20-Minute Workouts to Boost Speed and Build Strength — Fast!

Turn to these run and strength workouts on days when you’re short on time. Because a little goes a long way.


If you think 20 minutes isn’t enough time to get in a good workout — you’re wrong! Though 20 minutes might not seem like a big commitment, or even like it won’t lead to many benefits, it’s just enough time to fit in a quick run or strength session that challenges and improves your endurance, strength, power — or all three.

That’s why we rounded up these 10 effective 20-minute workouts, crafted by run coaches and certified personal trainers, for you to refer to on days you’re pressed for time.

1. Negative Splits Run Workout

Running at your threshold pace strengthens and trains your muscles to run at harder efforts, Dr Alison Marie Helms, NASM-certified personal trainer, and certified running coach tells Runner’s World. And makes those harder efforts feel easier. Threshold is a steady yet challenging pace you can hold for 50 to 60 minutes without feeling fatigued, which translates to about a 10K pace for many runners.

This negative splits workout slowly builds in intensity. The goal: Knock out each interval without burning out, so you complete the second half of the workout faster than the first. This helps you control your pacing, which can lead you to faster finishes come race day.

To effectively complete this workout, you will need to reference either your 10K pace, or rate of perceived exertion (RPE), which is how hard your efforts feel on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being all-out intensity.

How to do the workout:
Minutes 1-5: Run at easy pace: 90 seconds per kilometre slower than 10K pace or RPE of 2-3.

Minutes 5-10: Run 1 minute per kilometer slower than 10K pace or RPE of 4.

Minutes 10-15:Run 30 seconds per kilometer slower than 10K pace or RPE of 5.

Minutes 15-20: Run 10K pace or RPE of 6.

2. Core Strength in 20

To become a better runner, you need to strengthen your entire core — and 20 minutes offers plenty of time to do just that. The workout below targets all of your core muscles, including your abdominals, but also your diaphragm, lats, pelvic floor, and adductors (inner thighs).

“A strong core is the foundation of running efficiency,” says Helms. While you run, a strong core will help improve your posture to reduce muscle imbalances and minimise stress on the joints. It also kicks up your stability, so you can maintain power and speed. Plus, a strong core helps transfer power from the upper body to the lower body and vice versa, Helms explains.

“With a strong core, runners can maintain proper running form for longer periods. This contributes to improved endurance as efficient biomechanics reduce fatigue and allow runners to sustain their pace,” Helms adds.

This 20-minute workout designed by Helms focuses on building core strength with five different exercises.

How to do the workout:
For this workout you will need a wall, mat, and a dumbbell.

  • Do exercises 1 and 2 for 8-10 reps each; rest for 1 minute in between each exercise. Complete 2 sets.
  • Then do exercises 3 and 4 for 8-10 reps each; rest for 1 minute in between each exercise. Complete 2 sets.
  • For exercise 5, do 6-8 reps on each side, and complete 2 sets. Rest for at least 30 to 60 seconds between each set.
  1. Quadraped Pelvic Tilts

• Start on all fours with balls of feet against wall. Place hands on ground and stack shoulders over wrists without locking elbows. Place knees under hips.

• Do an anterior pelvic tilt by dropping belly, arching low back.

• Do a posterior pelvic tilt by tucking pelvis forward, rounding lower back, and pulling belly button up toward spine.

• Continue alternating, playing with inhaling on anterior or posterior pelvic tilt.

2. Nordic Bear Walkout

 Start on all fours with balls of feet against wall. Stack shoulders over wrists, without locking elbows, and knees under hips. Engage hamstrings by pulling heels up wall (without actually moving feet) and engage core to maintain a flat back.

• Exhale and walk hands out as far as possible without arching low back.

• Inhale and walk hands back under shoulders.

• Repeat.

3. Long Lever Bridge With Pullover

Lie faceup on floor with right foot flat on the wall and a slightly larger than 90-degree bend in knee. Lift left leg off ground, hovering off wall with knee bent. Hold dumbbell in right hand.

• Exhale and slowly lower dumbbell overhead, reaching behind head.

