How to Get Fit in 4 Minutes a Day with Tabata Workouts
After years of trying to tell people they don’t have to “pound the pavement” for hours on end to get fit, high-intensity interval training, or HIIT for short, is gaining tremendous popularity. And for good reason: It works.
When it comes to burning fat, losing unsightly body fat, improving cardiorespiratory fitness, and optimizing cardiometabolic function, longer does not necessarily mean better. In fact, in the case of Tabata workouts, it’s possible to get fit in as little as four minutes a day.
Can you really get fit with as little as a four-minute workout? The unbelievable answer is: Yes, you really can get more with less.
What are Tabata Workouts?
The Tabata protocol is a popular form of HIIT developed by Dr. Izumi Tabata and his team at the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Tokyo almost two decades ago. It was initially developed to help the Japanese Olympic speed skating team improve endurance more efficiently. Fortunately for us, Tabata training has been adapted to fit just about anyone’s fitness level, and arguably everyone can benefit from its effectiveness.
Essentially, Tabata workouts consists of eight sets of 20 seconds of all-out effort with 10 seconds of rest between each bout. This cycle is repeated eight times to equal one Tabata. Altogether, these eight cycles add up to four total minutes of exercise—that’s right FOUR total minutes.
Easy enough, right?
Simple But Not Easy
What a Tabata workout lacks in time it makes up for in intensity. In other words, the trade-off for efficiency is effort. The extraordinary effort required to correctly perform Tabata training results in improved aerobic and anaerobic conditioning, better cardiorespiratory fitness, improved metabolic function, and increased fat burning.
Dr. Tabata says, “If you feel okay after doing it, you’re not doing it right.” When he says that you must perform all-out effort for those 20 seconds, that’s exactly what he means. In order to reap the benefits from this form of HIIT training, it’s vital that you step out of your comfort zone. And, when you go outside your comfort zone, you’re also likely to break through previous weight loss plateaus by challenging your body.
How does Tabata work when it’s such a short workout? I mean, we’ve been told that we need 150 minutes or more per week for overall health and cardiorespiratory fitness. The answer lies in a little trick up Tabata’s sleeve called “EPOC.” EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption), which is commonly referred to as “afterburn,” refers to the extra calories you burn long after you finish your workout—up to 24 hours after exercise.
Tabata Workout Plans
The following workouts serve as good primers to get a feel for the intensity and power of the Tabata protocol. You will need a stopwatch or a Tabata app on your phone (my favorite is “Tabata WOD” on the Spotify app), which will act as your timer. As always, it’s best to check with your physician prior to embarking on any exercise program to ensure your health is appropriate for the workout intensity.
Kick-start Your Workout
You’ll start with a 5-minute warm up. This will get your blood flowing and warm up your muscles so they are ready to go when you ramp up the intensity. Good warm-up exercises include a brisk walk on the treadmill or another form of light cardio, walking lunges, bodyweight squats, arm circles, side bends, and perhaps best of all, a brief run-through of the exercises you’re going to perform.
Beginner Tabata Workout—Variation #1
In this workout, you are doing the same exercise for all 8 cycles.
- 5-Minute Warm Up
- Cycling—Pedal as fast as you can for 20 seconds. After resting for 10 seconds, immediately engage in the next 20-second round. Repeat 8 times, and you’re done with your very first Tabata workout! If you’re using a bike at the gym, set the tension so that your RMPs are between 85 – 110.
Intermediate Tabata Workout—Variation #2
In this variation, you’ll perform Tabata workouts with four different exercises. You’ll do two sets of each exercise before moving on to the next for a total of eight sets.
- 5-Minute Warm Up
- Jumping Jacks—Perform as many jumping jacks as you can for 20 seconds and then rest for 10 seconds. Repeat for a total of two sets. Rest again for 10 seconds before progressing to the next exercise.
- Bodyweight Squats—Perform for as many bodyweight squats as you can in 20 seconds and then rest for 10 seconds. Repeat for a total of two sets before progressing to the next exercise.
- Bodyweight Lunges—Perform as many alternating lunges as you can in 20 seconds and then rest for 10 seconds. Repeat twice, rest for 10 seconds, then move on to the next exercise.
- Push-ups—Perform as many push-ups as you can in 20 seconds then rest for 10 seconds. Repeat twice, and you’re done!
Advanced Tabata Workout—Variation #3
Lastly, try a different exercise for each of the 8 cycles. Perform each exercise for 20 seconds, making it as intense as you can. Then, rest for 10 seconds. Move on to the next exercise for 20 seconds, followed by 10 seconds of rest.
- 5-Minute Warm Up
- Jumping Jacks—Perform as many jumping jacks as you can in 20 seconds and then rest for 10 seconds. Progress to next exercise.
- Jump Rope—Jump rope as many times as you can in 20 seconds and then rest for 10 seconds. Progress to next exercise.
- Kettlebell Swings—Perform as many kettlebell swings as you can in 20 seconds and then rest for 10 seconds. Progress to next exercise.
- Burpees—Perform as many burpees as you can in 20 seconds and then rest for 10 seconds. Progress to next exercise.
- Jump Squat—Perform as many jump squats as you can in 20 seconds and then rest for 10 seconds. Progress to next exercise.
- Push-ups—Perform as many push-ups as you can in 20 seconds and then rest for 10 seconds. Progress to next exercise.
- Bodyweight Lunges—Perform as many alternating lunges as you can in 20 seconds and then rest for 10 seconds. Progress to next exercise.
- Cycling—Pedal as hard as you can for 20 seconds…and you’re done!
As you can see, there are many ways to implement this form of HIIT. You can focus on a single exercise, only upper body exercises, just lower body work, a combination of the two, or you can even incorporate some weights into your routine. To make your Tabata workout routine even more challenging—and rewarding—try doing multiple rounds back-to-back. Here’s an example.
Advanced 20-Minute Tabata Workout
*This workout is for those who are already in very good cardiovascular condition.
- 5-Minute Warm Up
- Jumping Jacks—Perform jumping jacks for 20 seconds as fast as you can and then rest for 10 seconds. Repeat 8 times.
- Bodyweight Squat—Perform as many squats as you can for 20 seconds and then rest for 10 seconds. Repeat 8 times.
- Jump Rope—Jump rope for 20 seconds as fast as you can and then rest for 10 seconds. Repeat 8 times.
- Kettlebell Swing—Perform kettlebell swings for 20 seconds as fast as you can and then rest for 10 seconds. Repeat 8 times.
- Run in Place—Run in place as fast as you can tolerate for 20 seconds and then rest for 10 seconds. Repeat 8 times.
Even More Benefits of Tabata Workouts
And, there’s more good news. Besides burning more fat and improving aerobic conditioning, some other benefits of Tabata workouts include:
- Improved insulin sensitivity
- Increased calorie-burning muscle
- Stress relief
- Logistics and convenience
Who doesn’t like efficient and effective? Now, you really don’t have any more excuses when it comes to fitting exercise into your busy schedule. Try something new with the Tabata protocol and get fit in as little as four minutes a day!