How to Get Fit in as Little as 4 Minutes a Day

Written by Team Biotrust

Keys to Tabata Workouts

After years of trying to tell people they don’t have to “pound the pavement” for hours on end to get fit, high-intensity interval training, or HIIT for short, is gaining tremendous popularity. And for good reason: It works.

When it comes to burning fat, losing unsightly body fat, improving cardiorespiratory fitness, and optimizing cardiometabolic function, longer does not necessarily mean better. In fact, in the case of Tabata workouts, it’s possible to get fit in as little as four minutes a day.

Can you really get fit with as little as a four-minute workout? The unbelievable answer is: Yes, you really can get more with less.

What are Tabata Workouts?

The Tabata protocol is a popular form of HIIT developed by Dr. Izumi Tabata and his team at the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Tokyo almost two decades ago. It was initially developed to help the Japanese Olympic speed skating team improve endurance more efficiently. Fortunately for us, Tabata training has been adapted to fit just about anyone’s fitness level, and arguably everyone can benefit from its effectiveness.

Essentially, Tabata workouts consists of eight sets of 20 seconds of all-out effort with 10 seconds of rest between each bout. This cycle is repeated eight times to equal one Tabata. Altogether, these eight cycles add up to four total minutes of exercise—that’s right FOUR total minutes.

Easy enough, right?

Tabata is Tough

Simple But Not Easy

What a Tabata workout lacks in time it makes up for in intensity. In other words, the trade-off for efficiency is effort. The extraordinary effort required to correctly perform Tabata training results in improved aerobic and anaerobic conditioning, better cardiorespiratory fitness, improved metabolic function, and increased fat burning.

Dr. Tabata says, “If you feel okay after doing it, you’re not doing it right.” When he says that you must perform all-out effort for those 20 seconds, that’s exactly what he means. In order to reap the benefits from this form of HIIT training, it’s vital that you step out of your comfort zone. And, when you go outside your comfort zone, you’re also likely to break through previous weight loss plateaus by challenging your body.

How does Tabata work when it’s such a short workout? I mean, we’ve been told that we need 150 minutes or more per week for overall health and cardiorespiratory fitness. The answer lies in a little trick up Tabata’s sleeve called “EPOC.” EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption), which is commonly referred to as “afterburn,” refers to the extra calories you burn long after you finish your workout—up to 24 hours after exercise.

Tabata Workout Plans

The following workouts serve as good primers to get a feel for the intensity and power of the Tabata protocol. You will need a stopwatch or a Tabata app on your phone (my favorite is “Tabata WOD” on the Spotify app), which will act as your timer. As always, it’s best to check with your physician prior to embarking on any exercise program to ensure your health is appropriate for the workout intensity.

Kick-start Your Workout

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You’ll start with a 5-minute warm up. This will get your blood flowing and warm up your muscles so they are ready to go when you ramp up the intensity. Good warm-up exercises include a brisk walk on the treadmill or another form of light cardio, walking lunges, bodyweight squats, arm circles, side bends, and perhaps best of all, a brief run-through of the exercises you’re going to perform.

Beginner Tabata Workout—Variation #1

In this workout, you are doing the same exercise for all 8 cycles.

  • 5-Minute Warm Up
  • Cycling—Pedal as fast as you can for 20 seconds. After resting for 10 seconds, immediately engage in the next 20-second round. Repeat 8 times, and you’re done with your very first Tabata workout! If you’re using a bike at the gym, set the tension so that your RMPs are between 85 – 110.

Intermediate Tabata Workout—Variation #2

In this variation, you’ll perform Tabata workouts with four different exercises. You’ll do two sets of each exercise before moving on to the next for a total of eight sets.

  • 5-Minute Warm Up
  • Jumping Jacks—Perform as many jumping jacks as you can for 20 seconds and then rest for 10 seconds. Repeat for a total of two sets. Rest again for 10 seconds before progressing to the next exercise.
  • Bodyweight Squats—Perform for as many bodyweight squats as you can in 20 seconds and then rest for 10 seconds. Repeat for a total of two sets before progressing to the next exercise.
  • Bodyweight Lunges—Perform as many alternating lunges as you can in 20 seconds and then rest for 10 seconds. Repeat twice, rest for 10 seconds, then move on to the next exercise.
  • Push-ups—Perform as many push-ups as you can in 20 seconds then rest for 10 seconds. Repeat twice, and you’re done!

Advanced Tabata Workout—Variation #3

Lastly, try a different exercise for each of the 8 cycles. Perform each exercise for 20 seconds, making it as intense as you can. Then, rest for 10 seconds. Move on to the next exercise for 20 seconds, followed by 10 seconds of rest.

