This 20-minute-a-day workout plan covers all the bases with cardio, strength, and recovery

By Christopher Mohr, Ph.D., R.D.
Updated October 08, 2019

Feeling aimless in the gym? Not sure exactly how to Tetris your cardio and strength workouts together to get the most results? This 4-week workout plan will be like your personal trainer and accountability buddy in one, offering expert workout guidance and a solid schedule to keep you on track. Best part? Most of the workouts take 20 minutes or less—but be prepared to sweat.

"To really see results, you need to intensify your workouts," says Alwyn Cosgrove, owner of Results Fitness in Santa Clarita, CA. (It's true; science confirms it.) That's why these quick workouts don't go easy on you. But stay consistent, and you're sure to see results even without logging hours at the gym. Ready?

Your 4-Week Workout Plan

How it works: Follow the calendar, doing each strength or cardio workout on the day indicated. If you have time, add a warm-up and cool-down to the beginning and end of your workout. (Don't forget to take rest days—your body needs them!)

Strength training workouts: These strength workouts are short (only four exercises each) but intense. By alternating upper- and lower-body moves (in a little thing called supersets), you'll keep your heart rate elevated and maximize calorie burn while working every muscle in your body. For each workout: Do 12 to 15 reps of the first two exercises back-to-back, then rest for 60 to 90 seconds; repeat for two to three sets. Repeat with the second two exercises. Remember to use a weight that is challenging enough to fatigue your muscles by the end of the set. (Don't skip strength days; you'll score all these benefits from lifting weights.)

Cardio workouts: Cardio is broken up into two parts: Steady-state cardio and intervals. On the weekends, do any longer, moderately paced workout (walking, swimming, cycling, etc.) to stay active and improve endurance. During the week, you'll take on interval workouts to burn calories (thanks, HIIT!). Do them twice a week. While you could use any cardio equipment (rower, bike, elliptical), below you'll find all four weeks' worth of interval running workouts you can do on the treadmill. You'll use your Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE), or how difficult the exercise feels on a scale of one to 10 (10 being the hardest). If the workout feels too easy, try adding the suggested challenge.

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Strength Workout 1

1. Dumbbell Press Squat

Target: Quads, Glutes, Hamstrings, Shoulders

  • Stand with feet hip-width apart, holding a 5- to 8-pound dumbbell in each hand at shoulder height, palms facing forward (not shown).
  • Squat down, extending arms above head; stand up and lower arms to starting position
  • Repeat.

Keep it easy: Hold weights at sides.​

Challenge yourself: Hold weights above head throughout the exercise.

2. Ball Push-Up

Target: Triceps, Chest, Abs, Shoulders

  • Get into a push-up position, with hands shoulder-width apart on a stability ball, back straight and abs pulled in.
  • Lower chest toward ball, pointing elbows out, keeping abs tight and head aligned with hips.
  • Push back to starting position and repeat.

Keep it easy: Do the move on the floor without the ball.​

Challenge yourself: Raise a leg while doing the move.

3. Bulgarian Split Squat

Target: Hamstrings, Quads, Glutes

  • Stand with your back 2 to 3 feet away from a bench or sturdy chair. Place top of right foot on seat.
  • Bend left knee 90 degrees, keeping knee aligned with ankle. Hold 2 counts, straighten leg in 4 counts and repeat. Switch sides after 1 set.

Keep it easy: Do alternating lunges, no bench.​

Challenge yourself: Hold dumbbells at sides while keeping back leg on bench.

4. Dumbbell Clean and Press

Target: Shoulders, Hamstrings, Glutes, Quads

  • Stand with weights in front of thighs, palms facing in.
  • Squat down, dropping weights just above the knees.
  • Draw weights up to your chest, as close to torso as possible (not shown).
  • Stand straight, rotating palms to face forward, and press weights above head (not shown).
  • Lower to starting position and repeat.

Keep it easy: Don't squat down; draw elbows up only toward shoulders.​

Challenge yourself: Make the movement explosive as you pull the weights toward your chest and above your head.

