Get Fit — Faster: This 22-Minute Workout Has You Covered

Jan 13, 2019
Originally published on September 16, 2019 9:40 am

Hard to fit exercise into your day? Then, maybe this workout is for you. It covers everything you need — from cardio to strength training to stretching.

"You can get a fantastic workout in 22 minutes," says Tim Church. He's a physician and researcher who has spent his career studying exercise.

Why 22 minutes? Compared with 1960, Americans today burn about 140 fewer calories, on average, per day because of our sedentary jobs. To offset the damages of sitting, we need to move. The latest recommendations call for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week to maintain good health. If you divide 150 minutes by seven days a week, that's 22 minutes a day.

With the help of certified fitness trainer Bryant Johnson, whose high-profile clients include Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, we break down this workout into 10 minutes of cardio, 8 minutes of weight training and 4 minutes of stretching. The best part? All the exercises can be done at home — no special equipment needed.

Part 1: Cardio

Only 10 minutes of cardio? Yep, I was skeptical, too. But here's the hack: Whether you're on a treadmill, an elliptical, or exercising outside, say goodbye to your steady pace. Instead, think intervals, or high-intensity interval training. You'll start out slow, then build in bursts of intense aerobic activity that push up your heart rate. I like to alternate between one minute of cycling as hard as I can, followed by one minute at a more leisurely pace. Then, I repeat. (You can also try 20- or 30-second sprints.)

Johnson compares interval training to driving a car. Cars burn more fuel with the stop-go, stop-go of city driving. On the highway, cruising at a steady pace, you don't burn as much fuel. So, think of interval training as city miles — you're burning more fuel, or calories.

One study found that, compared with people who worked out at a steady pace, those who did interval training on stationary bikes as part of a four-month study were able to lose more weight from fewer minutes of exercise.

"You're getting more benefit," explains Church. "HIIT [high-intensity interval training] helps you have a very efficient workout. You're stimulating more physiological pathways and you're stimulating more muscles."

Our workout starts with 5 minutes of cardio, then moves on to weight training. Add another 5 minutes of cardio before ending with stretching.

Part 2: Weight Training

After cardio, weight training is the next essential component of our workout. Bryant Johnson has built in repetitions of three simple exercises. We start with pushups or planks. Then we move on to squats, which he demonstrates here.

If you listen to our LifeKit podcast on exercise, you'll hear me struggle through the pistol squats (squats performed with one leg lifted off the ground) and the pushups. What I realized is that I've been focusing too much on cardio, and I don't have as much strength as I thought. When I put Morning Edition host Rachel Martin through this same workout, she had a similar realization: The pistol squats were tough for her, too, even though she's an avid runner.

Then, for the upper body and chest, Bryant suggests a rowing-like exercise, which he also demonstrates here. You can use a towel, belt or resistance band.

We did three weight training exercises in a circuit: 12 repetitions each of squats, rows and pushups (not pictured). You can do standard pushups, or if you're just starting out, try standing pushups against a wall. Repeat this circuit — squats, rows and pushups — three times.

Weight training becomes even more important the older we get. "From age 40 or 50 on, you lose 1-2 percent of your muscle mass per year," Church says. "Maintaining muscle mass and strength is absolutely critical to quality of life, to healthy aging." He says it's the ultimate use it or lose it.

Part 3: Don't Forget To Stretch

This workout ends with 4 minutes of stretching, which for me is a supplement to a yoga practice. Why is it important to make time to stretch? "It's a way of calming the nervous system down," Johnson says.

To inspire all those who are tempted to skip stretching, Johnson says you want to aim to be a bamboo tree, not an oak tree. "Which type [of tree] is the strongest?" he asks. Under pressure, an oak may snap, whereas a bamboo tree will sway and bend. "The more flexible you are, the stronger you are."

Now that you've got the routine, here's our advice: repeat daily.

Church says the benefits of working out are innumerable. Not only does it help fend off disease, it makes our bodies stronger and our minds clearer.

