A 20-Minute, Full-Body Workout to Strengthen and Relax You Before Bed

Child's pose, Cossack squats and side planks are examples of exercises to strengthen and relax you before bed.
Image Credit: Goodboy Picture Company/E+/GettyImages

Sometimes your body needs a little movement to help you relax before catching some shut-eye. However, engaging in an invigorating sweat session before your head hits the pillow often isn't the answer.

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That's because doing high-intensity workouts in the evening (if you work the day shift, that is) can elevate your heart rate and may ultimately disrupt your sleep cycle, a small May 2014 study in the ‌European Journal of Applied Physiology‌ found.

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However, some types of workouts may not leave you feeling "amped up" for hours on end. Exercise that requires light to moderate effort — rather than strenuous activity — was shown to help induce sleepiness, according to a February 2019 review in ‌Sports Medicine‌.

Ahead, we share a comprehensive, 20-minute workout created by Staci Alden, CPT, PCT, a personal trainer, Pilates certified teacher and Balanced Body educator, that you can do before cracking open a book, washing your face and hitting the hay.

We've also got tips on how to make evening exercise work for you, plus the many benefits you can reap by working out at this time.

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How to Do The Workout

You won't need any gym equipment (think: dumbbells and jump ropes) to perform the following movements. A yoga mat with a flat surface underneath and a wall for you to prop your legs up on at the end of the session is all that's necessary.

Before getting into the bulk of the workout, Alden recommends doing a 4- to 5-minute warm-up, consisting of four core movements. Each exercise should be performed for 60 seconds. You won't need to do more than one round of these warm-up exercises unless you feel like you could benefit from doing another set.

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For the actual workout, you'll also perform each exercise for 60 seconds. Once you've made it through all of the exercises once, you have the option to repeat them in a second round. Just be sure to save the final exercise, legs up the wall, for the very end of your workout.

"Feel free to stay in this position as long as it takes to feel your heart rate come down and begin to feel more relaxed and ready for bed," Alden tells LIVESTRONG.com.

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She also advises performing each exercise slowly to keep your heart rate low and engage in your mind-body connection — having control over your movements requires your brain to cooperate with your body.

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??Check out more of our ??20-minute workouts here?? — we’ve got something for everyone.

The Workout

Warm-Up

1. Torso Rotation to Roll-Down

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This movement can help recruit core muscles, stretch your hamstrings and lower back and lengthen your spine, Alden says.

Sets 1
Time 1 Min
  1. Stand tall with your feet hip- to shoulder-width apart.
  2. Raise your arms to chest level and bend your elbows so your forearms are parallel with your chest and your fingertips are facing in toward each other.
  3. Take a deep breath in. On the exhale, rotate your torso to the left and then the right.
  4. Breathe in and raise your arms straight up above your head.
  5. On the exhale, pull your core muscles in toward your spine as you bend forward at your hips and let your head and arms hang.
  6. Inhale and slowly stand back up into starting position, one vertebrae at a time.
  7. Repeat.

2. Reverse Lunge With Reach and Twist

Performing this exercise can help strengthen leg muscles as well as lubricate those in the shoulders and lower back, Alden says.

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Sets 1
Time 1 Min
  1. Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart, arms at your sides.
  2. Step your right leg back behind your body while simultaneously bending your right knee and lowering your hips. Keep your torso straight.
  3. Stop when your left knee is at a 90-degree angle and your left thigh is parallel to the floor.
  4. As you lower down into a lunge, lift your arms straight up into the air so your biceps are by your ears.
  5. Bend your arms at your elbows and twist your torso to the left, then back to center.
  6. Press into your right heel, squeezing your glutes to stand up, while bringing your left leg and both arms back to the starting position.
  7. Repeat, this time stepping your left leg back into a lunge and rotating your torso to the right.
  8. Continue alternating sides for each rep.

Tip

Move slowly through each rep to help maintain your balance, avoid injury and avoid spiking your heart rate.

3. Inchworm

Doing the inchworm as a dynamic warm-up exercise can help activate and strengthen your upper body and core, Alden says.

Sets 1
Reps 60
  1. Begin standing with your feet hip- to shoulder-width apart and your arms straight above your head, biceps by your ears.
  2. With a slight bend in your knees, hinge at your hips and reach your hands to the ground.
  3. Brace your core as you walk your hands out in front of you into a high plank with your hands beneath your shoulders and a neutral spine.
  4. Keeping your core tight, walk your hands back to meet your feet and return to standing.
  5. Repeat.

