Bored with your usual routine? Good news: You can turn almost any series of exercises into a Tabata workout. All you need is 4 minutes.

By Charlotte Hilton Andersen
Updated December 28, 2020
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Dripping sweat. Breathing heavily (or, let's be honest, panting). Muscles aching — in a good way. This is how you know you're doing a Tabata workout correctly. Now, if you're not the biggest fan of feeling the burn, you might be wondering, why would anyone want to do Tabata? Because it gets the job done well...and fast.

What Is Tabata?

Before jumping into how to get the most out of this 4-minute workout, you should get to know the format of Tabata workout. Tabata is a type of high-intensity interval training or HIIT. More specifically, it's a 4-minute workout during which you do eight rounds of 20 seconds of work using maximum effort followed by 10 seconds of rest.

Tabata = 20 seconds work + 10 seconds rest x 8 rounds

The Benefits of Tabata Workouts

Doing a single 4-minute workout (or one "Tabata") can increase your aerobic capacity, anaerobic capacity, VO2 max, resting metabolic rate, and can help you burn more fat than a traditional 60-minute aerobic (aka cardio) workout. That's right, folks: Just 4 minutes of Tabata can get you better fitness gains than an entire hour of running on the treadmill. It's starting to sound more appealing, huh?

How to Do a Tabata Workout

The trick to getting all the benefits of this 4-minute workout is the level of intensity. To do a Tabata workout — which, BTW, was developed in the '70s for Japanese Olympians by a scientist named Izumi Tabata — all you have to do is pick a cardio activity such as running, jumping rope, or biking and go as hard as you can for 20 seconds. (Or you can pick one of these bodyweight HIIT exercises.) Then take a quick 10-second breather and repeat seven more times. And when I say "as hard as you can go," I mean 100 percent maximal intensity. By the end of the 4-minute workout, you should feel completely exhausted. (But, again, in a good way!)

When you first start doing these 4-minute workouts, you might not immediately see the light at the end of the tunnel, but seeing the very real changes in your fitness will make you a believer in the effectiveness of Tabata. Following this 4-minute exercise plan is sure to help you become stronger all over. (Up next: Can Tabata Be Done Every Day?)

Ready to start sweating your way through one of these 4-minute workouts? Here are few tips to get you started:

  • While you can do a Tabata interval with just about any exercise, start with a move you feel very comfortable doing. Something as simple as high knees or jumping jacks will do.
  • Use a reliable timer — either IRL or an app works fine. No matter how good you think you are at one-Mississippi-ing, you cannot estimate when 20 seconds and 10 seconds have passed when your brain is focused on powering through the 4-minute workout.
  • Establish a good mantra that you can repeat when you're fatigued — you're going to need it.
  • For more inspiration and guidance, try this 30-Day Tabata-Style Workout Challenge That Will Have You Sweating Like There's No Tomorrow.

Get creative with your 4-minute workout with help from the queen of Tabata, trainer Kaisa Keranen:

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