This 22-Minute Workout Has Everything You Need : Life Kit If you've got 22 minutes, you can get an effective total-body workout. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's personal trainer, Bryant Johnson, walks us through an interval session and explains why it's so effective.

This 22-Minute Workout Has Everything You Need

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All right. How many do I need to do?

BRYANT JOHNSON: I need you to at least give me a baker's dozen.

AUBREY: All right, 13. You got it.

JOHNSON: Thirteen - inhale and blow away. Thirteen - good. And 12.

AUBREY: If you are ready to commit to working out but don't know where to start...

JOHNSON: Good. And 10, nine.

AUBREY: ...We have got you covered. We're going to give you the essentials to an effective workout...

JOHNSON: Looking good. Six - only want five more. Five.

AUBREY: ...With certified trainer Bryant Johnson, who happens to be the trainer to a pretty famous woman - a Supreme Court justice.

JOHNSON: The notorious Ruth Bader Ginsburg, or as I call her, Justice Ginsburg.

AUBREY: And Bryant does not cut her any slack, or for that matter, me either.

JOHNSON: Good. And up.

AUBREY: That makes it a little harder.

JOHNSON: You didn't think you was just going to get me here just for nothing, did you? You're acting like the justices ain't doing a workout.


AUBREY: This is your NPR LIFE KIT for exercise. In this episode, we'll walk you through a full-body workout you can do at home in just 22 minutes. And trust me, it's going to kick your butt. It kicked mine. That's coming up in a minute.


AUBREY: I'm Allison Aubrey, and I cover health and wellness here at NPR. And in this episode, we're going to have four key takeaways about how to get more bang for your buck when you work out and why it matters. All you really need is 22 minutes to get it all in.

TIM CHURCH: You can get a fantastic workout in 22 minutes.

AUBREY: That's Tim Church. He's a physician who's published a whole bunch of studies on exercise.

CHURCH: At some level, I think if it's taking you more than 22 minutes, you might be doing the wrong workout.

AUBREY: So why 22 minutes? The official recommendation is that we need about 150 minutes of moderate activity a week, so divide that by seven, and, boom, you got 21.42 minutes, or, rounded up, 22 minutes.

We're going to break that down into 10 minutes of cardio, eight minutes of weight training and four minutes of stretching. And Tim's going to explain what each part of our workout is doing for us while Bryant walks us through how to do them.

JOHNSON: In 22 minutes, I can have you go from head to toe - all the way down. And before you realize it, you may want to do more than 22 minutes.

AUBREY: And Bryant says, don't even think about starting up with your excuses. RBG doesn't complain.

JOHNSON: And I've actually had people come to me, and they would say, well, I'm just too old to do it. I'm like, well, she's 85. And they'll be like, well - you know what? - I got this bad back. And I'm like, you know she's been through cancer twice? What's your excuse now?

AUBREY: If RBG can find time to work out, so can you. And if you keep with these exercises, you might be as active and healthy into your 80s. Now Tim and Bryant are going to be our two guides here. If you're following along with us at home, let's start with a five-minute cardio warmup.

JOHNSON: We got to start with the treadmill. I'm going to increase the speed a little bit. Now, you want to do it to where it's comfortable for you right now. What we want to do is we want to get moving for five minutes.

AUBREY: In the next few minutes, I want to tell you about the absolute best trick in the book, and I mean it. This could help you completely rethink your workout. You could actually cut your workout time in half. Now, the term to remember here is HIIT. That stands for high-intensity interval training.

CHURCH: The purest form of high-intensity interval training is simply that - it's interval. So you're going to have a short warmup. You're going to hit interval really hard.

AUBREY: Maybe a sprint for 20 seconds, or cycle your heart out for a minute.

CHURCH: Then you're going to rest.

AUBREY: And then you hit that 20 seconds again, and you go all out.

CHURCH: Then you're going to rest. Hit another interval really hard. Then you're going to rest.

HIIT helps you have a very efficient workout because you're getting a lot of work in in a short period of time. You're stimulating more physiological pathways. You're stimulating more muscles. So both from a health perspective, and potentially from a weight perspective, you're getting more benefit that just going at a leisurely pace won't do.

AUBREY: Like a turbo boost.

CHURCH: Turbo boost is a great analogy.

AUBREY: You can do these kinds of intervals on any kind of equipment, or if you're out running or power walking. And if you're following along, this is 1 of 2 five-minute bouts of cardio. You want to do the second chunk after your weight training, which means that this workout has only 10 minutes of cardio total, which is kind of a strange concept for me.

