Your Best 20-Minute Workout

Ready to get in shape but not sure you’ve got the time? Between long workdays, packed weekends and family obligations, it can seem impossible to fit in an hour of exercise several times a week. Fortunately, there are a variety of routines you can add to your schedule that will help you get (or stay!) in shape in just 20 minutes. Bonus: You can do them anywhere.

We’ve asked Lesley Mettler-Auld, a running, triathlon and fitness coach in Seattle, to share a 20-minute workout she does. The exercise routine she gave us can be used as a supplement to your current routine or as a primary workout if you’re crunched for time. “It’s designed to use all the major muscles of the body in a different way [and is] very efficient,” she says. “Start with light weights until you get the motion down, then increase weight as your muscles are ready.”

Repeat each exercise for 50 seconds, taking 10 seconds to move on to the next exercise. Repeat the entire circuit twice.

Get Started:

Equipment needed: one set of dumbbells or a resistance band

  • Burpies: Begin in a plank position, with legs extended and feet hip-width apart. Rest your weight on your hands or forearms. Jump to a squat position. From there, reach your hands over your head and jump as high as you can. Return to a squat, step or jump back into plank pose and repeat.
  • Squat Combination: Holding a dumbbell in each hand, stand with your feet hip-width apart and weight on your heels. Lower into a squat while keeping your knees behind your toes. As you rise, curl the dumbbells into a biceps curl, then extend your arms and press the weights over your head with your palms facing inward. Lower and repeat.
  • Mountain Climbers: Begin in a plank position with your feet hip-width apart. Bend your right knee to touch your left elbow, then return to plank position and repeat with your right knee to left elbow. Continue alternating sides.
  • Narrow Hand Push-Up: Begin in a plank position on your feet or with your knees bent on the ground. Lower your body down into a push-up while keeping your elbows in and along your sides. Return to plank and repeat.
  • Boat Pose: Sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you. Raise legs to a 45-degree angle from your torso. Keeping your back straight, lean back slightly, forming a “V” shape with your body. Bring your arms out in a straight line, parallel to your legs, and hold this position.
  • Bicycle Crunch: Lie on your back with your knees bent and abs pulled tight toward your spine. With your hands behind your head, extend one leg out while lifting your shoulders off the floor and bringing the opposite knee toward the opposite shoulder. Switch sides and repeat.
  • Shoulder Press with Leg Extension: Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Hold a dumbbell in each hand and bend your elbows to hold the weights at shoulder height. Raise your right leg to 90 degrees and, with your leg raised, exhale and extend your arms up with palms facing inward. Lower your arms and leg at the same time and repeat on the other side.
  • Bent-Over Fly: Bend at the waist, letting your arms hang down with a dumbbell in each hand. With a straight back and moving only your shoulders, lift the dumbbells up and out to the side until they’re even with your back. Slowly lower and repeat. 
  • Biceps Hammer Curl with band or dumbbell: Keeping your arms at your sides and bent at the elbows, raise and lower your arms into a curl.
  • Crunches: Lying on the floor with a flat back and bent knees, place your hands behind your head and use your abs to lift and lower your head and shoulders.

Got an exercise ball? You can incorporate it into your quick workout with exercises such as crunches and the “Superman” stretch (lying face-down on the ball, lift your right arm and left leg; hold and switch to your left arm/right leg).

Completing exercises like these in a circuit format allows you to do more with your workout in the same period of time, making the most of your routine.

How to Kick the Sugar Habit

Trying to cut down on sugar? Maybe you’ve heard all the health warnings from doctors and government officials, or maybe you’re trying to look better in your swimsuit.

Whatever the reason, you’re on the right track -- Americans are still eating and drinking two or three times the amount of sugar recommended for optimal health. Scientific studies have linked sugar overloads to obesity and health concerns including diabetes, tooth decay, heart disease, stroke, pancreatic cancer and cognitive decline. 

Sugar, which can fuel the brain and temporarily boost energy, occurs naturally in many nutritious fruits, vegetables and dairy products. But it also gets added to a number of foods we may eat every day. The American Heart Association advises women consume no more than 100 calories’ worth of added sugars per day, which comes out to about six teaspoons. But we often get more of the sweet stuff than we realize; manufacturers inject different forms of sweeteners to heighten taste and improve texture in a surprising variety of products.