Strength Workout 2

1. Dynamic Lunge

Target: Hamstrings, Quads, Glutes

  • Stand with feet parallel and shoulder-distance apart, holding a pair of dumbbells at your sides.
  • Lunge forward with right leg, bending right knee 90 degrees and bringing left knee close to ground.
  • From this position, explosively push off right foot and return to starting position.
  • Switch legs and repeat.

Keep it easy: Don't use any weights; make the movement less explosive.​

Challenge yourself: Hold a body bar or barbell across your shoulders.

2. Opposite Arm/Leg Lift

Target: Back, Abs, Glutes

  • Lie facedown on a stability ball with hands and toes touching the floor.
  • Tighten your abs and glutes, and simultaneously raise your left arm and right leg.
  • Switch legs and arms, then repeat.

Keep it easy: Do the exercise on the floor on all fours, without the ball.​

Challenge yourself: Add ankle and hand weights.

3. Step-up

Target: Quads, Glutes

  • Place right foot on a bench or step (if possible, find a bench or step that's slightly above knee height).
  • Pushing through your right heel, straighten leg, bringing left leg toward right (don't let your left foot touch the step).
  • Lower left foot toward floor without touching, then straighten right leg again. Do 12 to 15 reps; switch sides.

Keep it easy: Touch the top of the step and the floor with each rep.​

Challenge yourself: Hold dumbbells with arms at sides.

4. Prone Jackknife

Target: Abs

  • Get into a push-up position with hands on floor aligned under shoulders.
  • Place feet on a stability ball with legs extended, abs pulled in toward spine for balance.
  • Slowly draw knees in toward your chest without twisting your spine or shifting your hips.
  • Roll ball back to starting position with your feet and repeat.

Keep it easy: Lie with back on top of ball and do crunches.​

Challenge yourself: Lift hips toward ceiling in an inverted V.

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Week 1 Cardio Intervals

Follow the instructions below for the number of seconds or minutes indicated. (If you want a challenge, add another round of sprints!)

0:00-5:00: Walk at 3.5-3.8 mph (RPE 4)

5:00-5:20: Sprint at 6.5-8.0 mph (RPE 9)

5:20-6:50: Recover by walking at 3.0-3.5 mph (RPE 3)

6:50-10:30: Repeat sprint series 2 more times, alternating 20-second sprints with 90 seconds of recovery.

10:30-15:00: Walk at 3.5-3.8 mph (RPE 4)

Week 2 Cardio Intervals

Follow the instructions below for the number of seconds or minutes indicated. (If you want a challenge, add another round of sprints!)

0:00-5:00: Walk at 3.5-3.8 mph (RPE 4)

5:00-5:20: Sprint at 6.5-8.0 mph (RPE 9)

5:20-6:20: Recover by walking at 3.0-3.5 mph (RPE 3)

6:20-10:30: Repeat sprint series 2 more times, alternating 20-second sprints with 60 seconds of recovery.

11:40-20:00: Walk at 3.5-3.8 mph (RPE 4)

Week 3 Cardio Intervals

Follow the instructions below for the number of seconds or minutes indicated. (If you want a challenge, add another round of sprints!)

0:00-5:00: Walk at 3.5-3.8 mph (RPE 4)

5:00-5:30: Sprint at 6.5-8.0 mph (RPE 9)

5:30-6:30: Recover by walking at 3.0-3.5 mph (RPE 3)

6:30-12:30: Repeat sprint series 4 more times, alternating 30-second sprints with 60 seconds of recovery.

12:30-15:00: Walk at 3.5-3.8 mph (RPE 4)

Week 4 Cardio Intervals

Follow the instructions below for the number of seconds or minutes indicated. (If you want a challenge, add another round of sprints!)

0:00-5:00: Walk at 3.5-3.8 mph (RPE 4)

5:00-5:30: Sprint at 6.5-8.0 mph (RPE 9)

5:30-6:00: Recover by walking at 3.0-3.5 mph (RPE 3)

6:00-13:00: Repeat sprint series 7 more times, alternating 30-second sprints with 30 seconds of recovery.

11:40-20:00: Walk at 3.5-3.8 mph (RPE 4)

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