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The 20-minute workout

‘No time’ is no excuse! Exercise physiologist Kathleen Alleaume reveals how to squeeze a highly effective workout into just 20 minutes a day.

When you’re pressed for time, it can seem almost impossible to fit regular exercise into an already crammed schedule. However, the good news is that you don’t need to spend hours working out to maintain good health.

This mini-circuit is the perfect daily routine to help you burn extra kilojoules and strengthen some of your major muscle groups. The goal is to keep your heart rate elevated by moving from one exercise to the next without a break in between.

NOTE: As always, consult your doctor first if you haven’t exercised in a while.


You know the drill. A warm-up should slightly increase the heart rate, but not to the level experienced during your workout. Warming up is essential to any workout – try a simple walk or jog on the spot for five minutes to get your muscles loosened up.

The workout

Perform one set of 10-15 repetitions of each exercise before moving on to the next exercise. After completing all five exercises once, repeat the circuit two more times.

If you are a beginner, you may need to stop after just one set. But as you get stronger, you will likely be able to continue the circuit a second time, and eventually a third time.

If you follow this routine at least five days a week, you will see results. Remember, the idea is to be fatigued. It doesn’t matter exactly how many repetitions you do, as long as your muscles feel fatigued when you are done.

Cool down

Don’t forget to stretch afterwards to prevent your muscles from getting sore.

Begin in a push-up position (arms in line with the chest, legs extended out). Make sure to keep your head in line with your body and your stomach muscles contracted throughout the entire range of motion. Start the movement by bringing your right knee to your chest and then back to starting position. Then alternate to your left leg and continue this movement. Repeat 10-15 times for each leg.

Muscles worked: Increases core strength and endurance.

Stand in a lunge position, with your right foot forward and your hands on your hips. Jump up and switch the position of your feet in mid-air, landing in a lunge position, with your left foot forward. Keep your hands on your hips for balance and support. Repeat 10-15 times for each leg.

Muscles worked: Effectively firms, shapes, tones and increases muscular endurance of the legs.

Lie on your back with your arms straight by your side with your palms on the floor. Bend your knees but keep your heels on the floor, hip-width apart. Lift your hips to form a straight line from the shoulders to the knee. Your legs should be almost vertical from the foot to the knee. Hold this position for 10 seconds. Squeeze your butt muscles and then lower yourself to the ground. Repeat 10-15 times.

Muscles worked: Lower back, hamstrings and buttocks.

Get into a standard push-up position on your knees (legs together, fingers forward). Move your hands closer to each other so that they are only about 15-20cm apart. Slowly lower yourself until you are about to touch the ground then push back up to the starting position. Repeat 10-15 times.

Muscles worked: Chest, triceps and shoulders.

Lie flat on your back with your knees bent. Place your hands behind your head with elbows pointing outwards to support your neck. Keep your neck in a straight line with your spine. Flex your waist and contract your stomach muscles to raise the upper part of your torso from the floor (exhale). Lower yourself until the back of your shoulders touch the floor (inhale). Repeat 15 times for one set. Build up to three sets of 15 crunches (with a 15-second rest between sets).

Muscles worked: Abdominals.

If you’re super-busy and can only find time to exercise in five-minute bursts, then it’s better than nothing at all. The key is to not make excuses for why you don’t have time to exercise. Come up with interesting ways to squeeze it in. A few minutes here and there adds up. Here are a few examples:

At home

  • Sit-ups or lunges during TV commercials.
  • Heel-raises while you’re cleaning your teeth.

In the office

  • Marching in place or lunges while you wait for the kettle to boil.
  • Walk up or down the stairs to use the toilets on another floor.

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