Get Your Tabata On

As a Health Coach, two of the biggest barriers to exercise that I hear about from participants are not having the time to exercise and a lack of knowledge about how to exercise and move their bodies effectively.

As someone who also juggles a busy schedule, I know that it can take much more than just an hour to actually get a “one hour workout” in. From planning the rest of your schedule around your workout to packing a gym bag to actually getting in and out of the gym, time can truly be a huge barrier in an already jam-packed day. Then there are other barriers, like not knowing what equipment to use or who to ask about using them properly.

As a group fitness instructor and personal trainer, one of my favorite styles of exercise to teach is Tabata-style training. Tabata is terrific for those of us with busy schedules who still want an effective workout, as it is high-intensity yet doesn’t take a ton of time. Plus, you can “tabata” any exercise, so if you can’t get to a facility or class you can choose bodyweight exercises that can be done anywhere, including your living room!


A Short History of Tabata Training

Tabata training was created by Japanese scientist Dr. Izumi Tabata and a team of researchers from the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Tokyo. His team studied two groups of athletes using different exercise protocols:

– One group that exercised at a moderate intensity level for one hour, 5 times a week
– One group that exercised at high intensity levels for 8 rounds of 20 seconds (with 10 seconds rest in between), 4 times a week

After six weeks, they found that the moderate intensity group improved their aerobic (cardiovascular) system, but showed little change to their anaerobic (muscular) system. In comparison, the high intensity group saw improvements in not only their aerobic system, but also a 28% increase in their anaerobic strength. From this, the Tabata style of training has become popular, as it packs a great exercise punch into a short amount of time.


An Example of a Tabata Workout

Each exercise in a Tabata workout lasts only four minutes and consists of eight total rounds of working hard for 20 seconds, followed by 10 seconds of rest. For example, a 20-minute Tabata workout could consist of:

– Squats
– Planks
– Glute Bridge Raises
– Pushups (bent-knee or straight leg)
– Supermans

Starting with the first exercise, you would do 20 seconds of squats followed by a rest of 10 seconds, which you would then repeat eight times total. Once you complete the entire set of squats, you would rest for one minute and then move on to the remaining four exercises, repeating the sequence of 20 seconds on 10 seconds off for each one, followed by a period of rest.


Create Your Own Tabata

The beauty of Tabata is that you can pick and choose which exercises you would like to focus on for your workout. If you would like to work on your legs and improve your cardiovascular system, you can choose four (or more) exercises that focus on legs and cardio activity. If you would like to focus on your abdominals and arms, you can choose exercises that focus on these areas. You can also play with the intensity of the exercises, depending on your fitness goals or workout needs. In the example Tabata workout, the squats could be done slow or fast (as jump squats) and the planks could be held stationary or turned into plank jacks or mountain climbers.

If you’re unsure of what exercises to choose from for your own bodyweight Tabata workout, check out Omada’s Strength Training 101 blog posts for Upper Body and Lower Body, which have plenty of bodyweight and equipment-based exercises, as well as modifications and progressions to tweak the workout to your current fitness levels.


Changing Up Your Tabata

There are several ways to get creative with your Tabata workout by changing up the exercises and/or timing within the same round of Tabata. If you find it challenging to do the same thing for eight total rounds, you can select two exercises to alternate between within the same round. As an example, if you chose squats and pushups, you would start with squats for 20 seconds, rest for 10 seconds, and then do pushups for 20 seconds, rest for 10 seconds, and then start again with squats. Doing it this way has you performing each exercise a total of four rounds.

Another way to increase the intensity of your Tabata workout is to use the 10 seconds as an “active rest”, meaning you are still doing some movement or muscular work for those 10 seconds. One example would be to choose squats as your exercise and perform them normally for 20 seconds, but instead of resting for 10 seconds, you would either pulse in a low squat position or isometrically hold your squat, then begin moving again for the next round of 20 seconds. This could be done similarly with pushups as your exercise, performing them for 20 seconds and then holding a plank for 10 seconds in between your eight 20-second rounds.

These small changes allow you a variety of ways to workout at the gym, at home, in a park with minimal equipment, or wherever you choose in less time than a standard hour-long workout. The more creative you can get with your workouts the better, as we keep our bodies guessing and don’t have to be bored with the same old routine.

Happy Tabata-ing!


Additional Tabata Resources

*Tabata Style Workouts:
Tabata for Beginners
11 Butt-Kicking Tabata Exercises

*Bodyweight exercise ideas that could be used in a Tabata-style format:
50 Bodyweight Exercises You Can Do Anywhere
Cardio Bodyweight Exercises


Melissa is a Digital Health Coach who currently resides in Rochester Hills, MI. She holds a Master’s Degree in Kinesiology, a Bachelor’s Degree in Movement Science, and is a certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), Group Fitness Instructor (AFAA), and Registered Yoga Instructor (RYT-200). In her spare time, she enjoys teaching fitness classes, training for running events, and traveling around the states to visit friends and see new places.