10 Tabata Workouts

Lack of time is one of the most common barriers to training. Whenever time is short, the first casualty is often your workout. If you miss more than a few workouts, your progress will soon grind to a halt. It doesn’t matter if you are trying to build muscle, burn fat, or get fit; consistency is the key!

Thankfully, you don’t HAVE to spend hours in the gym to reach your training goals. High-Intensity Training (HIT) workouts take as little as 20-30 minutes, and circuit training and intervals can help you burn fat and improve cardiovascular fitness in record-breaking time.

But, if you’re REALLY short of time, you should try Tabata training.

Tabata training was invented by Japanese sports scientist Izumi Tabata. In simple terms, Tabatas are a form of interval training where you train hard for 20 seconds, rest ten seconds, and repeat for eight sets. A Tabata workout can take as little as four minutes, although you still need to allow some time for warming up and cooling down.

Originally designed to train Olympic speed skaters, Tabata training has since been adopted by athletes all around the world and has proven to be an effective way to burn calories, burn fat, and even build muscle (1).

Tabatas are perfect for those days when you don’t have much time to train, but they can also be used simply to add some variety to your regular, longer workouts. Tabatas can easily be incorporated into other styles of training, including bodybuilding.   

To illustrate just how versatile this training method is, we’ve put together 10 of our favorite Tabata workouts.

Top 10 Tabata Workouts

Tabata workouts are intense, so make sure you prepare your body for what you are about to do by warming up properly. Do 5-10 minutes of light cardio, e.g., rowing, jogging, or jumping rope, and then a few dynamic mobility and flexibility exercises for the joints you are about to train. Finally, do some easy reps of the main exercises in your workout.

1. Single Cardio Tabata

Rowing Exercise

When Dr. Tabata invented his training system, he applied it to just one exercise – stationary cycling. Over in just four minutes, a single Tabata will be more than enough for most people. You don’t have to use a stationary bike if you don’t have one – any form of cardio will suffice. Good options include:

Using your chosen exercise modality, go as fast as you can for 20 seconds, slow down (but don’t stop completely) for 10 seconds, and repeat eight times.

A single cardio-based Tabata is an excellent way to improve your cardiovascular fitness and burn fat. It’s especially useful if you hate doing long, slow-paced cardio workouts or simply don’t have the time to jog or cycle for 30 minutes.

We don’t recommend doing Tabata intervals on a treadmill; jumping on and off a fast-moving treadmill is risky, and most don’t speed up and slow down quickly enough for Tabatas to be effective. If you want to run for your Tabata workout, you should head outside and do some real running.  

2. Tabata Upper Body Bodyweight Workout

Power Tower Workout

How long do you spend training your upper body? An hour 2-3 times a week? Let’s cut that down to just 12 minutes! All you need is a timer and a power tower so you can do chin-ups and dips.

Between them, chin-ups and dips work all of your major upper body muscles, including your pecs, lats, deltoids, biceps, and triceps.

For this workout, alternate between chin-ups and dips, doing 20 seconds of each. Continue until you have done four sets of each exercise and eight in total.

If chin-ups and dips are too challenging, do inverted rows and push-ups instead. These easier exercises work the same muscles, so you’ll still be able to train your entire upper body in just four minutes.

Repeat this workout three times a week (e.g., Monday, Wednesday, and Friday) to build muscle and strength in just 12 minutes.

3. Tabata Compound Killer Workout

Burpees

For this Tabata workout, simply choose one challenging compound exercise that involves large muscle groups and, preferably, your lower body. Keeping your muscles supplied with oxygenated blood will cause a significant increase in heart and breathing rate, which will burn a lot of calories and improve your fitness despite not using any cardio equipment.

Good options include:

4. Tabata Sleeve Filler Workout

Triceps Cable Pushdowns

Whether you are short on time or just want to end your next arm workout on a high, this is the workout for you! Working both your biceps and triceps, this four-minute arm killer will deliver a skin splitting pump in four minutes flat.

Set up a pulley machine, so you’ve got a handle attached to both the high and the low pulleys. Use a straight, V-shaped, or rope handle at the top and an EZ or straight bar at the bottom.

Starting with the uppermost handle, do 20 seconds of triceps pushdowns. Use your 10-seconds rest to pick up the lower handle, and then do 20 seconds of cable biceps curls. Alternate between exercises until you’ve done four sets of each.

5. Tabata Total Core Workout

While a lot of people LOVE training their abs, some people find it a chore. This workout takes just under five minutes but hits your midsection from multiple angles. If you want six-pack or washboard abs, you may benefit from a longer, more complete abs program, but if you are in a rush, this workout should help.

Follow this sequence – you’ll be doing three sets of 20 seconds of each exercise and nine sets in total, which is one more than usual.  

