The Research-Approved 20-Minute Tabata Workout


With the notion of boosting fitness in just four short minutes, it's no surprise that Tabata training is all the buzz. What originally began as a high-intensity interval training protocol performed on a cycling ergometer by Japanese Olympic speed skaters has now morphed into workouts that combine everything from plyometrics to traditional resistance training exercises using the same format: eight cycles of 20 seconds of work followed by 10 seconds of rest. To investigate the benefits of this intense type of training, the American Council on Exercise® (ACE) enlisted the research team at the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse to examine the true calorie-burning potential of a total-body Tabata session.

In the study, 16 moderately fit to very fit men and women completed two 20-minute Tabata workouts. Each workout consisted of a five-minute warm-up followed by four rounds of Tabata (eight cycles of 20 seconds of work and 10 seconds of rest) with one minute of rest between each round, and then a 10-minute cool-down. During the 20 seconds of intense work, subjects performed as many repetitions as possible of each exercise, all of which were movements they had practiced beforehand and demonstrated proficiency in.

Researchers found that during the workout subjects averaged 86 percent of their maximum heart rates and 74 percent of their VO2maxes, measures that meet or exceed industry guidelines for improving cardio fitness and body composition. On the Borg Scale of 6 to 20, the participants gave the sweat sesh a 15.4 rating of perceived exertion (RPE)-i.e. "hard"-and burned 240 to 360 calories. With an average of 15 calories torched a minute, the findings of this study support that total-body Tabata-style workouts can prove powerful in terms of enhancing health and facilitating weight loss.

This time-efficient approach to exercise is all about intensity, so while just four minutes of hard work can prove helpful in terms of enhancing health and fitness, the complete 20-minute workout can elicit even better results while still easily fitting into a busy schedule. Talisa Emberts, one of the lead researchers, recommends doing Tabata two to three times a week, allowing at least 48 to 72 hours of rest between each session since you'll be working every major muscle group during each workout.

Ready to try it yourself? Here's the 20-minute workout protocol from the ACE Tabata study. A set of each exercise is defined as 20 seconds of work followed by 10 seconds of rest. Do two sets of each exercise (so each round will last four minutes). Be sure to also allow for one full minute of rest following each of the four rounds.

Round 1

High knees

Plank punches

Jumping jacks

Side skaters

Round 2

Jump rope

High/low boat

Line jumps


Round 3


Russian twists



Round 4

Mountain climbers


Split squats

Box jumps

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