Lifestyle and Health

First Time Guide: A 20 Minute Heart-Pumping Workout That Can Be Done Anywhere

cardio workout
Written by Lisa Nelson

Are you short on time but looking to get a workout in? Perhaps you’re out exploring the world and want to exercise but don’t have any equipment. Maybe you’re in subzero temperatures and are looking for a way to increase your body temperature. Whatever your situation, this quick, 20 minute workout is guaranteed to get your heart-pumping, raise your body temperature, and leave you feeling AMAZING!

Suitable for all levels.

Perform as many of each exercise as you can in 1 minute and then rest for 1 minute before moving on to the next exercise.

Jumping Jacks

Muscles worked: This is really a full body exercise, even your abdominals are engaged as they help to stabilize you when you come to land back on the ground.  However the major muscles worked are your legs, particularly the calves, quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes.

How To: Just like you did when you were a kid! But incase you forget: stand with your feet hip distance apart, arms down and hands by your side. Simultaneously jump the feet in the air and spread the legs and arms wide, away from the body.   Land softly on the ground with the feet wide and arms extended. Pause for a moment and then jump the feet back together and bring the hands back down to your side.

Plank Hold

Muscles worked: With your core engaged properly here you are working your abdominals, both rectus and transverse abdominis, and your external obliques are engaged as well. You will also be working your back, the erector spinae. With proper engagement you will also be working the leg muscles, the glutes, hip flexors, quadriceps and even calves.

How To: Place your hands flat on the ground shoulder width apart, fingers spread wide, shoulders over wrists.  Extend your legs behind you with the balls of your feet and toes touching the ground. Engage the thighs by lifting the kneecaps towards your pelvis and pushing the heels away from you.  Allow the head and neck to remain neutral, gaze will be on the ground just in front of your hands.  Keep your core engaged by drawing the belly button into the spine and lifting your hips so that you form a straight line from your head to your feet.  If you need to take a break before the minute is up, slowly lower the knees back to the ground but come back to it as soon as you’re ready.  To modify, keep the knees on the ground.

Mountain Climbers 

Muscles worked: Another incredible full body exercise, working the muscles in the arms and shoulders: deltoids, trapezius, biceps, and triceps.  It works your core muscles: obliques and rectus abdominis.  It will also work your legs: quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes and adductor muscles.

How To: Start in plank position (see above for proper form). Lift the right foot off of the ground and bend your knee, bringing it in toward your chest.  Pause for a second and then extend the right leg and place it back on the ground beside the left.  Repeat with the left leg.  If modifying with knees on the ground, follow the same directions except lower the knee back to the ground after tucking it into to your chest.

Walking Lunges

Muscles worked: This exercise is all about the legs!  The quadriceps are the major muscles activated here with the pushing off from one foot to the other.  Not forgotten are the hamstrings or the glutes as you lower the back leg toward the ground.

How to: Stand with your feet hip width apart and take a big step forward with your right foot, keeping it in line with your right hip. Bend both knees so that your back (left) knee comes within a few inches of the floor. Keep your right knee tracking directly over your right foot. Do not allow inward or outward movement of the knee, or allow it to go beyond your ankle. Pause for a moment at the bottom and then engage your right leg by pushing your foot into the floor, then stand up to step forward onto your left foot. Repeat walking in this manner.   If your space is limited you can step forward and back with one leg before moving on to the other.


Muscles worked: Yet again, burpees are another full body exercise. They are really the ultimate example of functional fitness. With every repetition you are working your arms, chest, quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and abdominals. After a few sets of burpees your legs might start to feel a little bit like lead.

How to: Stand tall with your feet shoulder width apart and your arms to your side. Jump into the air, lifting the arms up over head. Land softly as you bend the knees and place the palms on the ground on either side of your feet.  Jump the feet back so that you are in plank position, keep the core strong and engaged.  Pause for a moment and then jump the feet back between the hands. Stand tall and repeat.   To modify you can step the legs back one at a time, dropping one or both knees if needed.  To intensify you can lower to the ground from plank position and then use your arms to push yourself back up to plank before jumping the feet in.


