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The 22-minute workout for busy people

phil hilton
Phil Hilton takes the short-burst workout for a test drive - Geoff Pugh

There is something uniquely satisfying about a really tight, well-designed short workout: an intense burst of capsule exercise that hits all the right spots with not one second wasted. Newly published research analysing the effect of exercise on longevity shows that as little as 22 minutes is enough to counter the effects of prolonged sitting.

Like most office workers, I essentially sit for a living. Zoom means I can slip between meetings and tapping my keyboard without moving at all. When my moment for exercise comes it’s the bell calling me out to playtime (only without the 23-a-side football). Making playtime count is something of a lifelong quest, and my fellow swivel-chair dwellers will know the day never, ever gives you very long before the bell calls you back once again.

The study, carried out by a group of Scandinavian sports scientists, found that the life-shortening effects of a sedentary existence can indeed be countered by taking short bursts of moderate to vigorous exercise.

Steve Coleman is a celebrity trainer, whose clients include Daniel Radcliffe. He says his clients place huge value on a smart, short workout. “You want to build fitness as a lifestyle,” he says. “So many people give up their exercise regime prematurely because it can’t be fitted into their lives.” He says we have absorbed the goal of a 60-minute workout without really knowing why.

“Daily, consistent short workouts will achieve more success than doing two weeks of intense one-hour workouts,” he says. “It’s really daunting for a lot of people to train for an hour. Who’s got an hour to drive to the gym, change, drive back – a two-hour round trip?”

Coleman recommends metabolic resistance training, which combines cardio and strength. “Using compound exercises [those that work almost the whole body] in a high-intensity interval way – you can maximise fat burn, calorie burn and improve cardiovascular fitness.”

Compound exercises include burpees, squats and press-ups – the key is to work against the clock, doing as many as you can in a given time with very little rest. This will be tough, but the beauty of a short workout is that the end is always in sight. And the brief, frequent bursts add up.

Here’s how to start.

Your top 22-minute training plan

Warm up for eight minutes

Walkouts
Phil demonstrates a walkout - Geoff Pugh

This can be any gentle aerobic movement – jogging on the spot – which slowly builds until blood is flowing, followed by some dynamic stretching such as walkouts (start in a touch toes and then “walk” your hands forwards until you are in the press-up position) and deep lunges (a very long stride).


Phase one

This section should be performed twice

20 seconds of Push Plank

22-minute workout phil hilton
22-minute workout phil hilton

This is a combination of plank and press-up in which you switch up from resting on your elbow to resting on your palm as you rise from plank to press-up position. Two sets: lead first with the right arm, then the left arm. The core stays tight throughout. This is a great move for arms, chest and abs.

Rest for 20 seconds

40 seconds of Alternating Single Leg Toe Touch

22-minute workout phil hilton
22-minute workout phil hilton

Touch the toes of one foot by hinging forward with one leg stretched out behind you – this stretches the hamstrings, engages balance and mobility and works the core.

Rest for 20 seconds

40 seconds of Wide Step Walking Lunge

22-minute workout phil hilton
22-minute workout phil hilton

This is a deep lunge in which each step is out to the side as well as taking you forward. Keep the back straight and core tight throughout. These work the inner thigh as well as your backside and legs.

Rest for 20 seconds

4x 50m Shuttle Jog

(you can substitute this one with jogging on the spot for 60 seconds).

22-minute workout phil hilton
Phil jogs on the spot - Geoff Pugh

This will fire up your heart and lungs. Remember, it’s a jog not a sprint. There’s plenty still to come!


Phase two

Again, do this twice 

22-minute workout phil hilton
22-minute workout phil hilton

For one minute twenty seconds, do as many press-ups as you can, then switch straight into as many burpees as you can manage in the remaining time. Make the press-ups easier, in order that you can get in at least 10 burpees here, by resting on your knees or by raising your hands on to a bench or box.

Rest for 40 seconds

Squats:

A burst of squats with slight variations (alternate between having your feet almost together, under your shoulders, and wide, outside your shoulders) to hit a variety of muscles in your backside and thighs. Keep your back straight, eyes forward and enjoy that burning sensation in your legs. Do as many as you can, giving 20 seconds to each squat, for one minute twenty seconds.

Rest for 40 seconds

22-minute workout phil hilton
Narrow squat - Geoff Pugh
22-minute workout phil hilton
Middle squat - Geoff Pugh
22-minute workout phil hilton
Wide squat - Geoff Pugh

For one minute twenty seconds, do the following for 20 seconds each:

Hollow Hold

22-minute workout phil hilton
22-minute workout phil hilton

Lie on your back, curve upward like a spoon, then lie back flat on the floor. This is all about tightening the stomach muscles to hold you in position.

Alternating V-up

22-minute workout phil hilton
22-minute workout phil hilton

This is like the Hollow Hold but with the added challenge of touching your toes with alternating arms.

Plank Hold

22-minute workout phil hilton
22-minute workout phil hilton

Think about keeping every muscle tight while doing this: the more you are able to tense, the harder you are working.

Mountain Climbers

22-minute workout phil hilton
22-minute workout phil hilton

These start in the plank position and then involve bringing your knees up to your upper body. It’s rather like running but with the added work of holding your body up with your arms. A whole-body exercise that also works the heart and lungs.

Rest for 40 seconds

Stretch for two minutes

One minute of Couch Stretch Each Side

22-minute workout phil hilton
22-minute workout phil hilton

This involves putting one leg behind you against a wall, so that your shin is pressed against the surface, stretching your thigh as you do so. You start by lying down on the floor, backing up to the wall and rising into a kneel with one leg behind you.

Thanks to Firas Iskandarani, Master Trainer at Gymbox