  • 5-Minute Warm Up
  • Jumping Jacks—Perform as many jumping jacks as you can in 20 seconds and then rest for 10 seconds. Progress to next exercise.
  • Jump Rope—Jump rope as many times as you can in 20 seconds and then rest for 10 seconds. Progress to next exercise.
  • Kettlebell Swings—Perform as many kettlebell swings as you can in 20 seconds and then rest for 10 seconds. Progress to next exercise.
  • Burpees—Perform as many burpees as you can in 20 seconds and then rest for 10 seconds. Progress to next exercise.
  • Jump Squat—Perform as many jump squats as you can in 20 seconds and then rest for 10 seconds. Progress to next exercise.
  • Push-ups—Perform as many push-ups as you can in 20 seconds and then rest for 10 seconds. Progress to next exercise.
  • Bodyweight Lunges—Perform as many alternating lunges as you can in 20 seconds and then rest for 10 seconds. Progress to next exercise.
  • Cycling—Pedal as hard as you can for 20 seconds…and you’re done!

As you can see, there are many ways to implement this form of HIIT. You can focus on a single exercise, only upper body exercises, just lower body work, a combination of the two, or you can even incorporate some weights into your routine. To make your Tabata workout routine even more challenging—and rewarding—try doing multiple rounds back-to-back. Here’s an example.

Advanced 20-Minute Tabata Workout

*This workout is for those who are already in very good cardiovascular condition.

  • 5-Minute Warm Up
  • Jumping Jacks—Perform jumping jacks for 20 seconds as fast as you can and then rest for 10 seconds. Repeat 8 times.
  • Bodyweight Squat—Perform as many squats as you can for 20 seconds and then rest for 10 seconds. Repeat 8 times.
  • Jump Rope—Jump rope for 20 seconds as fast as you can and then rest for 10 seconds. Repeat 8 times.
  • Kettlebell Swing—Perform kettlebell swings for 20 seconds as fast as you can and then rest for 10 seconds. Repeat 8 times.
  • Run in Place—Run in place as fast as you can tolerate for 20 seconds and then rest for 10 seconds. Repeat 8 times.

Breaking Through Weight Loss Plateau

Even More Benefits of Tabata Workouts

And, there’s more good news. Besides burning more fat and improving aerobic conditioning, some other benefits of Tabata workouts include:

  • • Improved insulin sensitivity
  • • Increased calorie-burning muscle
  • • Stress relief
  • • Logistics and convenience

Who doesn’t like efficient and effective? Now, you really don’t have any more excuses when it comes to fitting exercise into your busy schedule. Try something new with the Tabata protocol and get fit in as little as four minutes a day!

Bonus Fitness Tip:

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  • deltainny

    Need some exercise definitions, here. Not familiar with Bodyweight Squats or Lunges. Burpees, Jump Squats and Kettlebell Swings are not in my vocabulary, either.
    Thanks

    • Hi deltainny,

      I hope this finds you doing well!

      “Show me” are two of the most powerful words in coaching, and they are equally important when it comes to learning new movements and exercises. We’ll be happy to point you in the right direction.

      Body weight squats

      Alternating lunges

      Burpees (beginner)

      Burpees (intermediate)

      Burpees (advanced)

      Squat jumps

      Kettlebell swings

      Having said that, since it sounds like you’ve never performed these exercises before, it may be a good idea to hire a fitness professional (e.g., personal trainer, strength and conditioning coach) to assist you and help you become more familiar with the movements. Like any physical skill, these exercises require practice to master—to make sure that you’re performing them correctly, executing them efficiently, and of course, performing them safely. An exercise professional may also be able to help you “tweak” the exercises up or down based on your current fitness level.

      Of course, before beginning a new exercise routine, especially if you haven’t been working out regularly and/or have any health issues or concerns, we recommend that you consult with your physician.

      I hope this helps, deltainny. If there’s anything else that we can do, please don’t hesitate to let us know. Also, please keep us posted with your progress, and keep up the good work!

      Coach Tim

  • Tytraveler

    Thanks for the exercise program. It sounds similar to some of the exercise programs advertised on TV like INSANITY and similar other programs that are fast paced like BODY BEAST.

    • Cristina

      Hi Tytraveler. Great observation. While there are definitely some similarities, I would have to say that one of the differences in what one might consider traditional HIIT and the Insanity work-outs are the periods of work versus rest. Arguably you are unable to perform at your highest intensity if you are doing so for a longer duration of time, as opposed to short bursts, however in my
      opinion it is completely dependent on the individual.

