Oxygen’s 20-Minute Fat-Burning Workout, Part 2

Destroy fat in only 20 minutes with part 2 of our no-fuss, minimal gear, home or gym circuit workout.

Photo: Robert Reiff

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Your muscles are lazy. Keep doing the same workout, week after week, month after month, and your muscles will adapt, and when they do, most progress will stall, even stop altogether. You see, if you apply a particular stress to a muscle long enough, the tissue develops in response, but at a certain point, if you keep using the same workout, the muscles will only do what is necessary to complete the workout.

And when muscles stop responding, it’s easy to land into the valley of disappointment, leading to a lack of desire to continue. But this is where Oxygen comes to the rescue.

In order to keep changing your body to become the vision you seek, you must change up your workouts. Sometimes the changes have to be big and sometimes only incremental — just like changing into the latest peep-toe shoes, new handbag and accessories to significantly alter the look and appeal of your last-season little black dress when you go out to dinner.

And that’s exactly the premise (supported by reams of research) of Part 2 of the “Destroy Fat in Only 20 Minutes” series. To continue reshaping your body, long before headlines urge you to “Get Your Beach Body Now” and you hit the panic button, it’s time to launch into this final updated phase of the Oxygen regimen we started with last month.

The current high-intensity workout follows the same principles and hits the same bodyparts like the one in the last issue. However, of the seven exercises, only one repeats from Part 1. The other six have been chosen to surprise your muscles by hitting them from very different angles — if variety is the spice of life, then exercise variety is the surprise, “the spice,” your muscles require to keep your fitness and weight-loss efforts on track.

Again, you can do the workout at home or in the gym, with minimal gear and minimal time — how’s 20 minutes, three times a week sound to you? Not a bad investment for great returns! And as for the beach body, well, you will have other goals when summertime arrives.

What’s in it for you?

Fat loss and functional fitness: In practical terms, a circuit program will improve not just your workout strength and endurance but also impact dramatically how you perform day-to-day tasks, from lifting groceries or your kids while protecting your back in the process to how much longer you can walk around the neighborhood or paddle that stand-up surfboard while on vacation to how much leaner you will look and maintain that look.

The weight component of a circuit increases your lean body mass, which is highly metabolically active compared to fat tissues. The cardio component — resulting from the reduced rest time between exercises and jogging in place between circuits — melts fat mass quite rapidly and improves your oxygen uptake for improved stamina.

In combination, both components increase strength, improve your body composition, and help optimize how your metabolism runs and how you are able to engage each day, head-on.

Improved Health: A study published a year ago in the journal Lipids in Health and Disease noted that high-intensity circuit training delivered superb results across several health parameters. The study’s authors noted, “Our findings indicate that high-intensity training is more effective in improving blood pressure, lipoproteins [such as increases in good cholesterol] and triglycerides than endurance training alone or lower-intensity circuit training.”

Studies also have found that this form of training can keep your metabolism humming along between 22 and 72 hours after a session, even if you’re not dieting. (See “How to Burn Fat When You’re Not Exercising” for more on this.)

Further, high-intensity training can improve how your body handles insulin. According to a study published in The Journal of Physiology, just 16 minutes of high-intensity training spread across two weeks (that’s only eight minutes per week) generate positive effects in insulin resistance, which is a precursor to Type 2 diabetes. A similar study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology reports that only six 20-minute sessions of high-intensity training improved “metabolic health in patients with Type 2 diabetes.” If this type of regimen can impact those with poor health conditions, it’s not difficult to speculate about the potential for maintaining health longer term by healthy people doing high-intensity circuits.

If You’ve Completed Part 1 of This Training Regimen

After four weeks of Part 1 of the 20-Minute Fat-Burning Workout, you should have a good base of strength, energy and endurance. Your goal in the first week or so of Part 2 will be to learn exercise form. (All exercises are new, except for the Superman with arm sweep.)

Don’t be surprised if you experience post-exercise muscle ache (called delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS) after a couple of days following each of your first two sessions. This is natural, as your muscles adapt to new movement patterns and exercise angles that are intentionally programmed into the workout.

Other than establishing good exercise form, the endurance capacity you developed during Part 1 should allow you to follow the intermediate, or advanced intermediate or advanced recommendations found at the bottom of the exercise chart.

Don’t Fret If You Haven’t Done Part 1 of This Training Regimen

The magic of this particular two-part training regimen is that you can simply start with Part 2, follow it for four weeks and then turn back to Part 1. Be sure to get approval from your family doctor before launching into a new fitness program.

When you first begin, shoot for 12 to 15 reps per set, focusing on form and shooting for only one complete circuit. After a couple of weeks, you should be able to shorten the rest time between exercises and start light jogging (15 seconds) between sets of exercises.

Do not exercise on consecutive days. Train three times a week, resting at least one day between training sessions — that’s when your muscles adapt to the training. Go for a long walk or ride a bike at a moderate pace on your rest days. (These then become what are known as active rest days — your muscles get to recover and adapt from the circuit, yet you keep your metabolism humming along.)

The Workout


Basic Workout Rules

  • Shoot for 12 to 15 reps per set, a range well-suited in a circuit to help burn fat, build muscle and strength, and develop endurance.
  • When first learning new exercises, to reduce risk of injury, it’s essential to focus on form, not speed. As form becomes second nature, speed will follow almost automatically.
  • Your ultimate goal is to complete three circuits and jog in place 30 seconds between each set of an exercise.

