A four-minute workout may sound too good to be true, but when it’s done Tabata-style, it can be the most efficient and effective four minutes of your day. The secret is in the format: 20 seconds of high-intensity work followed by 10 seconds of rest. Repeat for eight rounds for a total of just four minutes and reap the rewards.
The Tabata Theory
You may not be familiar with the term Tabata, but chances are you’ve heard of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts. One of the most popular forms of training for both cardio and strength, HIIT workouts involve alternating timed segments of intense work with timed periods of rest.
Tabata is a very specific type of HIIT that was originally developed in 1996 by Dr. Izumi Tabata to try and improve the performance of the Japanese speed skating team through short bursts of high-intensity training followed by even shorter rest periods. He discovered that, unlike traditional interval workouts that primarily benefit the body’s aerobic system, the Tabata method targets both the aerobic and anaerobic systems and improves the body’s ability to use oxygen more effectively. In other words, the skaters improved their performances through Tabata intervals.
The Benefits of Tabata
You don’t have to be a Japanese speed skater to enjoy the benefits of Tabata training. Anyone can use this time-effective technique to increase performance, boost metabolism, increase lean muscle mass, and burn some serious calories and fat. According to a study of the method in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, participants not only improved their cardio endurance, but they also burned more calories in just 20 minutes of Tabata rounds than usual.
One of the best things about Tabata is that it can be tailored to any fitness level. Remember you are working at YOUR maximum intensity level, which is not one-size-fits-all. If you are a beginner, your max will look quite different than someone who has been training for years, but you both will benefit from the exertion. How do you know what your max looks like? A tracker that monitors your heart rate zones is the easiest way, but even that’s not foolproof. One of the best ways is to go by your body’s response to the work. If you are at your highest intensity, you will be breathless, your heart will be pounding, and you will not be able to sustain the effort for very long.
Another great thing about Tabata is that it can be tailored to any exercise, depending on your goals. If gains are what you are after, lifting your max load for the 20-second duration will help build your strength and muscular endurance. If you’re a runner who wants to improve your race time, 20-second sprints will build speed and cardio endurance. If you simply want to improve your overall health, a combination of speed and strength will do the trick.
How To Tabata
Before beginning a Tabata or any workout, check with your doctor. A Tabata workout may be short, but it is intense. You don’t need any fancy equipment or a gym membership to get started; you can do it in the comfort of your own home using nothing but a timer and your body. If you don’t want the distraction of watching the clock the whole time, download a Tabata app for your phone. One of our favorites is Tabata Pro. Easy to use, it allows you to program in both your work and rest intervals and counts you down so you know when to transition.
How you program your Tabata is up to you and your goals. Traditionally, it is one exercise, like sprints, performed for each of the eight rounds. However, you could alternate between two or four different exercises, repeating each for two rounds before moving to the next. Just remember that the more exercises you put into one four-minute Tabata, the less likely you are to fatigue the muscles. That brings us to the big question: how many total Tabata rounds should you perform? Again, the beauty of this workout lies in its versatility.
You can do a quick 4-minute Tabata warm-up or add it on as a finisher. You can stack Tabata for a solid 20-minute workout, resting for 30 seconds after every eight rounds. This is a good plan if you want to hit several different exercises and muscle groups. Below is an example of a 20-minute full-body Tabata workout using nothing but body weight, as well as a core finisher that can be tacked on to the end of any workout or done on its own for a quick core burn anytime.
20-Minute Beginner Body Weight Tabata
Perform each exercise for the full eight rounds, rest for 30 seconds, and move to the next Tabata.
Tabata one: Squats
Tabata two: Pushups on the knees or toes.
Tabata three: Alternating forward lunges.
Tabata four: Triceps dips on the floor or a chair.
Tabata five: Bicycle crunches.
4-Minute Tabata Core Finisher
The most important thing to remember about Tabata is that it only works if you do. If you are not pushing at your maximum exertion level, you are defeating the purpose. Don’t be discouraged if you can’t do it all at once. Like anything new or challenging, it takes time to master. Keep pushing, take longer breaks if needed, and don’t give up. Remember, a basic Tabata is only four minutes out of your day. That’s a small commitment for big results.