To gain more control over your own sugar cravings -- and your family’s -- try these health tips from registered dietician Elisa Zied, mother of two and author of Nutrition at Your Fingertips.

Learn Label Language 

Sugar takes many forms, but all of them work in the same way on your body. And even if you skip dessert and take your coffee black, you may still be eating extra sugar in items like pasta sauce, ketchup, salad dressings and frozen dinners without realizing it.

When you shop, check labels closely for things like corn syrup, honey, molasses and nectar, as well as words in the “ose” family:  sucrose, fructose, dextrose, lactose, maltose and glucose. The higher up these words appear on the ingredient list, the higher the sugar content. (Check what’s in your family’s favorite foods at the USDA Database.)

Be Skeptical of “Health” Foods

Don’t assume that products touted as “low-calorie” or “fat-free” are good for you: To make them more palatable, many manufacturers compensate by boosting their sugar content. For instance, one particular brand of “light” whole-wheat bread boasts that it has just 45 calories a slice, but if you look at the ingredient list, you’ll see it contains not only high fructose corn syrup, but also honey, molasses, brown sugar and sucralose -- hardly a dietary bargain! Watch the labels and choose fresh foods as often as possible.

Do Sugar Swaps

When sugar cravings hit, satisfy your sweet tooth with healthier substitutes. For instance, top oatmeal with half a baked apple instead of brown sugar, and freeze banana slices or grapes for a sweet snack.

If you’re baking cookies or cakes for the family, use unsweetened applesauce to replace some of the sugar in the recipe. And when you serve ice cream, spoon a small portion into the bowls and then top them with lots of fresh berries.

Serve Better Beverages

Sweetened beverages -- including fruit drinks -- are the No. 1 source of added sugar in our diets. Just a 12-ounce can of regular soda packs 8 teaspoons of sugar, or 130 calories, while adding no nutrients. Stock your fridge with healthier options, such as water or seltzer with a squeeze of lime, or a blueberry-banana smoothie straight from your blender.

Leave Yourself Some Wiggle Room

It’s okay to indulge in an occasional sweet treat as long as you’re watching your total calories and filling up with lots of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat proteins. “Sometimes it’s okay to have something simply because you want it and it tastes good,” says Zied -- whether that means a glass of low-fat chocolate milk for your kids or an ice pop on a hot summer day for you.

Eight Fitness Tips to Get in Shape for Summer

Does the thought of slipping into shorts or a swimsuit leave you panicked? No sweat. With these easy fitness tips, there’s still time to get in summer-ready shape without going on a crash diet.

Taking small steps will put you in the right direction, says Heidi Powell, personal trainer, life coach and co-transformation specialist (with husband Chris Powell) on Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition. Here are her eight best fitness tips to get you ready for the season:

1. Make a Small Change -- And Stick To It

“Make one goal to yourself at a time,” says Powell. “Maybe it's removing soda from your lunch or moving for five minutes a day. Just make it attainable and commit to it.”

Once you master that first goal, you can add another to it, and so on. “When you do what you say you're going to do, the scale will follow,” says Powell.

2. Be Realistic

As much as we’d all love to drop 10 pounds in a week -- especially as summer approaches -- it's not very doable without going to extreme measures.

“Instead, strive to lose one percent of your body weight a week,” says Powell. “That's a healthy goal.” 

3. Watch Your Calories

Nutrition is more than half the battle in weight loss. And while you don’t have to obsess over every bite, you do need to be aware of how many calories you’re taking in. The average woman should aim for 1,500 calories a day.


4. Eat Real Food

Forget the packaged diet dinners and low-fat snacks. “You can’t out-train bad food,” says Powell.

Fresh fruits and vegetables are higher in nutrients than processed meals -- plus, they’re rich in fiber, which will keep you feeling fuller longer. Lean meats like turkey are high in protein and will help you burn more fat while building muscle mass. And yes, you can put some steak on the grill -- just eat it in moderation. “The calorie count is higher in red meat, so opt for three-ounce portions instead of the four ounces you would eat of chicken or fish,” Powell says.


