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This 20 Minute Workout Burns Fat and Builds Muscle

A fitness trainer completing a 20 minute workout.

This super-simple 20 minute workout delivers a whole-body fitness blast. Comprised of just two exercises, rowing and the kettlebell swing, every major muscle is engaged.

Furthermore, this 20 minute workout is fully customisable and can be tailored to your fitness needs at the drop of a hat. The core of the workout consists of oscillating between short rowing intervals and kettlebell swing sets. You’ll be doing this non-stop for 20-minutes.

However, the duration of this workout can be decreased or increased depending on your time constraints. In addition, the blend of exercises can be modified to suit your training aims.

Rowing and kettlebell swings | 20 minute workout

If you’re dubious about whether a 20 minute workout of rowing and kettlebell swinging can confer the above benefits, let me take a minute to cure your incredulity.

A common misconception is that to get a good workout you need to cram loads of exercises into your training session. While varying exercises is important for physical development if taken to extremes it can limit progress. A workout that is over-stuffed with exercises can impede physical performance. Here’s how.

muscle stimulation

First, exercise hopping doesn’t allow sufficient time to stimulate a muscle group. To encourage physiological adaptations, muscles must be stressed. This is hard to do if we’re spending only a short time on each exercise before moving on.

The same goes for engaging the major body systems – the lungs, heart, and vascular system. To engage the cardio-respiratory system requires a minimum of 15-minutes of sustained output (or high-intensity intervals).

exercise efficiency

Finally, a workout over-laden with exercises results in training inefficiencies. When frequently transitioning between exercises we inevitably incur a time penalty.

Thus, a considerable portion of our workout is wasted with non-productive activity. That is, moving between exercises, setting up equipment, and reorienting ourselves to a different technical procedure.

Thanks to its minimalistic design, this 20 minute workout mitigates these problems. Organised around two powerful exercises, barely a second is wasted throughout this workout.

Moreover, because this is themed similar to an AMRAP (as many repetitions as possible), you’ll maximise muscle engagement.

20 minute workout benefits

  • Time-sensitive so that you get the most out of your workout

  • Fully customisable: change the aerobic or resistance exercise to suit

  • Stimulates the cardio-respiratory system

  • Activates the major muscle groups

  • Engages the posterior chain

  • Promotes strength and muscular endurance

  • Facilitates fat loss and improved body composition changes

How to approach this 20 minute workout

This workout couldn’t be simpler. After a five to 10-minute warm-up (one to two-thousand metres rowing with a few sets of kettlebell swings will suffice), set a 20-minute countdown timer.

Start by rowing 250-metres. Concluding the row distance get straight on the kettlebell and perform 20 swings.

Oscillate between the two exercises for 20-minutes without rest. Your objective is to accrue as many metres and repetitions as possible in the time allotted. To make calculating distance easier, program a 20-minute single time on the rowing machine.

How to modify this 20 minute workout

If you haven’t quite got time on the clock for the full 20-minutes, reduce the workout by five or 10-minutes. Even by contracting the duration by half, this workout will still deliver a great training session. However, if you do reduce the time, ensure to increase the intensity.

Conversely, if you’re not time constricted and you’re feeling particularly energetic, you could extend the workout. Increasing the time by 10 or even 20-minutes will compound the benefits this workout confers.

If you decide to make this a 30-minute workout, you could also include a couple more kettlebell exercises. For example, you could enlist the kettlebell deadlift, thruster, and goblet squat.

The mechanics of the workout would remain unchanged. But instead of going backward and forward between rowing and swinging, you’d alternate the other kettlebell exercises: rowing – swinging – rowing – deadlift – rowing thruster – rowing – squatting – repeat.

Related: Best Indoor Rowers for the home gym

Exercise technique

If you think that you need to brush up on your rowing and swinging technique, below we have included the key technical points of each exercise. Before attempting the workout, ensure that you can competently and confidently execute the exercises safely.

Rowing technique

  • Ensure the rower is correctly set up prior to starting the workout. Adjust the foot straps so that they are not too tight; you want to be able to slip your feet out for a quick transition.

  • Set the dampener (air flow adjuster) at a suitable resistance for your level of fitness.

  • When in position, initiate the row stroke using quadriceps strength. DON’T pull with the arms out of the ‘catch’ (start) position. This time-honoured mistake only serves to nullify the legs – which are a rower’s greatest asset.

  • The second phase of the row stroke involves lower back engagement. Use gravitational assist by leaning back.

  • Once the paddle is level with the knees proceed to pull with the arms.

  • Of course, the three distinct phases outlined are performed in one fluid movement.

  • To complete the stroke, shoot the paddle forward over your knees BEFORE bending them.

  • Remember, the recovery phase of the row stroke acts as a brief rest period.

This rowing video shows you how to piece these techniques together.

Kettlebell swing form

  • Standing directly over a kettlebell, set your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width.

  • Bending at the knees, squat down and grasp the kettlebell.

  • Stand up ensuring to observe correct squatting form.

  • To initiate the swing, pull the kettlebell between your legs.

  • Using glute, lower back, and transverse abdominus strength, fire the kettlebell forward.

  • The arms (and back!) remain straight throughout the movement.

  • When the kettlebell is level with your shoulders, arrest the movement and allow the bell to drop to the start position.

  • As the kettlebell passes through the legs your arms are pulled taught against your torso.

  • Harness this energy for the next swing.

This kettlebell swing video shows you how to piece these techniques together.


Enjoyed this workout?

Get your hands on 50 more with the Hungry4Fitness Book of Circuits Vol. 1.

This image shows the Hungry4Fitness book of circuits volume one. Inside the image it identifies the key features of the book which include: 50 circuits and workouts suitable for all levels of fitness and ability, Benefits of circuit training and why you should include circuits in your exercise routine, How to create and design your own circuit, Essential training principles, Fitness challenges and exercise competitions, Circuit and workouts suitable for most training facilities, and a 10-minute whole-body stretching plan.


In this text box it says: As we are very interested in user experience here at Hungry4Fitness, we would be very grateful if you could take a few seconds out of your day to leave a comment. Thanks in advance! Blog Author: Adam Priest, former Royal Marines Commando, is a personal trainer, lecturer, boxing and Thai boxing enthusiast.

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