Want to go for a run but don’t have much time? Here are some top-tier options for you
Long distance runs are good for you in many ways. Long runs burn calories and help you control your weight. They also make your aerobic system work better, increase the number of mitochondria in your cells, and improve your muscles’ ability to burn fat. They can also help you get stronger in your mind.
But we don’t always have an hour or more to run. Sometimes we don’t even have the 30 to 45 minutes that are best for a good workout. On busy days, it can be a miracle just to get in exercise, but it’s almost always better to do something rather than nothing, unless your body needs a rest day to recover.
The good news is that even short 20-minute running workouts can help you get fitter and take your training to the next level. In this article, we’ve listed several 20-minute workouts for runners of various levels and training goals to give you a few ideas for when you’re short on time but want to squeeze a quick run into your day.
Is a 20-minute run a good workout?
A 20-minute run can be a good workout, depending on how fit you are now and what your health and running goals are. Although longer workouts are necessary for any run plan that trains you effectively for longer distance races (such as the 10k, half marathon, and marathon), fast workouts can improve your health and fitness and prepare you for shorter races of one to three miles long.
According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adults should try to get at least 150 minutes of aerobic exercise per week at a moderate intensity or 75 minutes of aerobic exercise at a vigorous intensity. Unless you’re jogging very slowly, running will typically qualify as “vigorous“ physical activity. Therefore, doing just four 20-minute runs per week will satisfy the exercise guidelines for adults and should help decrease your risk of lifestyle diseases such as heart disease and stroke, hypertension, obesity, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers.
The CDC says that the moderate-intensity cardio zone is between 50 and 70% of your maximum heart rate, while the vigorous-intensity cardio zone is between 70 and 85% of your maximum. Furthermore, studies suggest that workouts as brief as 10 minutes can be effective for boosting health and fitness.
The best way to make a running workout for fitness work is to make it harder. High-intensity interval training (HIIT) has been shown to have the same effects on the heart and metabolism as steady-state exercise and burn the same number of calories in 40% less time. So, a 20-minute HIIT running workout (intervals, hills, fartlek run, etc.) will be about the same as a 34-minute steady-state run in terms of how hard you work. That’s almost 14 minutes saved!
A man runs across a bridge at night 20-minute walk/run workout for beginners
If you are just starting to run, combining walking and running is a good way to get your heart and lungs in shape and get your bones, joints, muscles, and connective tissues used to the stresses of running. Basically, walking breaks let you catch your breath and slow down your heartbeat. Your joints and muscles also get a break when you walk because it is a low-impact activity.
But during this quick walk/run workout, you should keep moving even when you’re walking. After your run intervals, don’t stop. Instead, try to walk as quickly as you can.
- Warm up: walk quickly for two minutes.
- Workout: Run for one minute, then walk for one minute. Do this eight times, making sure to walk slowly for the last minute to cool down.
20-minute workout on a hill for newbies
Running up hills is a great way to work on both speed and strength in one workout, making the most of the little time you have to work out.
When you run up each hill repeat as fast as you can, your speed and turnover will go up, and because you’re fighting against gravity, your legs will get stronger and more powerful.
Use proper form and pump your arms hard to lift your knees. Short, quick steps and a slight forward lean will help you get up the hill.
After each hill repeat, run back down.
- Warm up by jogging for five minutes until you reach a fairly steep hill that you can sprint up in 30–45 seconds.
- Complete as many hill repeats as you can in 20 minutes.
20-minute workout for runners on an inclined treadmill
This is a progressive incline treadmill running workout in which the incline on the treadmill goes up gradually but in a certain order.
You’ll keep going at the same pace the whole time, but because the incline is getting steeper, the workout will get harder.
- Start by running at a 0% grade for two minutes.
- From minute 2 to minute 4, make the incline 1%.
- From minute 4 to minute 6, make the incline 2%.
- Every two minutes, keep adding 1% to the grade until you reach 8% between minutes 16 and 18.
- From minute 18 to 20, slowly go back to 0% incline to cool down.
You can train for a 5k race with this 20-minute track workout
- Run 800 meters (two laps), which takes about 4–5 minutes.
- Run three sets of 1,000 meters faster than your goal 5k pace by 3–5 seconds.
- To cool down, do a 200-meter (half-lap) recovery after the first two intervals and a 400-meter (full-lap) recovery after the last interval.
20-minute fartlek run: a man runs along a path
The Swedish word for “speed play” is “fartlek.” During a regular distance run, a fartlek run is made up of short intervals or bursts of fast running. The goal is to try not to slow down too much during the breaks, but to keep up a fairly normal training pace.
Warm up by running for three minutes at your normal training pace. Then, do the following eight times: Run hard for 90 seconds, run easy for 30 seconds, and then run easy for one minute to cool down.
20-minute tempo run
Tempo runs are done at the speed where your body starts to get too tired. This is when your muscles stop making most of the energy they need (ATP) through aerobic metabolism and start making it through anaerobic glycolysis. This change is marked by a big increase in tiredness and a burning feeling. This is because acidic metabolic waste products from anaerobic glycolysis are increasing.
To do a tempo run, run at your threshold pace for 20 minutes. The lactate threshold is between 83 and 88% of your VO2 max. Based on your lab results, your tempo pace would be the pace you run at 83 to 88% of your VO2 max, or about the pace you could run at full effort for an hour. This should be about 15–20 seconds slower per mile than the goal 10k race pace for most runners.
Remember that longer runs definitely have their benefits, but if you’re smart about your training, even a 20-minute run can help you get in better shape. Enjoy your workout!