Get Lean in 20 Seconds

tabatas uncle samAre you too busy to workout?  Do you have 4 minutes? Sure you do. The Tabata training method, a 4-minute high-intensity workout, was created in 1996 by Japanese scientist Dr. Izumi Tabata and a team of researchers from the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Tokyo. Working with the Japanese Olympic speed skating team, Tabata was looking for ways to improve their performance. He had a group of college athletes ride stationary bikes 4 days a week, 4 minutes per session, using his brand of high-intensity interval training (HITT).  A control group trained at a moderate pace 5 days a week, 60 minutes per session. The results were unreal: after following the respective routines for 6 weeks, the experimental group boosted their aerobic fitness by 14% and anaerobic capacity by 28%. By comparison, the control group increased their aerobic fitness by only about 10%.  Since this landmark study was performed there have been many similar studies completed, all confirming analogous findings (not only with bikes but also sprints, body weight exercises and plyometrics).  Less time, more results – it’s the American way!

Tabata Method:

  • 20 Seconds of high-intensity work – 95% of your maximal effort
  • 10 Seconds rest
  • Repeat this ’20 seconds on, 10 seconds off routine’ 8 times

Warning: This is a brutal workout and many people don’t make it through the initial 4 minutes or just don’t push themselves hard enough to get results.  Since it is only 4 minutes you need to get way out of your comfort zone. But please progress gradually in the beginning. Perhaps the 1st few session only peak at 70% or 80% of your maximum or do only half the cycles (2 minutes).

The fact is most people are not willing or able to push themselves to 95% of their maximum. Having a trainer, a non-forgiving friend or (better yet an enemy) coach you through your workouts will certainty help. The Tabata method can be done with cardio machines or can be integrated into a resistance training workout. The key is to push yourself hard and do as many reps as possible with good form. Usually between rounds 6 and 8 your body will reach maximum oxygen intake, so prepare for your muscles to be on fire and your lungs to burn. Working the anaerobic pathways fires up the ‘after-burn effect’ (EPOC– excess post exercise oxygen consumption) so your metabolism will be revved up for up to 36 hours after. This translates into greater loss of fat.  Neato! I like to add one of these workouts into my weekly routine. Here is a sample body weight workout utilizing Tabata for 3 different exercises (16 minutes total):

  1. Body weight squats (if it is not hard enough, hold a dumbbell)
  2. Push ups – if you get too tired by the end drop to your knees and do them modified
  3. Band or standing cable rows – make sure to squeeze the scapula!


  1. Burpees – make sure to keep your stomach tight
  2. Jump Squats
  3. Bicycle Crunches


  1. Squat to Row with resistance bands
  2. Shoulder Press with dumbbells
  3. Pendulum Lunges


You can simply do 4 minutes of Tabata sprinting, biking or rowing (a few times a week).

Some people like to change the traditional Tabata protocol by using either 2 different exercises performed 4 times each; 4 different exercises performed 2 times each; or even 8 differing exercises performed once within a given workout. I find this strategy fun and effective once you’ve mastered the traditional approach. This high-intensity interval training workout is only as good as the effort you put into it. With proper exercise and diet adherence, you can certainly change your body composition for the better with this method. Get lean in 20 seconds!

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