Only Have 4 Minutes to Work Out? Try Tabata!

TabataWhat if I told you working out for 4 minutes per day is more than enough to radically improve your fitness level… would you believe me?

Well, I’m here to tell you that such a workout style exists… it’s called Tabata and is named after Dr. Izumi Tabata, a Japanese physician who first studied this training style back in 1996.

During one study two groups worked through different exercise programs.

  • Group 1, the control group, performed one hour of moderate intensity workouts (cycling) five days per week totaling 1,800 minutes of training.
  • Group 2 performed 4 minute, extremely intense, Tabata style workouts totaling 120 minutes of training.

The results were startling. The folks in group 1 (1,800 minutes of training) saw no anaerobic capacity improvement, as in zero, while their aerobic performance (V02max) improved by 5 ml.kg.

The folks in group 2, the Tabata group, saw their anaerobic capacity improve by 28% while their aerobic performance (V02max) improved by 7 ml.kg.

Put another way… the Tabata group blew the control group away even though they spent far less time exercising.

What is Tabata Training?

So, obviously, Tabata training works. The question is what the heck is it?

Simply put a Tabata is an 8 round workout where each round consists of 20 seconds of “work” and 10 seconds of “rest.”

Here’s what a single Tabata may look like using the push-up as the movement.

  • Round 1: 20 seconds of push-ups followed by 10 seconds of rest
  • Round 2: 20 seconds of push-ups followed by 10 seconds of rest
  • Round 3: 20 seconds of push-ups followed by 10 seconds of rest
  • Round 4: 20 seconds of push-ups followed by 10 seconds of rest
  • Round 5: 20 seconds of push-ups followed by 10 seconds of rest
  • Round 6: 20 seconds of push-ups followed by 10 seconds of rest
  • Round 7: 20 seconds of push-ups followed by 10 seconds of rest
  • Round 8: 20 seconds of push-ups followed by 10 seconds of rest

These 8 rounds total 4 minutes and, let me just say, if you push yourself you’ll be smoked!

There are a few ways to score a Tabata. Most folks count their reps each round and then use the lowest rep count as the final score. So, for example, let’s say you did 15 push-ups in round 1… but only managed 5 in round 8. In this scenario your final score for the Tabata would be 5.

Now, others also promote totaling your reps across all 8 rounds while others do both methods (lowest and total), which makes a lot of sense to me.

Who Should Try Tabata Training?

So that’s what it is and how it’s done… the next question is who should try these workouts? I mean it’s only 4 minutes so surely anyone can pull them off, right? Not so much.

We definitely suggest you develop a strong fitness base first since a Tabata is no joke. If you need some help developing a strong base be sure to download the Intentional Wellness eBook at the bottom of this article and work through the 40-day program.

And, obviously, if you’re doing a Tabata and things don’t feel right please stop and look to scale it down to something like 10 seconds of work and 20 seconds of rest.  You can then work yourself up to a normal Tabata.

Different Tabata Approaches

To be sure there are a number of ways to leverage Tabata style training. You can choose a single movement and focus the Tabata on that movement like the push-up example above.

You could also choose several different movements and work through them during a single Tabata. For example, during round 1 you could do push-ups, round 2 sit-ups, round 3 air squats, and round 4 mountain climbers. You could then repeat this cycle for the last 4 rounds.

Finally, yet another option would be to stack a few Tabata’s together focused on different movements.

In fact, here’s what I, along with 3 of my kids, and Mr. Andy Wheaton got after this morning. We did 4 different Tabatas of air squats, hand release push-ups, sit-ups, and rowing for calories (using a Concept 2 rowing machine).

Here’s what it looked like:

  • For the first 4-minute Tabata (8 rounds) we did air squats. We then rested for 1 minute.
  • For the second 4-minute Tabata (8 rounds) we did hand release push-ups. We then rested for 1 minute.
  • For the third 4-minute Tabata (8 rounds) we rowed for calories. We then rested for 1 minute.
  • For the fourth 4-minute Tabata (8 rounds) we did sit-ups. We then rested for 1 minute.

Actually, my kids replaced rowing with box jumps since Andy and I needed to take turns on the rowing machine. But, we all worked extremely hard and were very fatigued by the end!

Tabata Advice

Now, to be sure, the spirit behind Tabata is to give all out – max effort – for the 20 seconds of work. If you coast, or take it easy, you won’t realize all of the benefits the workout has to offer.

With this said, there’s nothing wrong with pacing yourself… especially if you’re just getting started. In other words, set a rep goal (i.e. 6 push-ups) and see if you can hit that across all 8 rounds.

Finally, I recently discovered these “Tabata songs” that help to keep time and also make it more fun. Here’s Mat Fraser (CrossFit games athlete) doing a Tabata with one of these songs playing.

There are also smart phone apps that can help you keep time. Just search for “Tabata timer” and you’ll be in good shape.

So if you’re looking for a fast, extremely intense, workout that’s been scientifically proven to work give Tabata a try!

Until next time… be holy, eat clean, and do more push-ups!