      Depending on your activity level, Insanity (and programs like it) could be considered a very effective HIIT routine, and has the potential to be
      metabolically taxing.

      I have always said the best exercise for you as an individual is the one you will do. 🙂

  • Bud

    Sounds interesting,what are the 4 hormone foods we should never eat?

    • Hey Bud,

      I hope this finds you doing well! Thanks so much for stopping by; we’re glad that you found this article to be interesting. We encourage you to browse the blog, as there is a bunch of other content that we think you’ll enjoy and find useful in your health journey. Of course, if you have any specific questions or topics that you’d like for us to cover, please don’t hesitate to let us know.

      With regard to your current question, I believe that you may be referring to the following video:

      4 Hormone-Killing Foods to Never Eat

      Overall, the emphasis is placed on avoiding processed foods, which contribute to leptin resistance. Here are the four types of foods that are mentioned in the presentation:

      1. Fried foods, which contain industrial-produced trans fats, an ingredient that is not healthy in any amount;
      2. Wheat-based foods, which are made with highly refined flour;
      3. Corn, particularly high-fructose corn syrup; and
      4. Soy, particularly soybean oil.

      I hope that you find this helpful, Bud. Like I mentioned, if you have any additional questions or topics that you’d like to see us cover, please don’t hesitate to let us know. Keep up the good work!

      Coach Tim

      • Hank LeBlanc

        Hi Coach Tim
        I like Tytraveler, am currently completing the “INSANITY” program, eating very healthy (as many one ingredient foods as possible, along with portion control), eating 5-6 times a day to keep the metabolism up, and taking Bio Trust Leptiburn with Bio Trust Pro X10 in shipping to me right now. I’m really trying to lose weight, lose fat and after I trim up, start to build muscle. Is there anything I’m missing???

        • Hi Hank,

          It’s great to hear from you! Thanks so much for stopping by. Kudos to you for all the strides that you’re taking to achieve your health and fitness goals; it sounds like you’re on the right path.

          Are you just getting started with your plan, Hank? Or, have you been following this program for a while? In the case of the latter, how has it been working for you so far?

          In the case of the former, it may be a good idea to take some starting measurements. It would be ideal to do some body composition testing (i.e., body fat percentage); however, you can also get a good sense of progress by taking girth/circumference measurements (e.g., neck, chest, arms, waist, hips, thighs). Also, taking some progress photos (e.g., “before” and “after”) can also be very telling.

          Based on what you’ve shared, it sounds like you’re on the right track; you’re committed to eating better and you’re exercising regularly. In addition to healthy eating habits (e.g., eating mindfully, focusing on food quality, matching food quantity with needs, goals, body type, and activity levels) and regular physical activity (including both regular exercise and low-intensity varied daily movement), adequate hydration, stress management, purposeful rest and relaxation, plenty of high-quality sleep, a healthy physical and social environment (e.g., social support), and eliminating (or addressing) crucial limiting factors can all play important roles in optimizing health and body composition.

          That’s not to say that you have to address each of these right now. However, it’s simply to raise awareness that there are many factors involved in the journey. Speaking of awareness, that’s a big key to fat loss castle. Going back to one of my initial questions (“How’s that working for you?”), pay close attention to the things that are working and the things may not be. In other words, what are the good things that you’re doing that you can do more of? What are the not-so-good things that you can work on displacing with healthier habits?

          All that said, it sounds like you’re on the right track, Hank; way to go! Please feel free to share any additional information, and please keep us posted with your progress. We’ll be here for you every step of the way, my friend. Keep up the good work!

          Coach Tim

  • Rafal

    How often should I doing tabata?

    • Hi Rafal,

      Great question; thanks for sharing!

      Speaking generally, studies demonstrating overall health, cardiovascular, metabolic, and body composition benefits with high-intensity interval training, HIIT, (such as Tabata training) involve performing the exercise program three times per week (sometimes as little as twice a week). So, three times a week may be a good recommendation for folks who are doing this as their primary form of exercise.

      Having said that, this is typically the only exercise performed during the study duration. In other words, we’d have to evaluate what other types of exercise you’re already doing, if any at all, to make a more accurate recommendation for frequency. For instance, if you like to lift weight and/or perform aerobic exercise, the frequency of HIIT would likely be less.

      Of course, before beginning a new exercise program, especially if you haven’t been exercising regularly and/or have health issues or concerns, we suggest that you consult with your physician.

      I hope this is helpful, Rafal; please let us know if you have any additional questions. Keep up the great work!

      Coach Tim