Resist a Rest

Rest during a workout is highly variable, depending on your state of fitness. For example, if you’re a newcomer to this fat-burner regimen, you should rest up to 30 seconds between exercises. If you have a base of fitness, you can reduce rest time to 10 to 15 seconds between exercises, which keeps your metabolic rate elevated and promotes even greater stamina. And if you’ve developed a strong fitness foundation, you may consider eliminating rest between exercises, which places an even greater metabolic demand on your body. Note that the way this fat burner is sequenced, you don’t overtax the same muscle group during a single circuit, which allows an exercised muscle group to rest as you continue to move through the circuit.

How to Burn Fat When You’re Not Exercising

Research has already established that a high-intensity circuit, like this 20-Minute Fat Burner, generates an effect referred to as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC for short). It’s a technical term for a simple phenomenon: Your body continues to use energy, that is, burn fat, for quite some time after a high-intensity session. As time marches on, you use less and less energy post-exercise, but the effect remains. Depending on the study, the effect can last anywhere from 22 to 72 hours, depending on the intensity of the exercise session. You can control intensity of this circuit by reducing rest time and adding jogging in place. In fact, if you manage to do high-knee-lift jogging, you can further raise the workout’s intensity. If you plan to manipulate intensity, it’s wise to get a go-ahead from your family physician first.

Walking Lunge


Target: quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, core

Action: Stand upright, holding a pair of dumbbells at the side of your thighs, palms facing in. Take a step directly forward (up to 2 feet) with your left foot, keeping the foot in line with your left hip. In the lunge position, the left knee should form a right angle, with hamstrings parallel to the floor. The right leg should remain in the starting position as the right knee approaches the floor, stopping inches away from touching it. Next, push your left foot against the floor, so as to engage the muscles of the left leg. As you rise to an upright position, begin moving your right foot/leg forward, lunging forward with your right side. When you return to the upright position, that’s one repetition. Repeat, moving 12 to 15 steps forward, turning around and doing 12 to 15 steps back to complete one set.

Tip: To protect your lower back, keep your upper torso in a vertical plane throughout the rep. Avoid rolling your upper back forward, especially as the muscles fatigue.

Swiss-Ball Glute Bridge


Target: hamstrings, glutes, lower back, core

Action: Lie back on the floor, placing your heels and ankles on top of a Swiss ball. Straighten out your body (lock it in place), arms extended at your sides, palms touching the floor. Drive your heels into the ball, pulling it toward you as you raise your knees toward the ceiling. You want to roll the ball toward your hips. Pause briefly when your feet are flat against the ball’s surface and then reverse the action until you reach the extended position. Repeat.

Tip: The less you press your palms into the floor, the more you can increase stress on the working muscles.



Target: triceps, chest, shoulders

Action: Lie facedown, placing your palms flat on the floor just beneath your shoulders. Keeping your body in a fixed position — locking it in the same plane — push up until your arms are extended. From this start position, slowly lower your entire body until it floats just above the floor. Push back up to complete one repetition. Repeat.

Tip: If you find the advanced push-up difficult, use your knees, not your toes, as the base contact point. If this version continues to feel difficult, try the following: Step away a couple of feet from a wall as you face it. Extend your arms, chest level, and plant your palms against the wall. Do modified push-ups in this vertical position until you gain enough arm, shoulder, back and chest strength to increase exercise intensity with a more difficult version.

Bent-Over Dumbbell Row


Target: back, chest

Action: While grasping a pair of dumbbells, flex your knees slightly and bend 45 degrees or so at the waist, keeping the lower back in a natural position. (Do not round it.) In this starting position, the dumbbells should hang freely at arms’ length, palms facing each other. Next, pull up both dumbbells toward the waist, making sure to point the elbows rearward, not out to the sides. Pause briefly when dumbbells reach the waist, squeezing the lat and back muscles, before controlling the dumbbells back to the starting position. Repeat.

Tip: Keep the action smooth and strict. As you fatigue, do not rely on momentum — jerking your torso upward — to help start a new repetition.

Superman With Arm Sweep


Target: lower back

Action: Lie facedown on the floor (or lengthwise on a bench if you have access to one), extending your arms in front of you, palms facing down. Contract the muscles of your lower back and then raise your upper torso off the bench or floor as much as comfortably possible. Pause in this position and sweep your arms rearward toward your hips. Pause briefly, before slowly returning to the arms-extended position. Lower your torso and then repeat.

Tip: When you raise your upper torso off the floor or bench, be mindful of the tension in your spine and avoid hyperextending the vertebrae.

Alternating Dumbbell Hammer Curl


Target: biceps, forearms

Action: Assume the same starting position like with alternating dumbbell curls (dumbbells facing in along the side of your thighs, feet shoulder-width apart). Curl one arm up toward the shoulder; maintain the dumbbell in the hammer position all the way. At the top, squeeze the biceps and then slowly return the arm to the bottom. Repeat with the opposite arm, completing one full rep. Continue.

Tip: Keep your elbows tucked against your torso to maximize muscle involvement.

Swiss-Ball Reverse Crunch


Target: rectus abdominis

Action: Lie back and place your ankles, calves and shins around a Swiss ball. Squeeze the ball, placing your hands at your sides, palms down, or beneath your hips to further protect your lower back. Next, tighten your abs and move your knees and ball toward your chest in an arc just until you feel your hips leave the floor. Give your abs a squeeze, then slowly control the ball back to the starting position.

Tip: Keep all movement slow and controlled.