A Four-Minute Total Workout? What to Know About Tabata

Four minute workout

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Fitting in a quick workout on a busy day can feel amazing. Forget 20- or 30-minutes of sweat, though—what if you finished in four minutes flat? It might sound far-fetched, but Tabata training may give you a highly effective and sweat-inducing workout in less time than your skincare routine takes. 

Tabata, a form of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) training, isn’t new. But it’s becoming more popular, especially these days as we’ve all been looking for quick and efficient ways to sweat in-between Zoom calls. We asked top trainers how it’s even possible to exercise efficiently in just four minutes and if it can really replace your hour-long run or cycle workout. 

Meet the Expert

  • Jenn Blackburn Steinmetz is an ACE and NASM-certified personal trainer and fitness instructor at Moxie.  
  • Brandon Nicholas is a NASM-certified personal trainer at The Fitness Tribe

What Is the Tabata Four-Minute Workout? 

If you’ve never tried Tabata before, be prepared to get your heart rate up quickly. “Tabata is a high-intensity workout where your rest is always shorter than your work,” explains Jenn Blackburn Steinmetz, ACE and NASM-certified personal trainer and fitness instructor at Moxie. “The participant will work as hard as they can for 20 seconds and follow that up with 10 seconds of rest.”

A four-minute Tabata workout includes eight rounds of work total. For round one, you’ll perform an exercise at full effort for 20-seconds. That’s followed-up by round two, 10 seconds rest. Then you’ll perform your second exercise at full effort for 20-seconds, followed by 10 seconds of rest. Repeat this sequence four times.

Always be sure to warm up and cool down following Tabata. You’ll want to get your body ready to work out quickly and recover safely after. 

Four-Minute Tabata Workout Example 

Exercises: 

  1. Jump lunges
  2. Pushup to a renegade row 

Instructions: 

  1. Alternate between jump lunges and a pushup to a renegade row for eight rounds.
  2. In round one, perform jump lunges for 20 seconds, 
  3. Rest for a 10-second break. 
  4. Next, grab your weights and begin your second exercise for 20 seconds, a pushup to a renegade row. 
  5. Follow with a 10-second rest break. 

Repeat this sequence for four total rounds of each movement. 

Other exercises to mix up the Tabata circuit may include burpees, mountain climbers, push ups, tuck jumps, lunges, squats and skaters. You can also take the workout outside and alternate between sprint running and walking. 

Why is Tabata Effective? 

Just a few minutes into a Tabata workout, and you’ll likely notice how hard you’re working on little rest. “This type of workout is designed to increase athletic performance and caloric output not only during your workout but after,” Steinmetz explains. “Tabata also helps to improve cardiovascular capacity, improve plyometric power and increase excess post exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC).” 

EPOC is when the body is restoring itself to its pre-exercise state and while doing that is consuming oxygen at an elevated rate. So, Steinmetz says, the higher intensity you perform your aerobic workout, the greater the EPOC you generate. Tabata workouts also move your body into an anaerobic state to really benefit from the after-calorie burning effect of EPOC.

Other benefits of Tabata training may include: 

  • Increase aerobic and anaerobic capacity 
  • Your heart muscle gets stronger
  •  Calories burned in a shorter amount of time
  • Increased metabolism

Can Four Minutes Of Tabata Really Replace Your Longer Cardio Workouts? 

Tabata training was invented by a Japanese athletic coach who tested if short bursts of high-intensity training followed by little to no rest could improve his athlete’s VO2max and overall performance. Not surprisingly, it did.

“The training is extremely effective at rapidly burning as it requires the body to go all out to return to a resting state,” explains Brandon Nicholas, NASM-certified personal trainer. “The very intention is to engage the body's excess post-exercise oxygen consumption process, which is intended to wire the body into continuously burning calories long after you've finished the workout. The added intensity in the Tabata workout pushes the body to work overtime to return to a pre-workout state.” 

However, don’t expect to work out four minutes a week and feel very fit, warns Steinmetz. Instead, incorporate Tabata into your fitness routine one or two times a week. (Tabata is intense, so you need to give your muscles plenty of time to recover between sessions.) Try performing multiple rounds of Tabata if you are ready for a longer, more complete workout. And for best results, alternate quick Tabata workouts with longer strength and cardio sessions, plus active rest or total rest days, as needed.   


 

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