Muscles worked: Another favourite exercise for working all of the muscles in the legs.  You will definitely feel it in the quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes. Directing your attention to any particular area you may want to focus on and contracting those muscles will intensify this exercise.

How to: Stand so that your feet are slightly wider than your hips.  Toes can point out slightly, or keep them pointing forward, but never inward.   Bend at the knees and stick your butt out and back, pay attention to the position of your pelvis so that you don’t have too much of a “ski slope” butt going on.  Bring your arms straight out in front of you to help counter your balance. Keep bending the knees until your thighs are parallel to the ground or lower, try not to allow the abdomen to rest on the thighs. Contract the thighs and glutes as you straighten the legs and lower the arms as you come back up to standing.

Bicycle Crunches

Muscles worked: We will be keeping the legs off the ground in this pose and so the primary muscles worked are the lower abs and of course the obliques as you crunch from side to side.

How to: Lie down with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground. Place your hands behind your head with your fingertips behind your ears. Lift your head and shoulders off the ground but be careful not to pull your neck. Extend your right leg, keeping it hovering about a foot from the ground. At the same time with a bend in the left knee bring it toward your chest. Pay particular attention to the low back here as you don’t want it lifting.  If it does, you may need to keep your legs further away from the ground when they are extended. Twist your upper body so that your right elbow comes toward your left knee, ensure that your whole torso is moving and not just your elbow. Pause for a moment and then bring your torso back to centre without letting your shoulders rest on the ground, transition to the other side.

High Knees

Muscles worked:  Quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, calves and adductors. Your abdominals will also be working as you engage them to lift the leg up.

How to: Stand tall with your feet hip width apart, look straight ahead and allow your arms to hang down by your side.  Lift your right leg up toward your chest, bending at the knee. Jump from the left foot as your bring the right leg down to the ground and bend your left knee in toward your chest.  Try to land as softly as you can on the balls of your feet.

Scissor Legs

Muscles worked:  You might be thinking that this exercise is all about the core.  And you wouldn’t be entirely wrong.  Your transverse abdominis, the deepest muscle in the stomach, are hard at work here.  Your obliques and rectus abdominis are also working, but not quite as much as the hip flexors as they help you to raise and lower your straightened legs.

How to: Lie on your back with your legs extended. Place your fingertips behind your ears, elbows out to the side. Lift your head and shoulder blades off the ground. Bring your feet up so that your heels hover a couple inches from the ground. Ensure your lower back is still firmly planted on the ground and draw your belly button into your spine.  Maintain this core engagement and position of the lower back throughout the exercise.  Keep the legs as straight as possible as you lift your right leg up, keeping the left leg hovering above the ground. Lower the right leg to hover as you lift the left leg up, creating a scissor-like movement with the legs. Alternatively you can keep your arms to your side with palms facing down to give you a little extra support.

Star Jumps

Muscles worked: quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, adductors, and calves.  Additional muscles  around the shoulders including the deltoids and trapezius will also be worked.

How To: Similar to Jumping Jacks except your feet will be in the air when they’re spread wide, they will come back together as you touch the ground. Start with your feet together and your arms by your side.  Bend at the knees into a half squatting position.  Simultaneously straighten your legs and start to lift the arms. Push off on the balls of your feet and spread the legs and arms out wide, away from the body. In the air you will resemble the shape of a star.  Try to land as softly as you can in the same half squatting position with your feet together.



About the author

Lisa Nelson

Lisa is a globe-trotting yoga teacher who fell in love with solo travelling when she left her home country of Canada last November. She was only supposed to have been gone for three months, but her life was completely changed with her first taste of solo travel. She can currently be found in Indonesia where she is teaching yoga on a quiet island near Bali. She is planning on heading to Australia as her next destination. When she's not yogaing (it's a verb) or exploring, she can be found in a cafe updating her travel blog

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