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Four Minutes to a Fabulous Physique

If you’re a “get in, get out, get on with your life” kind of girl, then Tabatas should be on your workout radar. Because in only four minutes you can become leaner, stronger and fitter than you thought possible. 

Sounds like a dubious infomercial promise, but this protocol has some serious scientific credibility — it was created by Izumi Tabata, a professor and researcher at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto, Japan, to train Olympic speed-skaters in his country. The idea is to work as hard as you can for 20 seconds, then rest and recover for 10 seconds. Repeat that sequence for a total of eight rounds, which should come to four minutes total. Professor Tabata found that participants in one six-week study increased their anaerobic capacity by 28 percent and their VO2 max and aerobic power by 15 percent. 

How does this happen in only four minutes? Because when you’re forcing your body to work at full capacity without full recovery, it responds by increasing its oxygen uptake. This translates into increased aerobic and
anaerobic capacity and an improvement in VO2 max over time. As a side benefit, Tabatas incinerate more calories than a regular 60-minute aerobic workout, both during the workout and in the 12 hours following. This makes it appealing not only to sports enthusiasts but also to regular gym-goers looking for a new way to burn body fat.

Though the Tabata protocol is most readily applicable to cardio movements, you can make a Tabata out of anything — resistance training, plyometrics, bodyweight moves — so long as you literally go all-out as hard as you can for those brief-but-brutal 20 seconds. This ensures that you go into oxygen debt and create a fat-burning environment for your body for the remainder of the day.

You can do Tabatas up to four times a week if you’re an experienced exerciser or one to two times a week if you’re a novice. Beginners should shoot for two to four rounds to start, building up as endurance and strength improves. But each time you do Tabatas, you should only be able to perform one round; if you’re doing more than one, you’re not doing it correctly. Besides, who has another four minutes to spare in their busy day? Sheesh.


Give one of these workouts a try. Warm up thoroughly for five to 10 minutes with dynamic stretches and bodyweight movements like air squats, push-ups and crunches to prepare your body to work. Then begin your Tabatas. Remember: Go full tilt during that 20-second burst to get the maximum benefits of the protocol. Afterward, cool down for five to 10 minutes and stretch or foam-roll for recovery.

Core Killer
Alternate between:

  • Mountain Climbers
  • Crunches 

Do each activity twice, in order:

  • Sprints
  • Jump Rope
  • High Knees
  • Burpees

Strong and Sexy
Do each activity twice, in order:

  • Squats
  • Push-Ups
  • Crunches
  • Pull-Ups

Tabata 4
Plyo Power-Up
Do two rounds of: 

  • Jump Squats
  • Switch Lunges
  • Speedskaters
  • Tuck Jumps