Workouts In 4 Minutes: An Introduction to HIIT Tabata



People are busy. But you have four minutes. Everyone does. The beauty of high intensity interval training, or HIIT, is that you get a lot done in a little time. Tabata, a form of HIIT, is a four minute workout that anyone can do.

You Have Time to Workout


It’s easy to get bogged down in the idea that you don’t have enough time to workout, and that you need an entire gym set up at your home to be able to have an effective workout. While having some tools around can help to keep your workouts interesting, there’s plenty we can do in just a short time to get our heart rate up and our fitness on point without even having to leave the house, or in some cases, even change clothes.

There are numerous studies that support the idea of faster, more intense bouts of exercise having the same if not greater effects on the body than longer duration workouts. Some of the sweet effects we can look forward to by taking on short, but intense workouts are:

  • Increases in cardiac muscle mass
  • Heart stroke volume
  • Disposal of metabolic wastes
  • Oxidative enzymes and efficiency
  • Left ventricle dilation and chamber volume
  • Carbohydrate sparing (thus greater use for fat as fuel)
  • Number of mitochondria (energy factory of cell)
  • Fat oxidation
  • Expression of fatigue-resistance slow twitch muscle fibers
  • Faster diffusion rates of oxygen and fuel into muscle (1)

Our lovely friends over in the sports sciences used to think that all of these adaptations only occurred with traditional longer duration/distance training, while it turns out that all these benefits can still be had without the need for crossing off hours of your day for training.

These workouts, in general, are known as HIIT workouts, named for their high intensity nature and the way that they utilize intervals, or a series of different motions repeated. Today, I’m going to introduce you to one of my favorites: Tabata. And no, it’s not some crazy seven minute workout. It’s four minutes.

Tabata: Your New Worst Friend


Perhaps one of the most famous interval training methods is known as the “Tabata.” Named for Dr. Izumi Tabata, who invented the protocol, it’s been used for quite some time to develop incredible fitness in a short amount of time.

The Tabata protocol is performed for a series of 8 rounds. Each round is 20 seconds of intense work, followed by only 10 seconds of rest. In total, the whole workout takes “only” four minutes. However, I’ve yet to meet a person that wants more after that four minutes is over.

Using the movement commonly known as mountain climbers as an example, the workout would look like this:

With a continuous running clock

  • 0:00 – 20 seconds of as many mountain climbers as possible
  • 0:20 – 10 seconds rest, the immediately, back to
  • 0:30 – 20 seconds of as many mountain climbers as possible
  • 0:50 – 10 seconds rest, the immediately, back to
  • 1:00 – 20 seconds of as many mountain climbers as possible
  • 1:20 – 10 seconds rest, the immediately, back to
  • 1:30 – 20 seconds of as many mountain climbers as possible
  • 1:50 – 10 seconds rest, the immediately, back to
  • 2:00 – 20 seconds of as many mountain climbers as possible
  • 0:20 – 10 seconds rest, the immediately, back to
  • 2:30 – 20 seconds of as many mountain climbers as possible
  • 2:50 – 10 seconds rest, the immediately, back to
  • 3:00 – 20 seconds of as many mountain climbers as possible
  • 3:20 – 10 seconds rest, the immediately, back to
  • 3:30 – 20 seconds of as many mountain climbers as possible
  • 3:50 – 10 seconds rest

I performed this workout, and JUST got 25 reps done in each 20 second interval, making my total 200 reps for the workout. I know what you’re thinking, “Am I really gonna feel like I got a workout in four minutes?” Yes, my friend, yes you are.

It’s About Intensity


What is key here, as with any shorter duration workout, is intensity. This level of intensity is going to feel the same, but result in a range of completed reps for different people. One person may be able to perform 25 mountain climbers in the allotted time, while another may only be able to do 10. as long as you are working as hard as possible during the work time, it’s all good. It’s about the effort!

While mountain climbers are fun to do for this workout, there are many other movements that we can make work, ranging from body part focused workouts like push-ups, pull-ups, or squats, to the more core exercise focus of sit-ups, or russian twists, all the way to a conditioning or calisthenics focus of jumping lunges, and, of course, burpees, just to name a few.

Whatever movement you choose, be ready to both put in an all out effort, and to possibly be sore. I’ve found that even when I feel in tip top shape, this sequence often leaves me feeling sore for the next few days.

A Word of Caution


Even though this looks like a great “little” workout, it is surprisingly intense. For those of you who are still new to fitness, or returning after some time away, you may want to lessen the workload a bit. You can even do a “half Tabata” if you want to and be done in two minutes! If you’re just starting out, two minutes of Tabata may feel like it’s a lot and it just may be! Take a nice long break and do another two minutes a little later, building up to the point where you can do the full four minutes all the way through.

As I mentioned above, Tabata is a little famous for making people sore. If you’ve been off the horse for while, be very careful about how you’re feeling during this workout. It’s completely okay to cut it down to three minutes, or even just two minutes the first time you do it! We want to challenge you, not make you so sore you can’t move! If you are at the level where you feel like you can push yourself, then by all means, crank it out as hard as you can for the full four minutes!

Watch Your Form


On another note, as you get tired, your form will tend to break down. Depending on how fatigued you are, and how much form breakdown you have, this may provide reason to stop early as well. Bad form plus attempting high intensity can lead to injuries, and even though there isn’t any weight listed in the above movement, we should always try to be aware of the quality of our movement. I have not yet experienced anyone who injured themselves doing Tabata with just their bodyweight, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen.

A Mental Challenge


This little four minutes can also be quite mentally challenging. When done with a nod to intensity, it can feel like the longest four minutes of your life! It can be just as taxing, if not more, on your mental game than on your body. Having the mental capacity to really push as hard as you can for the allotted 20 seconds can be a really hard task in rounds six, seven, and eight! If you stay focused and really push yourself, the results will speak for themselves!

Now get out there and give it a go. I know you have four minutes!