Tabatas: The Fast and Efficient Way to Workout

tabata-training-150x150-10 In this busy life, it’s hard to make exercising a priority with so many competing demands on your time. Sometimes, it seems there just aren’t enough hours in the day to get your sweat on. The kids have soccer practice, and the dog needs a bath and, oh yeah, everyone needs to be fed sometime along the way, too. Where’s the time for exercise? Quick but effective workouts are the name of the game.

A fast workout that is not only effective, but can be done anytime, anywhere, without any special equipment sounds too good to be true, right?

Enter tabatas—high intensity intervals that pack a punch. In just minutes a day, you’ll rev up your metabolism and melt away calories. A tabata is similar to circuit training in that you do a series of exercises at high intensity for 20 seconds with 10 seconds of rest in between. You repeat the whole process eight times for a total of four minutes. Depending on how much time you have, you can do as many tabatas as you like for a completely customized workout.

The short bursts of activity utilized in tabatas are incredibly efficient for burning fat and calories. Short bursts of activity require your muscles to use glycogen, the stored form of glucose. Interval training at high intensity, which is what tabatas require, increases your muscles’ capacity to work harder, allowing you to burn calories and fat at a higher rate. So while lower impact activities, like walking, burn more calories during the activity, they don’t have as many residual benefits. Higher intensity tabatas may burn fewer calories during the workout because they’re shorter in duration, but your resting metabolism is higher after your workout. A higher resting metabolism means you keep burning calories all day long!

Another great benefit of tabatas is that you can do them any time, anywhere. Depending on the exercises you choose, you don’t need any equipment other than a stopwatch and maybe a small set of dumbbells. You can find a tabata timer online or even download a tabata timer app, which makes it that much easier get your workout in on the go.

So how exactly do tabatas work? First, figure out your workout goal. Are you looking to lose fat? Gain endurance? Tone muscles? These are all important factors to consider when designing your tabata workout. Choose exercises that will help you meet your goals. Generally, most people are looking to burn calories quickly and effectively when doing tabatas, with a little muscle toning and strengthening thrown in. With that in mind, here’s an example of a tabata to try:

Pushups Burpees Crunches Mountain Climbers


Going back and forth between higher intensity cardio moves like burpees and mountain climbers, to lower intensity strength moves, like pushups and squats, will help you to recover a bit between the harder sets while keeping your heart rate up and your blood pumping. Depending on how much time you have, you can repeat the cycle as many times as you like. Or, you could add in a second tabata to switch things up a bit. After completing the first tabata, above, try this one:

Jump rope Twisting plank Skaters Bicycle crunches

Plank jacks

For a more complete workout, do each tabata cycle once, then repeat the whole thing once more. End with a little stretching, and you’re done in under 20 minutes!

Don’t be fooled, though. Tabatas are quick, but they are not easy. By the end of the four minutes, you should feel like you’re going to die. Think of a mantra to repeat to yourself while you’re in the thick of things–it’ll give you something to focus on other than your misery! Just remember, it’s worth it when you see the noticeable changes happening to your body.

If you’ve never done tabatas or any kind of interval training, be sure to get the OK from your doc first. Start out with just one or two tabatas, and gradually increase from there. Because of the intensity of this workout, don’t do it every day–your body needs to rest! Try throwing tabatas in 2-3 times a week, while you’re waiting for the kids to finish up that soccer practice or when dinner’s in the oven. You’ll see results in no time!

Melissa Woodson is the community manager for Washington University in St. Louis’ @WashULaw, the first and only top-tier online LLM in U.S. law. In her spare time, she enjoys running, cooking, and blogging at her personal blog,

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