You know, here's what I wanted to ask you. I, you know, used to be a long-distance runner. I've run marathons. And I have this built-in, you know, sort of bias that I'm not really working out until I get - I don't know - 20 or 30 minutes of cardio. And here you are, telling me that I just need 10 minutes of cardio, and I can call it a day.

JOHNSON: So here's why interval training is so good, or why it helps to burn calories a lot faster. I like to break it down like this. If you are getting a car, what has better gas mileage - highway mileage or city mileage?

AUBREY: I think it's highway.

JOHNSON: Highway mileage. Why is highway mileage so good? Because it's a steady state. You're going at a nice, easy 55 miles an hour constantly, all right? City mileage burns more gas. What is city driving?

AUBREY: Stop, go. Stop, go.

JOHNSON: Stop, go. Stop, go. Oh, wait a minute. What is interval? Fast, slow. Fast, slow. Stop, go. Stop, go.

AUBREY: So interval training is kind of like city miles?

JOHNSON: Exactly.


AUBREY: And if you need more evidence, get this. There's actually research that shows, compared to people who just work out at a steady pace, interval training can lead to more weight loss.

Now, it's complicated, but one thing scientists have found is that these sprint-like exercises seem to help our bodies produce more catecholamines. What is a catecholamine, you ask? Well, these are hormones that can send a signal to our fat cells. It's as if the hormone is saying, hey, fat cells, release your fat.

So interval training is efficient. It's effective. What more could you want?

JOHNSON: I may put a little incline on it.

AUBREY: No, but I can feel it. My heart rate is going up.

JOHNSON: That's OK. That's OK.

AUBREY: I guess, thank you. Should I be thanking you for that?

JOHNSON: Exactly. We're going to make this easy. We're going to be easy like Sunday morning.

AUBREY: OK. Now that we've got the cardio down, we've got to get in some weight training. So tip No. 2, resistance training is a must. For starters, it helps you prevent injury, and that's at any age. And here's a little bit of fear because, you know, fear's a good motivator. If you get in the habit now, you can actually prevent this.

CHURCH: From age 40 or 50 on, you lose 1 to 2 percent of your muscle mass a year. Maintaining muscle mass, maintaining strength is absolutely critical to quality of life, to healthy aging. Whether you're chasing grandkids, carrying your luggage, you know, going duck hunting or even just trying to get yourself dressed, all these things require strength. And it's the ultimate use it or lose it.

So as you get kind of north of 40, you really need to counter the body's natural inclination to lose muscle and lose strength. The only way to counter that is through strength training.


JOHNSON: What we're going to do is we're going to do some things real quick. We're going to do three exercises.

AUBREY: For the strength training part of our workout, we're going to do three exercises - pushups, squats and something called a row. We'll do it about a dozen repetitions each for three rounds.

JOHNSON: OK, I'm going to start off with pushups. I know, I can't do a pushup. Guess what, we're going to do pushups against the wall. So what I want you to do is walk and find a wall.

AUBREY: This is in the no-excuse category.

JOHNSON: This is no excuse.

AUBREY: Can't do a pushup? I got my hands against the wall here.

JOHNSON: You want your feet to be shoulder-width apart. I want you to be about a foot or so away from the wall. I'm going to come up, and I'm going to be on my toes. Now I'm leaning up against the wall on the toes. And the only thing I'm going to do is bend the elbows, bring my face to the wall, inhale and push it back.

AUBREY: If that's too easy...

JOHNSON: Guess what - you can take it down on the ground.

AUBREY: (Laughter) All right. All right.

JOHNSON: Take it down on the floor.

AUBREY: You can do pushups on the floor, on your knees or off your knees.

JOHNSON: Inhale as you go. Good. And bring it up nice and easy. Good job. Relax.

AUBREY: I felt that.

JOHNSON: Oh, yeah.

AUBREY: And when it comes to weight training, pushups pack in so much. They work your shoulders, your back, your chest.

JOHNSON: Probably one of the better exercises because - guess what - while you're in the pushup position, you're really in a modified plank.


JOHNSON: Now you're engaging your core. As you go down as one unit, your core has to be tight, engaged, contracting the back. As you push back, now you're contracting your chest and now you're stretching the back.

AUBREY: Next in your strength training circuit...

JOHNSON: I want you to sit down.

AUBREY: All right.

JOHNSON: So find you a chair, a bench or whatever.

AUBREY: All right.

