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Healthy Living

The Busy Woman's 20-Minute Workout

If time commitments force you to abandon your regular workout routine, don't worry -- you can achieve full-body fitness in a jiffy with this simple 20-minute calisthenics circuit.

1. Narrow Pushup -- 1 Minute

We'll start with the tough stuff: This exercise will work your chest, shoulders, and triceps (the muscles at the backs of your upper arms). Assume a knees-on-the-floor, feet-crossed pushup position, but move your hands together so your thumbs and index fingers touch (as shown here). The space between your hands should form a triangle. This variation gives your triceps a better workout than a basic pushup. (To further challenge yourself, use your feet, rather than your knees, for support; to ease up, position your hands under your shoulders, a little wider than shoulder-width apart.) Complete as many pushups as you can in 1 minute. It's okay to rest when you need to.

2. Door Squat -- 2 Minutes

This exercise will tone your hamstrings (the muscles in the backs of your thighs), quadriceps (the muscles at the fronts of your thighs), and butt. First, open a sturdy door (make sure it's firmly hinged) and loop a towel around each knob. Hold both ends of the towel in your hands. Stand with your arms fully extended in front of you and your feet shoulder-width apart. Keeping your back straight, squat until the tops of your thighs are almost parallel to the floor. Be sure to keep your weight firmly over your heels. Now rise to the standing position. That's 1 repetition. Do a total of 20 repetitions. Next spread your feet slightly wider than hip-width, turning your feet so that they point slightly away from each other. Now do 20 more reps.

3. The Superwoman -- 1 Minute

Lie face down on a mat with your arms extended over your head. Raise your right arm and left leg simultaneously until you feel gentle tension in your lower back. Resist twisting your torso or raising your other hip or shoulder at the same time. Hold for 5 seconds, then slowly lower. Repeat using your other arm and leg. Complete the series as many times as you can in 1 minute.

4. Running in Place/Jacks -- 1 Minute

Alternating a few sets of calisthenics with an aerobic interval helps keep your heart rate elevated throughout the routine. For this set of aerobic moves, run in place for 30 seconds, then immediately do 15 jumping jacks.

5. Reverse Lunge -- 2 Minutes

This move will help firm your butt and legs. Stand straight with your hands on your hips. Keeping your left leg straight, step back with your left foot as far as you can; then lower your left knee until it nearly touches the floor, or as low as you can. Your right knee should automatically bend to a 90-degree angle. Lift yourself back into the starting position, tightening your butt muscles as you go. Repeat 10 to 15 times with your left leg, then work your right leg.

6. One-legged Calf Raise -- 2 Minutes

Stand with your left forefoot on the edge of a step so that your left heel hangs off the edge. Wrap your right foot around your left ankle and grab a railing or wall for balance. Rise up onto your toes, then slowly lower yourself until your heel falls slightly below the step. Repeat 12 to 20 times, then switch to work the right leg. (If you don't have a step, you can just lift yourself off the floor. This variation won't challenge your calf muscles as much, so try holding yourself in the raised position for a 2-second count.)

7. Lateral Raise -- 2 Minutes

Stand straight with your left hand on your hip and a weight or heavy book (a dictionary, the phone book, whatever) in your right hand. Slowly lift your right arm out to the side until it's parallel to the floor. Hold for a second, then slowly lower it back to your side. Repeat 12 to 20 times, then switch sides.

8. Shoulder Raise -- 1 Minute

Stand with your arms straight out from your sides, parallel to the floor. Slowly rotate both arms forward as if you were drawing 6-inch-diameter circles with your fingertips. Continue for 30 seconds, then draw backward circles for 30 seconds.

9. Leg Lift -- 3 Minutes

This exercise targets the hamstrings and buttocks. Get down on your hands and knees. Press your left knee forward, then slowly extend the leg behind you until it's in line with your back. Lower your leg slowly, and again press the knee forward. Do 20 repetitions with each leg.

10. Crunch -- 3 Minutes

Start with a basic crunch to work your upper abdominals: Lie on your back, knees bent, feet flat on the floor, hands lightly touching the back of your head, elbows out. Keeping your lower back pressed to the floor, slowly curl your head and shoulders up, then lower them back down. Do as many repetitions as you can in 1 minute.

Next, add a twist to work your oblique muscles: As you lift, twist your upper body to bring your right shoulder toward your left knee. Then twist to the right, drawing your left shoulder toward your right knee. Alternate from side to side for as many repetitions as you can for 1 minute. Then work the lower abdominals with reverse crunches. Lift your knees so your shins are parallel to the floor. Then slowly curl your knees toward your chest, pressing your lower back into the floor and your navel toward your spine. Lower again and repeat for 1 minute.

11. Cooldown -- 2 Minutes

Completed that final rep? Don't just collapse onto the couch and grab the remote. Cool down and stretch first to keep your muscles from getting sore. Start by walking for 2 minutes or so, until your heart rate slows and your breathing returns to normal. Finish with a few good stretches, like these:

For your hamstrings:

Lie on your back with your left leg bent and left foot flat on the floor. Lift your right leg straight up, clasp your hands behind your right thigh, and gently stretch the leg toward your chest. Repeat with your left leg.

For your quadriceps:

Steadying yourself against a wall with your right hand, bend your left knee, grab your foot with your left hand, and pull your heel toward your buttocks. Stand as straight as possible as you stretch. Repeat with your right leg.

For your shoulders and arms:

Clasp your hands behind your back and draw your shoulder blades together as close as is comfortable.

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