A 12-Minute Workout You Can Do Anywhere

Mara Workout Squat

The verdict is in on spot-training: Conditioning a specific area of your body — your outer thighs, say — won’t make the fat on top melt away. Improving your overall fitness, though, with a blend of heart-pumping cardiovascular activity and muscle strength-training can help you lose weight all over and remains the name of the game. If you want to slim down, you’ve got to eat right and move, period.

To help you do it, one type of exercise you could consider trying is high-intensity interval training, or HIIT. A growing body of research suggests that HIIT is as great as moderate-intensity, continuous exercise for improving body composition (aka burning fat and increasing muscle), improving insulin sensitivity (your body’s ability to use blood sugar), and lowering blood pressure. In fact, people whose weights fall into the overweight or obesity range get an even bigger bang from HIIT, with more pronounced improvements on blood pressure, body composition, and insulin sensitivity. Bettering your insulin sensitivity can reduce your risk for prediabetes and Type 2 diabetes, so these benefits are worth noting.

Perhaps best of all, HIIT workouts are designed to be quick — great news for anyone who’s ever felt too strapped for time to work out.

Interested in giving HIIT a try? If you’re new to exercise or haven’t done high-intensity activity before, make sure to get the go-ahead from your doctor before you start. Once you’ve gotten her thumbs up, check out the workout below.

Your 12-Minute HIIT Routine

HIIT alternates bursts of vigorous activity with periods of rest. That’s it. It’s that simple. 

HIIT workouts are “short, sweet, and efficient,” says Minnesota-based Real Appeal Coach Mara Ruttger, NASM-CPT. The key to doing them right is pushing yourself hard, but not so hard you flame out too soon. “You want to hit a seven out of 10,” Ruttger says, “if 10 is your max effort.” 

The following moves “target all of the major muscle groups,” Ruttger says, and can be done as a simple circuit for a fast, effective HIIT workout. For each exercise, complete as many reps as you can in 30 seconds, and follow with 30 seconds of rest. If that’s too tough, don’t worry — just adjust your work and rest periods as needed. It’s fine to do the hard work interval for 20 seconds, or even 10, and then rest.  

Do each move twice before proceeding to the next. Complete the circuit twice for a 12-minute sweat session that strengthens muscles from head to toe. 

The Workout

Squat With Crossover Crunch

Why it rocks: Compound exercises tap more than one muscle group. They’re super efficient: “By working more than one group at a time,” Ruttger says, “you burn more calories.”

What it works: So. Many. Things. Glutes, inner thighs, quadriceps, and calves, as well as abs, obliques, the muscles that support your spine, and your lats, the big flank muscles on both sides of your back.

How to do it: 

1. Stand with feet hip-width apart, toes pointed forward. 

2. With hands behind your head and elbows wide, squat down, pushing hips back until your thighs are parallel to the ground. 

3. As you return to standing, lift your left leg off the floor, twist at the waist, and bring your right elbow toward your left knee. 

4. Set the left leg down, and return to starting position. Repeat the squat and the crossover crunch on the other side. 

Too tough? Try this with a chair behind you. Squat down and sit, complete the crossover crunch, stand up, and repeat on the other side. 

Bird Dog

Why it rocks: Doing the bird dog well requires balance and control. Practicing it works stabilizer muscles up and down your body.

What it works: Shoulders, muscles that support your spine, abs, quads, and glutes. 

How to do it: 

1. Start on the floor in a table top position with hands and knees on the floor. Position palms directly beneath your shoulders, bend your knees at 90 degrees, and flex your feet. 

2. Lift and slowly extend your left arm and your right leg at the same time. 

3. Return to starting position. Repeat on the other side. 

Too tough? Placing a rolled towel or mat beneath your knees can make this more comfortable. To make it easier, lift your arm first, then your leg, rather than both limbs at once.


Why it rocks: The push-up is a foundational exercise for a reason, Ruttger says. For one, it activates muscles throughout the body. For another, banging out reps can raise your heart rate. Aerobic exercises that work the heart make it stronger, improve good cholesterol, and more.

What it works: Chest, shoulders, muscles in your ribs, arms, back, core, quads, and glutes.  

1. Start on all fours, positioning hands slightly wider than your shoulders. 

2. Enter a plank position by straightening arms and legs. Contract your core and quadriceps, ensuring your head is aligned with your spine. 

3. Lower down slowly, bringing your chest to the floor, with arms and elbows bent at a 90-degree angle.

4. Pause, then push up and return to starting position. Repeat. 

Too tough? Dial down the challenge by doing a modified pushup on your knees. Start on all fours. Keeping knees on the floor, lower down slowly until your chest nearly grazes the ground. Push up, then repeat.

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