I'm a top personal trainer so trust me on this one: these 20 minute home workouts are the most effective

Whether you're short on time or motivation, we've got you covered.

20 minute workouts at home: A woman doing a plank at home
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Finding time for a workout becomes a lot harder during December. When you’re battling a prosecco-fuelled hangover, navigating family members you haven't seen since last Christmas, and watching The Holiday on repeat, your workout routine is usually the first thing that gets sacrificed. Enter stage right: 20 minute workouts at home.

You might be wondering why we're talking about workouts at a largely sedentary time of year, but exercise is so crucial for mental wellbeing, especially during this hectic time of year. Studies show that regular workouts can alleviate stress, bolster sleep, and lower your chances of getting sick, so pushing it to the bottom of your to-do list isn't doing you any festive favours. 

That’s where simple home workouts come in - a potential solution for those of you who struggle to stay active around Christmas. When your schedule is packed and your energy levels are flagging, personal trainers say that prioritising short bursts of movement at home can help you to keep on track with your training. 

A word from the wise here - if you've landed on this page after one too many mince pies in the hope of "working off" any Christmas food, it's important to acknowledge that exercise is about so much more than burning off calories or punishing yourself. It can be a total joy, and boost your energy, mental health and mood - if you find a workout that works for you, your body, and your schedule.

No gym? No problem. Don't miss our edits of the best home workouts, home workouts that build muscle, and home workouts that don't require equipment, while you're here.

20 minute workouts at home are a great way to boost energy - a PT's go-to 10

Are 20 minute workouts at home effective?

Ok, let’s get straight to what you want to know: is a 20 minute workout really enough to reap any fitness benefits?

"Absolutely," says Emily Dawson, a personal trainer at London-based boutique gym Rowbots. “If you’re capable of hitting a high-intensity in your workout, then regular 20 minute sessions have been shown to give a multitude of health benefits.”

The key here, Dawson says, is being strategic with your approach. "If you’re aiming to achieve the same high-octane effect as a 60-minute gym class, wasting valuable minutes on low-intensity movements won't cut it."

Instead, Dawson says you should opt for HIIT training (high intensity interval training), a workout technique that utilises short bursts of intense exercise or activity to push your heart rate up into the anaerobic zone - around 80-90% of your maximum heart rate. Research shows that the science-backed benefits of doing this include increased muscle strength, lower blood pressure and better cardiovascular fitness. 

To really amp up those gains, it's smart to incorporate compound exercises. These power-packed moves, like squats and push-ups, target multiple muscle groups, revving up your heart rate faster than single isolation exercises ever could.

What are the benefits of 20 minute workouts at home?

As long as you dial the intensity up, shorter workouts come with several promising benefits. 

A large study from 2019 found that replacing 30 minutes of sedentary time each day with moderate to vigorous physical activity slashed mortality risk by 45%. Another suggests that short and intense workouts, two to three times a week, can improve lung function and cardiovascular health.

It’s not just good for the body, though - science has found that bitesize workouts may benefit our brains too. Studies have linked them to better cognitive flexibility in older adults, improving their ability to recall information and stay focused.

Finally, if you’re flagging at the thought of Christmas family tension, 20-minute workouts could be the mood booster you’re looking for. A Finnish study showed that shorter HIIT workouts flood the system with more feel-good, post-workout endorphins compared to traditional aerobic routines, helping to bust festive stress.

How often should I workout each week?

Not as much as you might you think. As this study shows, you don’t need to go hard in the gym, all day every day, to enjoy the health benefits of fitness, which include lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, depression and early death.

Another recent study found that doing fewer than 5,000 steps a day was enough to begin reducing the risk of dying prematurely of any cause – with the biggest benefits recorded in people aged under 60.

Generally, the NHS advises 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week or 75 minutes of vigorous activity. That’s three 20-minute HIIT exercises, and one gentler exercise session, with rest and recovery days slotted in between.

“It doesn’t have to be a sweaty HIIT workout every day,” says Dawson. “In between those heavier sessions, you might want to schedule a restorative morning yoga flow or slow mobility session, especially after a busy day at work.”

This is especially true if you’re in the luteal phase of your period, where hormonal changes can affect energy levels, mood, and physical performance. At this time of the month, it's best to slow down your workouts so that you don’t overstress your body. 

Another quick note on that: in general, HIIT is a highly intense exercise and can lead to a bigger risk of injury if you don’t get adequate rest and recovery. Balancing harder HIIT sessions with low-intensity exercises, plus sufficient rest between sessions, is key to avoiding overtraining. Don't forget warm up exercises and cool down exercises, too.

The best short 20-minute workouts, chosen by a personal trainer

1. Lower body burner

What? A lower-body focussed workout from boutique fitness studio FLY LDN that’s great for easing back into high-intensity exercise after a break. Heat-building moves include donkey kicks, hip bridges and balance-challenging side planks. 

