This 20-Minute Workout Burns More Calories than Running

by Mackenzie L. Havey
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This 20-Minute Workout Burns More Calories than Running

Research has demonstrated that just 20 minutes of exercise has the ability to alter our genes for the better — a sort of genetic reprogramming that can lead to increased endurance and muscle strength. What’s more, there are plenty of efficient exercise options that will help you torch calories and lose weight in that short period of time. The key is to be purposeful about the exercises you choose so even a quick workout will elicit big results.

This is where the Tabata Protocol comes in. Izumi Tabata first tested this training approach, which entails very short high-intensity spurts of exercise followed by short bouts of rest, when he was working with the Japanese Olympic speed skating team. Happy with the results, he put his findings to the test with a group of university students, having them do eight 20-second all-out sprints on stationary bikes, followed by 10 seconds of rest after each sprint. The circuit took just 4 minutes and was preceded by a 10-minute warmup.

Tabata discovered that after the students performed these sprints five days a week for six weeks, they increased their aerobic fitness by an average of 14%. This is especially impressive when you consider the fact that the other group of students Tabata tested, who did 60-minute moderate rides five days a week, only bumped up their aerobic fitness by 10%. Put simply, the first group got in better shape even though their workouts were 56 minutes shorter. That’s five hours of exercise each week versus just 20 minutes.

For many of us, the original Tabata Protocol is too good to be true. First, while it helps improve aerobic fitness, it won’t allow most people to burn as many calories as they’d like simply because four minutes of exercise isn’t a sufficient period of time. Additionally, most people struggle with reaching the extreme intensity at which the participants in the study worked out. Most of us want exercise to leave us energized, not completely zapped.

The solution that many trainers have landed on is to ease off the intensity somewhat but repeat the Tabata Protocol a greater number of times. Also, mixing up the exercises, rather than simply sprinting on a stationary bike, assists in working various muscles and keeping you from reaching the point of total fatigue. For instance, a 20-minute Tabata Workout Protocol could include a number of different exercises, like jumping rope, squats and push-ups, performed at a high intensity for 20 seconds, followed by a 10-second break.

To test the calorie-burning potential of this type of workout, the American Council on Exercise put together their own 20-minute Tabata Workout Protocol. In just 20 minutes, they discovered that participants burned between 240–360 calories, or 15 calories per minute. Considering the fact that a 150-pound person would only burn around 200 calories jogging for 20 minutes, this means one could torch hundreds of extra calories performing Tabata several times a week. Plenty of other evidence has also proved that Tabata training has a fat-incinerating effect in an impressively short amount of time.

Based on the Tabata Workout Protocol designed by the American Council on Exercise, we’ve devised a beginner-friendly version that you can jump right into. Before you start, be sure to practice the four exercises so that you are confident performing each with good form.

Exercises

Body-Weight Squats: Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and your arms out straight in front of your body with palms facing down. Keep your spine neutral and pull in your abs throughout the exercise as you slowly lower your backside down toward the ground until your thighs are parallel with the ground. If you feel good, you can drop a bit more with your hips so your bottom bends down lower than your knees. Stand back up, and repeat.

Jumping Jacks: Stand with your legs straight, feet together, and hands down at your sides. In a single motion, hop your feet outward and your arms above your head, keeping both legs and arms straight. Then reverse course by bringing your hands and feet back to their original positions.

Push-Ups: Put your hands on the ground a little wider than shoulder distance with your arms straight, supporting your upper body. Extend your feet back, and balance on your toes. Lower your body down until your chest nearly touches the ground, and then raise back up to the original position. If you have trouble maintaining proper form, drop down to your knees to perform the exercise.

Lunges: Stand with your feet slightly less than shoulder width apart. Step forward with one leg and lower your body down until both knees are at 90-degree angles. Raise back up, and alternate legs.

Sequence (repeat 4 times)

  • 20 seconds body-weight squats
  • 10 seconds rest
  • 20 seconds jumping jacks
  • 10 seconds rest
  • 20 seconds push-ups
  • 10 seconds rest
  • 20 seconds lunges
  • 10 seconds rest
  • 20 seconds body-weight squats
  • 10 seconds rest
  • 20 seconds jumping jacks
  • 10 seconds rest
  • 20 seconds push-ups
  • 10 seconds rest
  • 20 seconds lunges
  • 1:10 rest

Total time: 5:00 x 4 = 20:00

Tips

  1. Warm up for 10 minutes prior to conducting this workout.
  2. During each 20-second bout, perform as many of the exercises as you can at a fast pace and always keep moving.
  3. During rest periods, take the time to catch your breath, and shake your legs and arms out.
  4. If you have trouble maintaining good form when repeating the sequence four times, start with two or three times, and work toward four.

Related

  • Suzanne Perry

    Approximately how many calories does this beginner’s regimen burn for a 150-lb woman? Thanks!

    • Bob Jennings

      Generally in this style of HIIT a person burns anywhere from 12-16 calories a minute during the work periods and 9-12 calories per minute during the rest periods.

  • Rayne

    Yes, how would I enter this in my exercise journal?

    • Russell Wright

      Use a Heart Rate Monitor and Endomondo.

      • Rayne

        Don’t have those things, so…

        • Joy

          exactly. I don’t either — I’m guessing you wouldn’t be asking, if you had one! 😉

          • Tiger Momma

            This exercise will burn about 8-10 calories/minute. Multiply that times how many minutes of exercise. 8 calories is low intensity (it’s easy for you, hardly break a sweat);9 calories is moderate. 10 calories is high intensity. This is a ROUGH estimate, but fairly close.

    • Anon.

      Use the free myfitnesspal app and most of these exercises should be found when you enter them in the exercise journal, enter each individually and I believe it estimates you’re calories burned based on the weight info the app already took from you. Also remember you may burn more/less calories based on you’re muscle percentage. While body mass plays a large role, generally the more muscle mass you have, the more calories are burned. But the app gives you a great estimate!

      • Rayne

        Thank you! Much appreciated.

    • Commenter

      “workout 20 minutes” or put 30 minutes if you add the 10 minutes warmup that they don’t include.

  • Kashmir.

    Nice, just finished a 20 min session !

  • Melissa F.

    Does this beef up legs or slim them out?

  • Commenter

    the 20 minute workout that’s really 30 minutes

  • Chanayo

    Recently had pacemaker surgery so not allowed pressure on left side for a while. Is there something to sub for the pushups? I’ve only walked since insertion but need to get back in shape!