JOHNSON: Stand back up.


JOHNSON: Sit back down. Stand back up.

AUBREY: This is a trick.

JOHNSON: Sit back down. Stand back up. Sit back down. Stand back up.

AUBREY: (Laughter) You got me.

JOHNSON: Sit back down. Good. And relax. OK, guess what we just did.

AUBREY: That was the art of distraction.

JOHNSON: No, it was not. I've had people tell me, I can't do squats. I said, really? So have a seat. Sit down. Now stand up. Guess what - that was a squat.

AUBREY: If you want to make it a little tougher, try squats with your hands out while holding some water bottles, just to add some weight. Or take one leg off the ground. That'll get you. You see, weight training doesn't have to mean lifting barbells. I personally despise that feel of cold metal. I just don't like it. The machines are scary to me. So squats like these are perfect. Now, squats do a few things. They work your core, your hamstrings. They get your heart rate up, and they combat the bad effects of sitting all day.

CHURCH: This whole idea of sitting for a living, it's a very recent phenomena in the history of mankind.

AUBREY: So Tim Church actually crunched the numbers on this. He looked at the amount of physical activity the average American burns during the workday. And compared to 1960, workers typically burn about 150 fewer calories a day, all because of our office jobs.

CHURCH: The real danger to sitting is prolonged sitting, sitting bouts where you sit down and you don't get up for, like, two hours or three hours. If you can break up those bouts, if you can get up every half-hour, every 40 minutes, every 45 minutes, that really reduces the risk associated with sitting. Living an active lifestyle outside of work is now more important than ever.

AUBREY: And the last quick strength-building exercise. This one is for your arms and your chest, and all you need is a towel and something sturdy, like a banister.

JOHNSON: I wrap the towel around a banister or something right here. I'm leaning back.

AUBREY: OK. So just to be clear about what we're doing here, you've wrapped the towel around something fixed, like a banister or a column. You hold the ends of the towel, one in each hand, with your hands at about chest level. Now lean back until the towel is completely taut so the towel is sort of supporting your body weight.

JOHNSON: So I'm really holding onto this towel. If I let go of this towel, I will fall onto the floor.

AUBREY: Then slowly pull yourself forward, and now lean back.

JOHNSON: Pull forward and back.

AUBREY: That's called a row, kind of like you're rowing a boat. Now, the moment you do any of these strength training exercises - the row, the squats, the pushups - you are engaging that core. So no need to do those abdominal crunches. I know I hate them.

JOHNSON: The core supports everything. Supports your rib cage, supports your posture. It also helps decrease osteoporosis.

AUBREY: Prevent injury, I'm imagining?

JOHNSON: Definitely prevent injury.

AUBREY: It'll take about eight minutes to do three rounds of these. And when it comes to weight training and how much you need, the recommendations are a little fuzzy. The official advice is to get weight training in a couple of times a week. But more can be better.


AUBREY: What's next?

JOHNSON: Well, you haven't done that - you've only done one set.

AUBREY: All right. (Laughter). We've got three more sets to do. I'm ready.

JOHNSON: All right. So let's go. Next set.


AUBREY: So just to recap here, we did five minutes of cardio, eight minutes of weight training. If you're following along at home, now's the time to get five more minutes of cardio intervals. And that brings us to the last part of the workout, tip No. 3., don't skip the stretching.

JOHNSON: All right. Now back to work. Let's take the hands up over the head. Lean back. Looking up. Stretching out. Good. Again. Let's take it over to the side. Lean it over to the side.

AUBREY: It's a good way to close your workout, to take notice of just how good you feel and why you want to work out again tomorrow.

JOHNSON: And it's also a way of calming the muscles down, calming of the nervous system down, getting back into the (humming).

AUBREY: (Humming). You know, stretching is important. Bryant says you want to aim to be the bamboo tree, not an oak tree. Here is what he means by that.

JOHNSON: More flexible you are, the stronger you are. This is my example I always like to use.

AUBREY: Yeah. How does that work? That always seems counterintuitive.

JOHNSON: Oak tree, bamboos tree - which one's the strongest?

AUBREY: Oak, bamboo. Oak, bamboo.

JOHNSON: Think about it.

AUBREY: Bamboos are skinny and tall, and grow quickly. And they...

JOHNSON: Very flexible.

AUBREY: ...Use them to make hardwood floors. And oak trees are big and...

JOHNSON: And they stay and they don't move. And then when a storm comes, the oak tree stands there and holds it and the pressure, and then it breaks under pressure.