Why? This short, sharp workout is great for building power and stability in the major muscle groups like quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and calves.

How long? 20 minutes.

2. Abs and arms focus

What? Another sweat-inducing workout from FLY LDN. This one is designed to build a strong core and upper-body strength.

Why? Ab workouts are notoriously tough, but they’re so worth it in the long-run, as a decent level of core strength is vital part of keeping fit and healthy. Not only does it support your posture, it also aids movement and decreases the risk of potential fitness-based injuries.

How long? 20 minutes.

3. Power yoga flow

What? A fiery power yoga flow.

Why? Led by master yogi Baron Baptiste, this strength-based yoga routine builds both power and flexibility at the same time. With 378K views, it’s a popular online workout option when you're crunched for time.

How long? 20 minutes.

4. Full body partner workout

What? A super simple partner HIIT sesh from Adidas that will put you and a friend through their paces.

Why? With a focus on building strength and endurance, this partner-assisted circuit is designed to test you and a friend’s strength and endurance. Grab a pal and sweat it out together.

How long? 20 minutes.

5. Full body mobility workout

What? A gentle recovery session from Nike that’s all about building full-body mobility and range of motion.

Why? As we mentioned earlier in this article, it’s good to mix up your hard and heavy sessions with some gentle recovery, so you can avoid overtraining. If you’re struggling with soreness and DOMS, enjoy an effective stretch with this active routine.

How long? 20 minutes.

6. No repeat bodyweight burn

What? Perfect for people who get bored easily, this no-repeat bodyweight burn from Nike means you’ll never do the same movement twice. 

Why? This workout features basic, foundational exercises with more creative ones, like slow swimmers and pendulum lunges to strengthen your entire body. As you don’t need any equipment, keep this workout in your back pocket if you’re away from home this Christmas. 

How long? 20 minutes.

7. 20 minute dumbbell workout

What? A 20-minute dumbbell workout from PT and Lululemon ambassador Annie Brees, with four easy-to-follow rounds of five movements. Work through moves like staggered RDLs (Romanian deadlifts), bent-over rows and overhead presses.

Why? If strength training is your jam, but you don’t have the energy to get to the gym, this weighted workout will help you to build and maintain lean muscle mass at home. Annie demonstrates the correct form, so beginners can perform these movements both safely and efficiently. If you don’t have a set of dumbbells, you can use tinned food cans or filled water bottles instead.

How long? 20 minutes.

8. Beginner friendly kettlebell workout

What? Everyone’s favourite celebrity personal trainer Joe Wicks shares a high-intensity, beginner-friendly workout that packs a punch. FYI: you’ll need to own a kettlebell to complete this one.

Why? With minimal rest, this rapid-fire video is a total body workout in less time. Pairing strength-building kettlebell moves with 30-second cardio bursts like high knees and burpees, this routine is tough to complete, but ensures a well-rounded session. Don’t hate us if your shoulders are screaming at the end of this one.

How long? 18 minutes.

9. Full body cardio workout

What? With 18 million views, Juice and Tonya’s full-body cardio HIIT routine is one of the most popular workouts on YouTube right now.

Why? Personal trainers and podcasters Juice and Tonya bring the burn in this cardio circuit. This workout contains a mixture of high-intensity strength, cardio, and plyometric movements to keep your heart rate high. While it’s an intermediate workout, Tonya demonstrates helpful beginner modifications so there’s movement here for every fitness level. 

How long? 20 minutes. 

10. Full body Pilates workout

What? A strong and dynamic pilates routine from London-based fitness instructor Lottie Murphy. This feel-good, mat-based session is designed to boost endorphins and energy levels. 

Why? Murphy has built a loyal fanbase of Pilates lovers over the years, with over 350K subscribers on her channel. If you’re recovering from an injury, this workout is a great option because it won’t put excessive impact on the joints. Lottie's calming voice is as a reassuring guide through the more demanding exercises, and you’ll finish this session feeling calm and centred, both mentally and physically.

How long? 20 minutes. 

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Liz Connor
Freelance Health Writer

Liz started her journalism career reporting on fashion at ELLE, GQ and Fashion Beans before finding a love for all things fitness and travel.

Keen to report on her favourite topics, she moved over to the lifestyle desk at The Evening Standard before taking the reins as health and wellbeing editor at news and features agency PA Media. She has also been a senior commissioning editor for the publisher Penguin Random House, finding future bestsellers in the self-development field.

Liz’s features have taken her from fashion front rows to the furthest reaches of the planet, via several hundred sweaty basement gyms in London. Her favourite aspect of her job is getting to write about new trends, whether it’s an under-the-radar travel destination or a TikTok-inspired workout method.

Since going freelance, Liz has written for titles including The Independent, National Geographic Traveller, Stylist, Prospect, Yahoo, and MSN. When she's not writing on her laptop, you'll probably find her at a gig, eating at a new restaurant, or listening to Taylor Swift.