• Inhale to lift weight back up over shoulder and simultaneously drive right foot into wall and lift hips up slightly, engaging glutes and hamstrings. Keep core engaged and avoid lifting with lower back.

• Lower hips back down.

• Repeat.

4. Copenhagen Plank With Cross-Connect

Start in a side plank position with knees bent, right calf resting on an elevated surface such as a chair or bench, and left leg on the ground.

• Press into the top leg to engage the inner thighs and slowly take weight out of bottom leg.

• If you feel steady, lift bottom leg off the ground and draw knee up toward opposite elbow for the cross-connect. Only go as far as you feel comfortable.

• Hold, then switch sides.

5. Step to Fake Chop & Catch

Hold a weight or medicine ball out in front of you or for an extra challenge, hold it overhead. Stand on balls of feet, with feet hip-width apart.

• Let the weight fall to outside of right leg as you step back slightly with the left, coming into a hinge position by sending butt straight back, and both heels planted on the floor.

• Lift weight back overhead, coming back onto balls of feet.

• Repeat for reps. Then switch sides.

3. Endurance, Incline, and Hill Treadmill Workout

This 20-minute workout includes a bit of endurance, hill, and sprint work to help runners of all fitness levels improve their running performance.

“Regular aerobic exercise strengthens the heart, increasing its pumping capacity, and expands lung capacity for more efficient oxygen exchange,” says Erin Beck, certified personal trainer, and director of training and experience at STRIDE Fitness. By practising aerobic workouts like this one, runners can improve the efficiency of their cardiovascular system, and overall run performance, she adds.

How to do the workout:

1. Warmup (minutes 1-3): Walk or jog.

2. Endurance Set (minutes 3-9)

•  Run for 2 minutes at 9 to 14 kilometres per hour (kmph)
•  Jog for 1 minute at 6-11 kmph
•  Run for 2 minutes at 9-14 kmph
•  Walk for 1 minute at 5-6 kmph

3. Hill Set (minutes 9-15)

•  Run for 2 minutes at 6-11 kmph, adding a 1% incline every 30 seconds
•  Walk for 1 minute at 5-6 kmph
•  Repeat 1 more time for a total of 2 rounds

4. Speed Set (minutes 15-20)

•  Sprint at 11-16 kmph for 30 seconds
•  Walk at 5-6 kmph for 30 seconds
•  Repeat 2 more times for a total of 3 rounds

4. Upper-Body Strength Workout

“Strong arms, back, shoulders, and core muscles contribute to better posture and form, making it easier for runners to maintain proper mechanics for long-distance runs,” says April Gatlin, certified personal trainer and master trainer at STRIDE fitness.

This is why she created this quick upper-body strength routine that targets all of these muscles.

How to do the workout:

You will need a set of medium dumbbells, which should make these moves feel difficult by the final rep.

1.Warm-up: 5-minute easy run

2. Back and Shoulders

Start with 16 reps of each exercise, then complete 14 reps, then 12 reps:

•  Seated Shoulder Press
•  Single-arm bent-over Row
•  Upright Row
•  Bent-Over High Row
•  Alternating Plank Shoulder Taps

3. Biceps and Triceps

Start with 16 reps of each exercise, then 14 reps, then 12 reps:

•  Alternating Hammer Curl
•  Biceps Curl
•  Triceps Kickback
•  Overhead Triceps Extension

4. Core

•  Bicycle Crunches: Do 10 reps on each side for a total of 20 reps
•  Flutter Kicks: Do 15 reps on each side for a total of 30 reps

5. Lower-Body Plyometric Workout

Research shows that strength workouts, particularly plyometrics, can help improve running performance by boosting running economy or how efficiently you use oxygen for exercise.

To get you started with plyometrics — which are explosive exercises that target fast-twitch muscle fibres — turn to this bodyweight workout, designed by Mallory Creveling, certified personal trainer, certified run coach, and Runner’s World deputy editor of health and fitness. (Keep in mind, you want to nail down form for each movement, before adding explosiveness to it!)

Before you start, warm up with a few dynamic stretches, as well as bodyweight squats, lunges, and good mornings.

How to do the workout:

Rest for 1 minute between each set below.

