights or cardio) as you can from an hour long session.  If you need guidance on a specific workout routine structured around these rules, I would highly recommend Craig Ballantyne’s Turbulence Training.

I know you’re busy, but to lose fat and gain muscle, all I’m asking is that you find 3 hours per week to exercise: 20-30 minutes per day for 6 days per week or 45-60 minutes per day for 3 days per week.

Not Your Average Fitness Tips

  1. Intensity is the key to shorter, more effective workouts.
  2. Try minimizing the amount of downtime during rest between sets: circuit training and supersets are valuable tools.
  3. HIIT can give you the same calorie burning effect as steady state cardio in half the time.
  4. You can blast fat and gain muscle in 3 hours per week.  Turbulence Training is built around these principles.

6 Responses to “An Effective, Quick Workout For Busy People: Get Lean with 20 Minutes of Intense Exercise”

  • Anna:

    Hey Dave, great tips. I’ve personally witnessed that cicuit training, intervals, and supersets are the best for fat loss. I’ve also seen these work with my bootcamp clients who do 8 different exercises in 24 minutes with very little rest. Less time, more intensity – that’s the key.

    Great job!


  • Dave,

    awesome post, especially your explanation of competing and noncompeting supersets. I prefer noncompeting as well, and I use them all the time when training guys in the military. I like doing a HIIT workout and then finish with a modified superset routine burn to fat and build strength at the same time.

  • AdminDave:

    Excellent to hear that you incorporate these strategies with boot camp clients. Love the phrase: “less time, more intensity”

    I usually finish my routine with HIIT after doing strength training. I like to hit heavy weights when I’m completely fresh. Either way you’ll burn fat and get lean.


  • Wow, seems like the info here is really good especially for those who can only spare a short amount of time at the gym. It is really cool that we can get lean in only 20 minutes of intense exercise. People who live the fast life need to unwind at the gym more often.

  • Matt:

    I am using cardio exercises as of now and I’m planning to use another type of method. I wonder if Supersets can be more effective than cardio? I really love exercising to the extent that I wanted to discover new techniques in doing it.

  • Peter,
    Quick workouts done at a high intensity can be effective for getting lean.

    Supersets and circuit training using bodyweight exercises or weights give you a best of all worlds approach. You maintain muscle by lifting and burn fat by moving. However, cardio can provide some nice benefits as well. Probably best to make use of all methods.


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