When you only have 20 minutes to squeeze in a workout, utilizing a HIIT workout is a very effective way to get your heart rate up, engage your muscles, and get all the feel-good endorphins that a good sweat session can provide.

When my kids were in their baby and toddler years, I found it so difficult to get a full workout in. I was constantly feeling disappointed and frustrated when my workout would inevitably need to be cut short.

Thankfully, I’ve since come to understand that a long workout doesn’t necessarily equate to a “good” workout. You can accomplish a “good” workout in a relatively short period of time. 

Understanding and accepting this has allowed me to take the pressure off and know that any amount of movement is beneficial. Plus, the short workouts allowed me to get in, focus and apply myself to the best of my ability, and be done before I needed to move on to my next task. Quick and efficient is the name of the game!

If you’re like me and looking to squeeze in an effective workout from anywhere, this easy, 20-minute HIIT workout is perfect for you because we’ll be utilizing simple movements and body weight only. It's a great way to get started in your weight loss journey as well! The only requirement is to show up ready to improve your health and mood.

Is a 20-minute HIIT Workout a Day Enough?

Enough for what? To get your heart rate up? To feel the benefits of movement? To lose weight?

This is a loaded question, but let me break it down. Twenty minutes of intentional movement is more than enough to improve your health and allow you to experience some of the many benefits of exercise.

The industry has taught us that in order for a workout to be “good” or effective, it must take us at least 45-60 minutes, we need to be dripping in sweat, and our muscles need to be fully fatigued. While there’s a time and a place for that kind of exercise, it’s not the best fit for beginners, nor is it a sustainable way to exercise in the long term.

Speaking to the fact that you’re likely a beginner if you came here looking for a 20-minute HIIT workout for beginners, this is going to be plenty of movement to help you get started toward your goals. In just twenty minutes, you can work up a sweat, increase your heart rate, and engage your muscles in an efficient and effective manner.

The nature of a HIIT workout is intense, hence the name “high-intensity interval training.” Especially as a beginner, attempting to do a HIIT workout for much more than 20 minutes can be dangerous. Thankfully, this beginner-friendly 20-minute HIIT workout will ease you into it and won’t be overly taxing on your body - but don’t worry, it will still be enough work to make you feel it!

How Long Should a Beginner Do HIIT?

Beginners should do HIIT workouts that last anywhere from 10-20 minutes per session, depending on the intensity of the workout. For example, a HIIT workout that includes weight-bearing exercises will inherently be more intense than a bodyweight-only workout, so keeping the time on the lower end of the scale for weighted workouts will be optimal in the beginning.

Remember that just because you are a beginner now and aren’t able to maintain HIIT workouts for a longer period of time doesn’t mean that you won’t eventually get there. In fact, that’s the point. A solid workout plan involved starting from where you are and working your way up safely and efficiently. Safety is your number one priority.

How Many Calories Should a 20-Minute HIIT Burn?

Some studies have shown that a 20-minute HIIT workout will burn, on average, between 240–360 calories. However, It’s important to keep in mind that calorie burn is highly individualized and incredibly hard to measure with any kind of accuracy. In fact, your fitness tracker can be off by as much as 90%!

Instead of focusing on the calories burned, try to shift your mindset to the strength you’re gaining, the endurance your building, and the improvements you feel in your energy and mental clarity. Strength training for women is super important and can benefit you in so many ways!

How Many Days Per Week Should You Do HIIT to See Results?

Most experts agree that adding 2-3 HIIT sessions per week to your fitness routine is enough to begin to see results. HIIT is not a sustainable form of exercise in that it’s jarring on the body and therefore should be limited to a few times per week. 

A well-rounded fitness routine will include HIIT workouts, LISS (low-intensity steady-state cardio), and strength training.

20-Minute HIIT Workout For Beginners

Ready to get to work? Here’s the plan:

  • 8 different exercises
  • 4 Rounds 
  • 4 Exercises each round at 1-minute intervals with 1 minute of rest after
  • Rounds 1&3 and 2&4 will include the same exercises
  • Each exercise will have a low-impact swap included
  • Total workout time = 20 minutes

The goal of this workout is to work hard for a full 60 seconds, transitioning quickly to the next exercise for a total of 4 sets of work. Once you finish your 4th exercise in each round, you will have a full 60 seconds of rest before continuing on to the next round.

While the goal of a HIIT workout is to keep your heart rate up and the pace moving swiftly, please know that you can modify and take breaks as needed. This is the kind of workout that can be repeated time and again and one where you will have the ability to improve incrementally over time.

Round 1

  • Minute 1 - Jumping Jacks
  • Minute 2 - Air squats
  • Minute 3 - Push Ups
  • Minute 4 - Plank
  • Minute 5 - Rest

Round 2

  • Minute 1 - 4 high knees + 4 butt kickers
  • Minute 2 - Alternating reverse lunges
  • Minute 3 - Mountain climbers
  • Minute 4 - Butterfly crunches
  • Minute 5 - Rest

Round 3

  • Minute 1 - Jumping Jacks
  • Minute 2 - Air squats
  • Minute 3 - Push Ups
  • Minute 4 - Plank
  • Minute 5 - Rest

Round 4

  • Minute 1 - 4 high knees + 4 butt kickers
  • Minute 2 - Alternating reverse lunges
  • Minute 3 - Mountain climbers
  • Minute 4 - Butterfly crunches
  • Minute 5 - Rest

Low-Impact Swaps

If you need to modify any or all of these exercises, swap them out for the following low-impact option that will still ensure a great workout while supporting your current ability and prioritizing your safety.

  • Jumping jacks - alternating side-to-side steps
  • Air squats - limited-depth squats
  • Push-ups - knee push-ups
  • Plank - Knee plank or incline plank
  • 4 high knees + 4 butt kickers - 4 marches + 4 leg bends
  • Alternating reverse lunges - limited-depth reverse lunges
  • Mountain climbers - Plank taps
  • Butterfly crunches - traditional crunches

Download the 20-Minute HIIT Workout PDF!

We made it easy to take this workout with you on the go. Below is a link to download the printable workout PDF. You can save it to your phone and pull it up when you’re ready to work out, or, print it off and take it to the gym with you.

Give This 20-Minute HIIT Workout a Try!

Whether this is your first time ever doing a HIIT workout, or you’re easing back into exercise after some time off, this 20-HIIT workout for beginners is a great place to start. Each exercise is easily modified to make it low-impact and you can control your pace and take breaks when needed!

My suggestion would be to try this HIIT workout 1-2x per week and be intentional about identifying your wins i.e. your ability to maintain the movement for longer, less breathless or fatigued, the addition of a weight or resistance band, etc.

About the Author
Tami Smith, CPT, Nutritionist

Tami Smith is a certified Nutritionist and an ACE certified fitness trainer, specializing in pre and post-natal fitness. She studied business and earned her bachelor's degree in Business Economics. Tami is a mom of two and women's health advocate. Her passion is to help people live a fit, healthy life through proper nutrition and exercise!

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