Tip

Bend your knees as much as you need to reach the floor, Alden says. Also, if doing a high plank is too much on your lower back, consider dropping to your knees for support.

4. Cat-Cow Pose (Bitilasana Marjaryasana)

Cat-cow pose will help you slow down your heart rate and recover from the above movements, Alden says. It can help you mobilize your spine as well.

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Sets 1
Time 1 Min
  1. Start on your hands and knees on all fours.
  2. Inhale as you drop your belly toward the floor, arching your back and lifting your head and tailbone toward the ceiling.
  3. Exhale as you round your back, pressing your mid-back toward the ceiling and tucking your chin under.
  4. Repeat.

Tip

The wider you spread your fingers, the less tension there will be on your wrists, according to Alden.

Optional: ‌Repeat one of the above exercises twice for a 5-minute warm-up.

Main Workout

1. Cossack Squat

This squat variation is great for strengthening your glutes and opening up your hips and inner thighs, according to Alden.

Sets 1
Time 1 Min
  1. Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart, toes pointed out at a 45-degree angle. (If the position feels uncomfortable, move your feet in a little closer).
  2. Bring your hands up to prayer position in front of your chest.
  3. Keeping your torso upright, brace your core and shift your weight into your right foot.
  4. Bend your right knee to sink your hips into a squat, keeping your left leg straight and allowing your left toes to rotate up off the floor toward the ceiling.
  5. Press through your right foot to extend your leg and stand back up.
  6. Repeat on this side for 60 seconds, then switch sides for another 60 seconds.

2. Side Plank

Side planks target your obliques (the muscles located on the sides of your abdomen) and shoulder muscles, Alden says.

Sets 1
Time 1 Min
  1. Lie on your right side with your feet staggered (left foot in front of right foot) and your right elbow under your right shoulder, forearm along the floor.
  2. Press through your right forearm and lift your body up so that you're balancing on your right forearm and foot.
  3. Extend your left arm toward the ceiling.
  4. Hold for 60 seconds (taking breaks if and when you need to) before lowering yourself to the floor.
  5. Repeat on the other side, holding for 60 seconds.

Tip

To make the side plank easier, you can drop your right knee to the ground for more support.

3. Child's Pose (Balasana)

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Child's pose is a hip-opening movement that will allow you to breathe deeply and calm your body, Alden says.

Sets 1
Time 1 Min
  1. Start on your hands and knees in an all-fours position with your shoulders stacked over your wrists and your hips stacked over your knees.
  2. Take a deep breath in. As you exhale, bow forward to fold over your knees and rest your forehead down on the mat.
  3. Stretch your arms forward with your palms facing down, and gently press your hips back and down onto your feet to stretch your lower back and outer hips.
  4. If this feels restrictive, try widening your knees even farther apart until you feel more comfortable. Alternatively, you can bring your knees closer together, or all the way together, if that position suits you better. A good rule of thumb is to listen to your body and do what feels right!

Tip

Focus on breathing deeply, sending oxygen to the back of your rib cage, Alden says.

4. Plank to Alternating Ankle Reach

Move slowly through this exercise to help initiate a recovery effect, Alden says.

Sets 1
Time 1 Min
  1. Position yourself on your hands and knees, hands under shoulders and knees under hips.
  2. Step your feet back and straighten your legs so that you're balanced on your palms and toes in a high plank position. Your hands should be directly under your shoulders or slightly wider apart.
  3. Reach your left hand back toward your right foot to tap your toes, lifting your hips up to a pike or inverted "V" position as you do so.
  4. Return back to high plank position, then reach your right hand back toward your left foot to tap your toes, lifting your hips up to a pike or inverted "V" position as you do so.
  5. Continue alternating sides for each rep.

5. Back Extension With Side Bend

This move allows you to strengthen the muscles located in your mid and lower back, Alden says. It's also good for postural support.

Sets 1
Time 1 Min
  1. Lie on your stomach with your feet together and your hands in front of head, elbows bent and flared out to the sides.
  2. Press your belly into the ground as you lift your head and chest up and off the ground.
  3. Bend your torso to the left, then return to center, then bend your torso to the right.
  4. Continue alternating which side you bend to for 60 seconds, taking breaks to lower your chest back down to the floor if needed.

Tip

Keep your eyes down so you're looking toward the top of your mat, Alden says.

6. Roll-Up

This move helps activate your deep core and initiate purposeful breathing, Alden says.

