Tabata: The Shortest, Most Effective Workout


In spring 2009, I was first introduced to this world-renowned workout called “tabata.” 

I was living in Greenville, South Carolina at the time, and happened upon a Crossfit gym across the street from my apartment. You know, the Reebok-sponsored sport redefining “functional physical preparedness training.”

Its popularity has grown like wildfire, spreading to the creation of thousands and thousands of affiliate gyms across the world.


As an athlete, I’d been missing the ability to compete on a court… or field… or gym. THIS was the answer for me at the time.


Bring on the down-to-earth feel of working out in a warehouse, the challenging Olympic lifts, kettlebell movements, and my first real pull-up! Better yet, bring on the ability to race against my gym mates and the clock.


I’ll never forget my first introduction to one of the shortest and BEST methods of working out, though; the infamous 4-minute “tabata” (pronounced “ta-ba-ta”).

It was love at first workout, and regardless of where I’ve lived in the world since, I take this method with me wherever we go.

The “Tabata Protocol” Explained

Professor Tabata Source:

Professor Tabata

The epic “Tabata Protocol” was developed by the head coach of the Japanese speed skating team, Mr. Irisawa Koichi.

He created a training technique involving exercise in short bursts of high intensity followed by short periods of rest. To validate the effectiveness of this routine, Coach Koichi asked the team’s head trainer at the time, Izumi Tabata, to research the efficacy of this routine consisting of:

– 20 seconds of exercise (maximum intensity)
– 10 seconds of rest
– 8 rounds for a total of 4 minutes

Tabata’s research confirmed that, indeed, this was a revolutionary way of training. In one of his paper’s he contributed to, “Metabolic Profile of High Intensity Intermittent Exercises, which has been cited over 100 times in academic journals and referenced in popular textbooks, shows that:

“[it]…may tax both the anaerobic and aerobic energy releasing systems almost maximally” (Tabata, et. al, 1997).

You see, prior to the Tabata protocol, there were two types of known exercise: Low-intersity exercise for longer periods of time to improve endurance, and short, more intense exercises to improve anaerobic capacity (power, speed, strength).

The Tabata Protocol draws on the advantages of BOTH types of exercise (Interview, 2013)!

Another of Tabata’s studies proves that longer, moderate intensity exercise does not impact both aerobic and anaerobic capacity like the shorter, more intense bursts of the 4-minute Tabata Protocol (Tabata, et. al, 1996).

Translation? You can train BOTH your endurance and your muscles in just 4 minutes, and make greater metabolic gains than doing 60 minutes of moderate intensity endurance exercise.


Talk about an incredibly effective way of training for ALL athletes; not just speed skaters. But, the benefits of this kind of exercise reach far beyond with implications for the general public, too. Tabata and his colleagues have also found that “… in diabetic patients this kind of training increases glucotransporter 4 and glucose metabolism” (Interview, 2013).

Using the Tabata Protocol

Alright, now that I’ve got you amped up to do a tabata, here’s a disclaimer: Check with your doctor before changing your workout routine.


The minimum requirement is your body weight and a timer! Here are some timer options:

  • Online: If you’re working out at home, you can use this online timer.
  • Gymboss Timer: This compact interval timer can be programmed for any and all types of intervals.
  • Phone App: I use the free Tabata Timer App on my iPhone. It beeps at you for the start and end of each 20-second interval.

The Workout

Please know that this kind of high intensity exercise can be exhausting (but exhilarating!). If you’re a beginner, start at a low intensity and stay in your comfort zone. As strength increases, you can increase intensity little by little.

A) Warm-Up: Start with a warm-up for 5-10 minutes by walking, jogging, or doing plyometric-type movements. Pre-performance stretching doesn’t do a body good. 

B) Tabata Exercises: These can be done in the gym, in the park, or at home. Typically, I choose 4 – 5 different exercises, and perform a full Tabata Protocol with each (20 seconds at high intensity + 10 seconds of rest + 8 rounds = 4 minutes) with a bit of rest in between (1 – 2 minutes maximum).