Set 1

• Squat Jacks: 30 seconds
•  Rest 15 seconds
•  Single-leg deadlift to Hop: 30 seconds each side
•  Rest 15 seconds

Repeat 2 times for a total of 3 rounds

Set 2

•  Skater: 30 seconds
•  Rest 15 seconds
•  Reverse Lunge Hop: 30 seconds each side.
•  Rest 15 seconds

Repeat 2 times for a total of 3 rounds

Set 3

6. Walk, Jog, Sprint Treadmill Training

While you definitely can enjoy and benefit from running a 5K at a steady-state effort, Ellen Thompson, NASM-certified personal trainer and run coach at Blink Fitness believes you can achieve much more by practising walking, jogging, and sprinting intervals. That’s why she crafted this 20-minute run workout.

Not only can this workout help you speed things up so you improve your 5K pace, the combination of three different intensities is more entertaining than running at one particular pace, she says, which keeps you motivated and makes the time fly by.

How to do the workout:

Repeat the sequence at least 6 times or until you’ve reached the 20-minute mark

Walk (1-2 minutes) at 5-6 kmph

Jog (30-45 seconds) at 6-11 kmph

Sprint (30 seconds) at 8 -16 kmph

7. Core and Arm Strength

As we mentioned earlier, stronger arms, back, and core muscles all contribute to improving your overall run performance due to better balance and posture. This workout, from Thompson, includes a few bodyweight exercises as well as some weightlifting to help you build stronger muscles.

How to do the workout:

You need a set of light and heavy dumbbells for this workout.

Superset 1

•  Plank: 30-60 seconds
•  Rest 15-30 seconds
•  Dead Bug: 10-20 reps each side
•  Rest 15-30 seconds

Repeat for 3-4 sets

Superset 2

Use heavy dumbbells.

•  Bent-Over Row: 10-12 reps
•  Rest 30-45 seconds
•  Floor Chest Press: 10-12 reps
•  Rest 30-45 seconds

Repeat for 3-4 sets

Superset 3

Use light dumbbells.

•  Half-Kneeling Dumbbell Chop: 10-12 reps
•  Rest 30-45 seconds
•  Lying Leg Raises: 10-12 reps
•  Rest 30-45 seconds

Superset 4

Use light dumbbells.

• Overhead Press: 10-12 reps
•  Rest 30 to 45 seconds
• Rear Delt Fly: 10-12 reps
•  Rest 30 to 45 seconds

Repeat for 3-4 sets

8. Progressive Strides

“On an easy day (not a recovery day) you can include strides as a way to improve your stride power and coordination while accruing minimal fatigue and injury risk,” John Goldthorp, certified personal trainer, certified run coach, and the owner of Fix Your Run says. You can schedule this workout for the day before a hard run or race. You’ll find you have more “pop” in your stride the next day, Goldthrop says.

How to do the workout:

Run (minutes 1-10) at 3 RPE.

Run (20 seconds) at 10K pace.

Run (40 seconds) at an easy effort.

Repeat steps 2 and 3, 6-8 times.  Slowly pick up speed with each interval until you hit your kilometre speed.

Run (minutes 16-20) at 3 RPE,

9. Leg Strength

A workout every runner should have on their training plan? A lower-body strength routine that includes single-leg exercises (running is a single-leg sport after all!) and challenging weights that feel difficult to lift by the final rep or two.

The workout below, created by Creveling, is meant to build strength by lifting heavier weights for lower reps. So if that final rep feels easy, it’s time to grab that heavier set.

How to do the workout:

You’ll need a heavy set of dumbbells or kettlebells, and a chair or box.

Complete the exercises in order listed below. Do 6-8 reps of each exercise, resting as needed between moves, and complete 3 sets. Rest for at least 2 minutes between sets.

Goblet Squat

• Stand with feet slightly wider than hip-width apart, toes turned slightly out. Hold kettlebell at chest with both hands, wrists and elbows vertical.

• Keeping chest upright and core engaged, inhale and send hips down and back.

• Lower until thighs are at least parallel to the the floor (without dropping torso forward) and think about spreading the floor with feet so knees track forward.

• Exhale and drive through heels to stand back up, extending hips and squeezing glutes.