5. Don’t Skip Carbs

“Chris and I both have wristbands that say I <3 carbs!” says Powell. “Carbs fuel the body for weight loss.” Just remember that not all carbohydrates are created equal: White bread, rice and sweets are nutritionally poor, but sweet potatoes, brown rice, steel-cut oats and whole-grain bread are both delicious and healthy.


6. Work Out at Home

You don’t have to commit to a gym to get your exercise. Powell, a busy mom of three, says she’s lucky if she goes to the gym once a month. Instead, she focuses on fat-blasting moves she can do from the comfort of her home…which is where her next two tips come in!

7. Learn to Love the Burpee

“I have a love-hate relationship with burpees,” admits Powell. They’re tough, but “they hit nearly every muscle in the body and get your heart rate up.”

To perform this whole-body exercise, start by squatting with your hands on the floor in front of you. Kick your legs back into a push-up position, jump back into the squat, and then jump to a standing position. You can modify the move by doing the push-up on your knees or going directly from the push-up to a standing position. 

8. Try Interval Training

For the optimal metabolism-boosting workout, sprint on a track or treadmill as fast as you can for 30 seconds, rest for 90 seconds, and then sprint again. Ten sets of sprints will give you a heart-thumping 20-minute workout -- plus your body will continue to burn calories at a higher rate for the rest of the day. “You put your body in an oxygen debt, so the body has to overcompensate and work harder to oxygenate the body,” says Powell.

By making easy changes and following these fitness tips, you’ll be confident and beach-ready before 

Update Your Workout Wear!

Heading for the gym? Great! Doing it in a baggy T-shirt and two-year-old shoes? Not so much. Wearing the right exercise gear isn’t just a matter of looking fashionable; it helps you work out comfortably and safely. Here’s how to tell when you need to update your workout wear, and what to look for when you do:

Sports bra
If it’s been a year or more since you bought the bra you’re wearing, you’ve had it too long. Ditto if the elastic is loose, if you’ve gained or lost weight or if you feel any pain in your shoulders or chest when you work out. When you try on a new sports bra, check the fit: The band should lie flat against your ribcage covering your breasts completely and the straps shouldn’t dig into your shoulders.

The type of bra you buy depends on what kinds of exercise you do. For running or aerobics, a compression bra that minimizes movement is best; for walking or biking, look for a soft pullover bra. Go for a moisture-wicking polyester fabric rather than a cotton variety, which holds in sweat. And when you try on a bra, run in place or do some jumping jacks to make sure it’s supportive enough.

Athletic shoes
Even though your sneakers may still look nice on the outside, hours of pounding the pavement or treadmill take their toll. The result: reduced support to your joints and greater risk of injuries. Experts recommend replacing sports shoes about every 300 to 400 miles, or when they show signs of wear (such as bending too easily in the middle). 

When it’s time to buy new shoes, your best bet is to go to a specialty store where you can get your foot measured by an expert. Athletic shoes should actually be a little larger than your regular shoes to allow for swelling. Bring your old shoes, as well as the socks you’ll be wearing and any orthotics or inserts. Look for a pair that feels comfortable from the start; you shouldn’t need to break them in. If you do more walking than running, you want a shoe that bends at the ball of the foot. If you run, talk to the store professional about options such as gel heels and cushioned insoles that increase comfort and reduce injuries.

Tops
Pulling an old T-shirt from the drawer may be easy enough, but it’s not the smartest move. Cotton tees hold in moisture, leaving you feeling wet and clammy after a workout; plus a baggy shirt can get caught in gym equipment. Instead, invest in a workout shirt or tank in a synthetic fabric like COOLMAX.

Bottoms
The type you choose depends on the activity; long, loose pants can get tangled in the pedals or spokes of a bike, while gym shorts may make you feel self-conscious in yoga class. For high-impact activity, go for close-fitting capris or shorts in a moisture-wicking material; for less strenuous workouts, choose looser, stretchy long bottoms. It’s time to shop for new pants if the elastic loses its grip or if you’ve gained or lost weight.