No Time to Workout? The Magic of Tabata

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“I’m too busy to exercise”

… not if Tabata has anything to say about it!

Tabata is a high-intensity, interval training regimen that can produce remarkable results.  It only takes 4 minutes to do, and it’s incredibly effective!  You will be amazed at how intense the four minutes of exercise will feel.

  • Uses any type of exercise
  • Takes only 4 minutes
  • Engages both aerobic and anaerobic energy systems
  • Builds strength and endurance
  • You can do it anywhere!

Here is How it Works:

  • A Tabata workout is an interval training cycle of 20 seconds of maximum intensity exercise, followed by 10 seconds of rest.
  • The intervals are repeated 8 times without pause, so the total time of the Tabata workout is only four minutes.
  • To be clear, this isn’t “eight sets of eight,” although the goal of doing eight reps in each of the 20-second clusters is pretty good.  Instead it’s “as many reps as I can get in” during the twenty seconds, followed by ten seconds rest.
  • IMPORTANT: This isn’t a “four minute workout” – it’s meant to be done when your fully warmed up and possibly even at the end of a workout.

In terms of making your progress measurable, you can keep score by counting how many lifts or movements or distance or whatever you do in each of the 20 second rounds.  You can either add up the total of all your work done or make the round with the smallest number your score.

Here’s a cool Tabata timer:
[to upload to your phone:]


Credit for this simple and powerful training method belongs to its namesake, Dr. Izumi Tabata, and a team of researchers from the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Tokyo, Japan.  Their groundbreaking 1996 study, published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports & Exercise provided documented evidence concerning the dramatic physiological benefits of high-intensity intermittent training.  After just 6 weeks of testing, Dr. Tabata noted a 28% increase in anaerobic capacity in his subjects, along with a 14% increase in their ability to consume oxygen (V02Max).  The conclusion was that just four minutes of Tabata interval training could do more to boost aerobic and anaerobic capacity than an hour of endurance exercise.

Although Dr. Tabata used a mechanically braked exercise cycle machine, you can apply this protocol to almost any exercise.  For example, a basic Tabata workout can be performed with pushups.  The greater the range of motion done for each exercise, the better, so make sure your arms are locked out fully at the top and that your chest touches the ground at the bottom.  Perform pushups non-stop for 20-second intervals, followed by 10 seconds of rest.  Repeat for a total of 8 cycles.

Tabata Suggestions: 

  • Push-ups
  • Sit-ups
  • Running (sprint)
  • Swimming (sprint)
  • Rowing
  • Squats
  • Jump rope
  • Mountain Climbers
  • Pull-ups
  • Thrusters
  • Burpees
  • Lunges

Got it?  Now get moving!

Further reading and references:

Chronic Cardio Vs Short Interval High Intensity Exercise
Short Interval High Intensity Workouts Burn More Calories
Best Way to Improve Your Body Composition

Zieman E, et al. Aerobic and anaerobic changes with high-intensity interval training in active college-aged men. J Strength Cond Res. 2011 Apr;25(4):1104-12.

Laursen PB, Jenkins DG  The scientific basis for high-intensity interval training: optimising training programmes and maximising performance in highly trained endurance athletes. Sports Med. 2002;32(1):53-73.



Active Recovery

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Active recovery – low-intensity exercise during periods of rest between moderate to intense workouts – a small number of research findings say it positively provides benefit while a small amount of research says it is not yet possible to conclude whether or not there is significant benefit.  While it is clear that research is still growing, there are studies that have pointed to positive effects of including active recovery in training cycles. More

Active Recovery – Roll and Stretch

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Complete each of the following using a foam/PVC roller, tennis/lacrosse ball, etc. as a part of your Active Recovery for the day:

    • Roll calves, hamstrings, quads, IT band, glutes, traps, biceps, triceps, shoulders, etc.
    • Spinal hygiene

  • Life Extension Exercises

  • Stretch calves, hamstrings, quads, hips, glutes, back, abs, biceps, triceps, traps, forearms, obliques

Box Jumps

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  • Start with both feet on the ground in front of the box.
  • Jump on top of the box attaining full extension at the top (lock out your knees).
  •  Jump or step back down and repeat.
  • Note: You may attain full extension of your body in the air after jumping off of the box as long as it is attained while your body is still over top of the box and not behind the box.

Don’t forget, nearly all exercise is scaleble – in this case, you can modify the Box Jump to be a Box Steps or Step Downs.

And here’s Dr. Paul at age 55 doing ‘rock jumps’:

Alternating Lunges

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  • Start from a standing position and lunge forward and slightly to the side with one leg.
  •  Sink your body into the lunge until your knee touches the ground.
  •  Keep your chest tall, hands on your hips, and keep your forward knee balanced over top of your foot careful not to let your knee surpass your toe.
  •  Drive back off the heel of your forward foot and return back to the top.
  •  Repeat with the other leg.

Back Squat

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  • Place the barbell behind your neck across your shoulders in a comfortable position.
  • Hold the bar with both hands just outside your shoulders and point your elbows back.
  • Keep your gaze at approximately 45 degrees.
  • Place your feet just outside your shoulders.
  • Lower your body into a squat.

Box Jumps with Step Down

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Box Jumps are fantastic core exercises that very quickly become aerobic. Combine them with doing push ups, pull ups, and/or squats and you’ve created a very quick yet demanding workout.

You can use a box like in the video below, or you can jump onto a ledge, stone wall, etc.

  • Start with both feet on the ground in front of the box.
  • Jump on top of the box attaining full extension at the top (lock out your knees).
  • Step down and repeat (alternate right and left with which leg you step down with – this video doesn’t demonstrate that). For greater intensity, you can also jump up and down.

Box Steps

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  • Start with both feet on the ground in front of the box.
  • Step on top of the box attaining full extension at the top (lock out your knees).
  • Step back down and repeat by alternating legs.

Front Squat

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  • Start with a barbell in the rack position
  • Keep your gaze forwards
  • Lower your body into a squat focusing on maintaining a tall chest and elbows pointed upwards throughout the movement
  • Once you reach the bottom of your squat, press your feet into the ground, maintaining a proud chest and stand up to full extension.


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Your “goat” is whatever exercise is your biggest weakness…

It may be a movement you hate, of feel that you can’t execute well, or haven’t ever tried out of fear.  In Crossfit training, you’ll often hear people talk about “killing their goat”. This simply means overcoming weaknesses.  At the Crossfit Games, elite athletes will often share that this strategy is integral to their continued improvement.

So what is your goat?  Is it simply exercising more?  If so, instead of prioritizing your schedule, schedule your priorities.