Repeat for reps.

Sumo Deadlift

• Position feet with a very wide stance, toes pointed out slightly. Hold a dumbbell in each hand down in front of you.

• Keeping chest lifted, hinge hips by sending butt back, and keep a flat back, allowing knees to bend naturally. Maintain a neutral spine—don’t hunch forward—and look down and out to keep neck neutral.

• Push through feet to stand up, keeping dumbbells close to legs.

Repeat for reps.

Bulgarian Split Squat

• Position feet with a very wide stance, toes pointed out slightly. Hold a dumbbell in each hand down in front of you.

• Keeping chest lifted, hinge hips by sending butt back, and keep a flat back, allowing knees to bend naturally. Maintain a neutral spine—don’t hunch forward—and look down and out to keep neck neutral.

• Push through feet to stand up, keeping dumbbells close to legs.

Repeat for reps.

Single-Leg Deadlift

Start standing with dumbbell in left hand.

• Shift weight to right leg, and with a soft bend in right knee, hinge at hips by sending butt back. Keep back flat, shoulders down, and core engaged as torso reaches toward floor and left leg lifts straight back behind you. Only lower until you feel a slight pull in right hamstrings; you don’t have to lower weight to ground.

• Drive right foot into ground to stand back up, squeezing glutes.

Repeat for reps, then switch sides.

Lateral Lunge

10. Mobility Workout

This mobility workout, designed by Cameron Yeun, certified strength and conditioning specialist, and senior physical therapist at Bespoke Treatments, helps address common areas of limited mobility for runners.

You can practice this routine on a rest day or before a run or a race.

How to do the workout:

You will need a resistance band for this workout, and a mat and yoga block is optional.

Great Toe Stretch

• Kneel with both knees on ground bent at 90 degrees, knees shoulder-width apart and toes tucked under and placed firmly on the ground,

• Place hands out in front on ground, on thighs, or or hips (whichever feels most comfortable). Then send hips down to sit on ankles.

• Hold for 2 minutes, rock side to side, or take short breaks in between if needed.

Ankle Dorsiflexion

• Face wall kneeling a few inches away, right knee on ground, left foot planted in front of you, both knees bent at 90 degrees, and arms straight in front of you.

•  Keep hips centred, left foot flat, toes pointed straight ahead, while gently gliding left knee forward as far as possible while keeping heel on ground.

• Hold for 1 minute.

Repeat on other side.

Bent Knee Calf Stretch

• Face wall with arms straight in front of you and hands flat against the wall.

• Step left leg forward, knee bent, foot flat on floor, and extend right leg straight back, placing heel flat on the floor.

• Slightly bend right knee and lean into the wall. You should feel the stretch in the right calf.

• Hold for 2 minutes.

Repeat on other side.

Couch Stretch

•  Stand with back to a wall or couch (a heavy box or bench will also work). Get into a half-kneeling position with left leg bent in front and right knee on ground. (You may want to place a mat or towel under knee for comfort.)

•  Lift right foot and place top of right foot against wall or on top of couch so you feel a deep stretch in right hip flexor and quadriceps.

•  Hold for 1 minute

Repeat on other side.

90-90 Stretch

• Start seated with knees bent 90 degrees and feet planted. Place left shin on ground in front of you and right shin to the side.

• Lean forward over left shin until you feel a deep stretch in right hip and glutes. Press left leg into ground to activate the hips and glutes.

• Hold for 2 minutes.

Repeat on other side.

Prone Press-Up

• Lie facedown with legs extended and hands directly under shoulders.

• Maintain a neutral neck and keep elbows tucked in close to torso.

• Push up through the palms and extend elbows to lift chest, keeping hips and legs grounded.

• Bend elbows and lower chest back to the floor.

• Repeat. Do 15-20 reps.

Thoracic Extension

• Lie with upper back on the foam roller, roller perpendicular to spine, and hands clasped together behind head. This is the starting position.

• Allow back to relax and drop head toward the ground. Pause, then release back to neutral.

• You can inch up with each rep or just focus on one tight area (but go no lower than the bottom of rib cage).

• Do 5-10 reps.

Side-Lying Rib Grab

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