"I've spent my whole career studying exercise, and I'm absolutely convinced that 95 percent of the benefits of exercise are above the shoulders," Church says. Exercise can help reduce anxiety and depression. "There are so many benefits to the brain, and each year we learn more."

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But you don't have time, right? That's what so many people say. I'd like to exercise, but I don't have time in my schedule. I have definitely said that on more than one occasion, but NPR's Allison Aubrey isn't having that excuse. She told me she could give me a full workout in about 20 minutes. I said prove it, and she did at the NPR gym, starting on the treadmill.

ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: What we're going to do is start out nice and easy.


AUBREY: And we're going to get this entire workout in in 22 minutes.

MARTIN: Twenty-two minutes? How intense could that actually be?

AUBREY: You know, there is a ton of evidence to show that if you want to stay healthy, fend off disease, you need about 150 minutes of exercise a week. So divide 150 by seven. Boom. You got about 22 minutes.

TIM CHURCH: You can get a fantastic workout in 22 minutes.

AUBREY: That's Tim Church. He's a physician who's done a lot of research on exercise.

AUBREY: All right, how's that feeling?

MARTIN: It feels intense, yeah.

AUBREY: This workout is going to break down into 10 minutes of cardio, eight minutes of strength training and four minutes of stretching. How's the cardio going so far?

MARTIN: Well, I'm still upright. I'm still running. I guess fine.

AUBREY: All right. You're getting a little winded.


AUBREY: What I want to do now - I want to give you my top tip for shaving time off your cardio workout. So instead of going even-steven there, we're going to do some high-intensity interval training, and this means I want you to go hard for 20, and then slow down for 20.

MARTIN: For 20 seconds?

AUBREY: Twenty seconds, that's all.

MARTIN: OK. Let's pump it up.

AUBREY: Tim Church says high-intensity interval training, or HIIT as it's known, is really good for you.

CHURCH: HIIT helps you have a very efficient workout because you're stimulating more physiological pathways. You're stimulating more muscles, so you're getting more benefit.

AUBREY: Like a turbo boost.

CHURCH: Turbo boost is a great analogy.

AUBREY: All right. You are done on that treadmill.

MARTIN: Sweet.

AUBREY: Next, we're going to move on to strength training. And we begin with squats on a bench.


AUBREY: OK. Now I want you to stand up. Sit down.


AUBREY: Stand up.

MARTIN: You're so bossy.

AUBREY: Sit down.

Then I have Rachel lift one leg off the ground. It makes it a lot tougher.

MARTIN: I can't do anymore.

AUBREY: But just because it's hard, don't skip it. Tim Church says it is so important.

CHURCH: From age 40 or 50 on, you lose 1 to 2 percent of your muscle mass a year. Maintaining muscle mass, maintaining strength is absolutely critical to quality of life. It's the ultimate use it or lose it.

AUBREY: And Rachel says she's on it.

MARTIN: This was actually really valuable.

AUBREY: Even if those squats were really tough.

You know, this is the kind of thing you can do in the studio when you've got a little downtime.

MARTIN: All right, yeah. Me and Inskeep doing the old...

AUBREY: Pistol squats in the studio (laughter).

MARTIN: ...Pistol squats.

AUBREY: You know, we laugh, but it's good to be reminded of all the ways that exercise helps our bodies and our minds.

CHURCH: Reduced anxiety, reduced depression. There just are so many benefits, and each year we learn more and more.

MARTIN: I mean, I'm a true believer.

AUBREY: You know, we don't have time to do the whole thing here, but if you listen to our new Life Kit podcast, we'll walk you through the whole shebang - the 22-minute workout.

MARTIN: Thank you, Allison. I appreciate it.

AUBREY: Thanks so much, Rachel.

MARTIN: NPR's Allison Aubrey. If you want more help navigating life, tips on diet, exercise and personal finance, check out other Life Kit audio guides at Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.