JOHNSON: The bamboo, as the pressure comes, you bend. You adjust. Then you stand up, and you're still standing.

AUBREY: OK. So I'm going to - I want to be bamboo.

JOHNSON: Yes. You want to be more flexible.

AUBREY: (Laughter).


AUBREY: So here are a few quick stretches. You really don't have to overthink this. I mean, for starters, just sit down on the ground.

JOHNSON: I want you to bring up the bottoms of your feet together. And pull - grab by the ankles and pulling in. And then I want you to have your elbows to the inside of your legs, and I want you to push down.

AUBREY: Got it. So we're kind of in, like, a butterfly or a groin stretch. Is that right?

JOHNSON: Yes. Butterfly, groin stretch. Then we're going to extend the right leg out. Bring that left leg in. This is going to be a hamstring stretch.

AUBREY: And then you want to switch sides. Bryant says 10 seconds is long enough to hold it.

I love that 10 seconds is enough. I think a lot of times, people resist stretching 'cause it seems - it takes a lot of time. It's boring. It doesn't really feel great when you first start out.

JOHNSON: It doesn't. And it is.

AUBREY: (Laughter).

JOHNSON: I'm just being honest. It is.

AUBREY: But the payoff is there.

JOHNSON: Yes. And here's the thing. I just want you to show up, and let's just do something.

AUBREY: (Laughter).

CHURCH: I think in today's world, given that we all sit down so much, stretching is a lot more important than it probably was in the past - just to lengthen those ligaments, those tendons, those muscles because we sit in this locked position all day long. So from that side of it, there's clearly some benefit.


AUBREY: And that's really all it takes to get it in, a 22-minute HIT circuit of warmup, weight training, a few more minutes of cardio intervals and stretching. And now that you're feeling good, hang onto this and repeat daily, or as often as you can because exercise really is medicine.

CHURCH: I've spent my whole life career studying exercise, and - name the health benefit. You know? Depression, heart disease, diabetes, hypertension. And there's one thing that just has blown me away from Day One, and that is the benefits to the head. I am absolutely convinced 95 percent of the benefits of exercise are above the shoulders. Some of the benefits of exercise to the brain is reduced anxiety, reduced depression, better treatment of depression of individuals with depression, reduced risk of Alzheimer's, slowing the progression of Alzheimer's in individuals who have Alzheimer's, reduced risk of Parkinson's. There just are so many benefits to the brain. And each year, we learn more and more.

AUBREY: And as if that's not enough, there is another thing to keep in mind. Every time you exercise, you can improve your blood sugar control, which can help prevent disease in the long-term, and can also help keep your mood stable.

CHURCH: The No. 1 place you store blood sugar is in your muscles. When you exercise or when you're physically active, for the next 24 to 72 hours, your muscle is using more blood sugar. Where you really see this is in individuals with Type 2 diabetes. If they get a bout of physical activity in that day, they will use less medication over the next day or two. The skeletal muscle wants to chew up blood sugar. It chews up the most blood sugar when it's happy. It's happy when you're working it, when you're exercising.


AUBREY: So look. We could go on and on about it, how great exercise is for you. But it only counts if you do it. Here's how Bryant likes to talk about it, and I really like this.

JOHNSON: I remember I told my mother one time - she wanted to start exercising, and she retired. And I said, Mom, I love you dearly, I says, but I cannot care more about you than you care about yourself. So what I tell people is just figure it out. If you want to do something then just do it. Just take that first step.


AUBREY: All right. So we've done what we needed to do. We did the cardio - check, the weight training - check, and the stretching. Just remember these takeaways. Tip No. 1. High intensity interval training is the fastest way to do the most. Tip No. 2. Move some weight, whether it's your body weight or some free weights. This really is crucial to preventing injury. No. 3. Be like bamboo. Get in a few minutes of stretching to stay strong. And tip No. 4. Exercise really is medicine.


AUBREY: If you like what you hear, make sure to check out our other LIFE KIT podcasts at And while you're there, subscribe to our newsletter so you don't miss anything. And here, as always, is a completely random tip, this time, from science correspondent Richard Harris.

RICHARD HARRIS, BYLINE: I took a survival course when I was on a reporting trip to Antarctica some years ago, and I learned that it's easier to stay warm than it is to get warm. And that's good advice in any cold climate.

AUBREY: If you've got a tip or want to suggest a topic, email us at I'm Allison Aubrey. Thanks for listening.


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