Sets 1
Time 1 Min
  1. Lie on your back with your entire body resting on the mat. With your shoulders wide and palms facing the ceiling, stretch your arms up overhead, reaching your legs forward with knees locked, lengthening through pointed toes.
  2. With a slow inhale, flex your feet and bring your arms up to the ceiling and roll your head up to bring your chin to your chest.
  3. As you exhale, slowly roll up and forward, adjusting your arm position so the arms stay extended out in front of the shoulders.
  4. Continue to roll forward, bending all the way over, and try to reach your forehead to your knees while still keeping the chin on the chest.
  5. On the return, inhale as you keep the abdominals contracted and the chin to the chest and slowly reverse the movement, articulating the spine back down to the floor vertebrae by vertebrae.
  6. Repeat.

7. Glute Bridge

Performing glute bridges can help strengthen the backs of your legs and stretch your hip flexors, Alden says.

Sets 1
Time 1 Min
  1. Lie on your back with your arms resting by your sides, knees bent and feet flat on the ground hip-width apart. Your feet should be close enough to your hips that if you reach one hand at a time toward each heel, you can just touch it with your fingertips.
  2. Relax your arms alongside your body. Think of your shoulders being "glued" to the floor to help keep your spine neutral.
  3. Squeeze your glutes and core, and press your heels into the ground to drive your hips up toward the ceiling until you form a diagonal line from knees to hips to chest. Resist the urge to arch your lower back as you raise your hips. Focus on keeping your spine in a neutral position throughout.
  4. Hold this position for a few seconds with your glutes engaged.
  5. Slowly lower your hips back down to the ground and reset in the starting position for a second before lifting back up.
  6. Repeat.

8. Legs Up the Wall Pose (Viparita Karani)

Consider legs up the wall pose your cool down. "Prop yourself with as many pillows and blankets as you like and stay in this position as long as needed to slow down your heart rate and feel ready for bed," Alden says.

Sets 1
Time 2 Min
  1. Sit with your right side against a wall.
  2. Gently turn your body to the right and bring your legs up onto the wall. If you're using a bolster, shift your lower back onto the bolster before bringing your legs up the wall. Use your hands for balance as you shift your weight.
  3. Lower your back to the floor and lie down. Rest your shoulders and head on the floor.
  4. Shift your weight from side to side and scoot your sit bones close to the wall.
  5. Let your arms rest open at your sides, palms facing up. If you’re using a bolster, your lower back should now be fully supported by it.
  6. Let the heads of your thigh bones (the part of the bone that connects the hip socket) release and relax, dropping toward the back of your pelvis.
  7. Close your eyes and aim to stay in this pose for at least 1 to 2 minutes, if not more, breathing in and out through your nose.
  8. To come out of this pose, slowly push yourself away from the wall and slide your legs down to the left side. Use your hands to press yourself back up into a seated position.

Benefits of Doing an Evening Workout

Doing gentle, body-weight exercises and moving your spine in all directions can help promote healthy circulation and prepare your body for rest, Alden says.

Findings from a December 2022 review in Nature and the Science of Sleep even noted that engaging in moderate-intensity physical activity in the later hours can help lull you to sleep.

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Physical activity before bedtime may even help regulate body temperature, which can also help you fall asleep.

An August 2023 review in Cureus pointed out that it takes 30 to 90 minutes after a workout for body temperature to come down. And, as your body prepares for sleep, it begins to drop in core temperature, per a classic April 2004 review in ‌Sleep Medicine Reviews‌. By this logic, doing a workout a few hours before bedtime may help to set the stage for a healthy sleep cycle.

Tips for Evening Workouts

No matter what time of day your workout is, it's important to ensure you eat the right balance of foods before and after your workout. When it comes to fueling before an evening workout, registered dietitian Amanda Sauceda, RD, recommends eating a few hours before your workout to ensure everything has properly digested.

"The more active you are, the more [calories] you need to eat. So, a pre- and post-workout snack is helpful for fueling your muscles," Sauceda tells LIVESTRONG.com. "Have a snack with easy-to-digest carbs and protein to help replenish your energy and aid with muscle recovery."

For instance, peanut butter toast could be a great snack to have after an evening workout. Just make sure you stop eating at least two hours before bedtime, she says. This way, you give your body some time to digest the food so you don't experience heartburn while laying down or other issues falling asleep.

Consider working out at least three hours before you plan on going to bed so your heart rate has plenty of time to come down and so that you can eat a snack or meal.

.

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