  1. Cable woodchop (left)
  2. Cable woodchop (right)
  3. Kneeling cable crunch
  4. Cable woodchop (left)
  5. Cable woodchop (right)
  6. Kneeling cable crunch
  7. Cable woodchop (left)
  8. Cable woodchop (right)
  9. Kneeling cable crunch

6. Tabata Single kettlebell Lower Body Workout

Kettlebell Swings

All you need for this leg workout is a single kettlebell. Combine this program with Tabata #2 for a full-body workout in under ten minutes.

Do a 20-second set of kettlebell goblet squats, rest ten seconds, and then do a set of kettlebell swings using the same weight. Alternate between these two exercises until you’ve done each one four times to total eight sets.

7. Tabata Push-Pull-Legs Full Body Workout

Push-Pull-Legs Routine

Push-pull-leg workouts are very popular with bodybuilders. This workout uses the same structure but compresses it into a little over four minutes.

Simple choose one exercise from each of the categories below and then position yourself so that you are very close to each one. Remember, you only have ten seconds to get from one exercise to the next.

Push:Push-ups, barbell bench press, dips, chest press machine, dumbbell bench press, Smith machine bench press, overhead barbell press, dumbbell overhead press, or shoulder press machine.

Pull:Pull-ups, chin-ups, inverted rows, bent over barbell row, seated cable row, lat pulldown, assisted pull-up, or chin-up.

Legs:Back squat, front squat, goblet squat, Zercher squat, leg press, hack squat, alternating lunges, box jumps, or step-ups.  

Once you’ve selected your exercises, follow this sequence, doing 20-seconds of each. Do three or four sets of each exercise as preferred.

  1. Push exercise
  2. Pull exercise
  3. Leg exercise
  4. Push exercise
  5. Pull exercise
  6. Leg exercise
  7. Push exercise
  8. Pull exercise
  9. Leg exercise
  10. Push exercise – optional
  11. Pull exercise – optional
  12. Leg exercise – optional

8. Tabata Bodyweight-Only Workout

Diamond Push Ups

Stuck at home with no workout equipment to use? No problem; you can still have a great workout using nothing but your body weight for resistance. You probably won’t build a lot of muscle doing this workout, but it will undoubtedly burn plenty of calories, improve your fitness, and develop muscular endurance.

Do 20 seconds of each exercise, resting ten seconds between each one, and do four laps in total to make eight minutes.

  1. Squat jumps
  2. Push-ups
  3. Prisoner squats (hands behind your head)
  4. Flutter kicks

9. Tabata One Barbell Full-Body Workout  

Barbell Front Squats

The secret to this workout is choosing a weight that you can use on all four exercises. Feel free to use different exercises if preferred, but make sure you swap like for like. Doing back squats instead of front squats is acceptable, whereas doing biceps curls instead of squats is not. Stay true to the spirit of the workout.

Do 20 seconds of each exercise, resting ten seconds between each one, and do four laps in total to make eight minutes.

  1. Front squats
  2. Bent-over rows
  3. Overhead press
  4. Romanian deadlifts

10. Tabata Thigh Thrasher Workout

Leg Extensions

Finished doing squats and deadlifts? Good! Bring your next leg workout to an end with our Tabata Thigh Thrasher workout. This simple but painful superset is a great way to get a pump and make sure that every muscle fiber in your quads and hamstrings is thoroughly stimulated.

For this workout, do 20 seconds of leg extensions, rest 10 seconds, and then do 20 seconds of leg curls. Alternate between exercises until you you’ve done four sets of each and eight sets in total.

Bonus Workout!

Bodyweight Squats

We hope this article has reawakened your interest in Tabatas and that you’re going to incorporate this time-efficient training method into your next workout. But why wait when you can do this bonus workout right now!

Stand up and place your feet shoulder-width apart, toes turned slightly outward. Start your timer and pump out 20-seconds of bodyweight squats. When your timer beeps, stay in the down position and wait for 10-seconds. Basically, you’re resting in the bottom position of your squat.

Repeat this sequence seven more times to total eight sets. And yes, that burning in your thighs is entirely normal!

Wrapping Up

Forget gold and diamonds; time is the most valuable commodity. It’s something you can’t make more of, and that is often in short supply. Don’t skip your workouts just because you are low on time!

Tabatas can help keep your training on track even when you have no time to train. Taking between four to eight minutes, our top ten Tabata workouts will help you burn fat, get fit, and build muscle. Each one is tried, tested, and certified to work.

Tabata training ISN’T easy; these workouts are going to hurt! But, if you want to spend minutes instead of hours training, that’s the price you’ve got to pay.

References:

1. PubMed: Exercise Intensity and Energy Expenditure of a Tabata Workout https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3772611/