However, if you’re a beginner, start with one round of tabata, and take ample rest in between as you work your way up to more rounds!

For example, today, I did 5 tabata exercises in a local park.

Outdoor-Fitnesspark in Braunschweig, Germany!

Outdoor-Fitnesspark in Braunschweig, Germany!

Each exercise below shows the FIRST 20-second interval of my routine. I then followed with the remaining 7 rounds of the Tabata Protocol.

NOTE: Please excuse the self-made videos. I’m also 18.5 weeks pregnant… hence the bump and slightly altered intensity! :)

1) Jumping Pull-Ups 

Not pictured. Find a pull-up bar that is within reach. Jump and pull your chin above the bar. Repeat as fast as possible until the 20 seconds is up.

2) Body Weight Squats

3) Plank Up-Downs (a variation of the push-up)

4) Lunges 

5) Tricep Dips

With breaks in between, the whole workout took me less than 30 minutes! However, if you’re in a time crunch, remember that even ONE round – 4 minutes – has a maximum return on investment. :)


Your turn! Have you ever done a tabata workout? If so, what are your favorite movements?


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Tabata, I, Nishimura, K, Kouzaki, M, Hirai, Y, Ogita, F, Miyachi, M, Yamamoto, K. (1996). Effects of moderate-intensity endurance and high-intensity intermittent training on anaerobic capacity and ·VO2max. Medicine in Science Sports Exercise. Issue: Volume 28(10), October 1996, pp 1327-1330.

Interview with the Founder of the World-Renowned Tabata Protocol. (2013). Ritsumeikan University.

Tabata, I, Irisawa, K, Kouzaki, M, Nishimura, K, Ogita, F, Miyachi, M. (1997). Metabolic Profile of High Intensity Intermittent Exercises. Med Sci Sports Exerc. Mar;29(3):390-5.


Note: Jules’ Fuel uses affiliate links in some blog posts. If you make a purchase using one of these links, which costs the same either way, it’s a very, very small way to help me cover the cost of running this website. So, thanks!

11 responses on “Tabata: The Shortest, Most Effective Workout

  1. As usual, a great post. But I am old, and confused. Would you do each of your 5 exercises once with a 10 second break in between, and then repeat the 5 exercises until your 30 minutes is up?? Or, do you repeat an exercise 5 or 6 times before moving on to the next, and so on. Sorry to be so dense.


    • Hi Dan! I apologize for the confusion. I started with Tabata squats, where I completed 20 seconds of intense squatting, followed by 10 seconds of rest, and another 7 rounds. I then moved onto the next full Tabata with dips (8 rounds), and so on and so on. Does that answer your question? :)

      • Yes, thank you. Sorry for being so dense. Hope the pregnancy is going well. Have you chosen names yet?

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  6. Hi, I practise Muay Thai three times a week (or I try, these past couple of weeks I’ve missed many classes). As I said I sometimes miss classes (sometimes whole weeks) because of college, moving and other complications. Because of my erratic lifestyle (sometimes not sleeping at proper times, or lengths, etc.) I don’t get to work out. I’m looking into the tabata work out to maximise the amount of time in the rest of my day, and I think it’s awesome. I do have a question, though: Won’t doing only *these* exercises become counter-productive at a certain point? You’re not working your core (abdominal and back muscles), and doing minimal work for the hamstring muscle, no?

    Are there, any certain abs or back muscles exercises that you’d consider “best” for this workout, or just doing 8 rounds of crunches, sit ups or leg raises is ok?

    • Hi there! The nice thing about tabata is that you can choose ANY exercise to train any part of your body, and just do that exercise within the tabata interval (20 seconds on, 10 seconds rest x 8 rounds). Though the exercise examples I showed do work the core, you can choose more targeted exercises like super mans, back bridges, plank holds, etc. to achieve the results you’re looking for. Have fun with it and vary the exercises to keep it interesting!

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