Walk into any boot camp-style class, and you’re likely to be hit with rounds of high-intensity interval training. And while there can be lots of variation, the principle is always the same: all-out effort followed by recovery.
But there’s one classic style worth adding to your repertoire if you haven’t already tried it: Tabata. This high-intensity interval training style was developed by Japanese professor Dr. Izumi Tabata in the late 1990s to train Olympic speed skaters.
Today, the training style can be applied to just about any move. The system is easy to remember: 20 seconds of work, 10 seconds of rest, and repeat.
The short rest intervals force your body to keep moving before it actually recovers from the previous set — and that’s part of the reason Tabata leads to significant aerobic and anaerobic gains.
But there’s a catch: You have to push yourself — really push yourself — all out. You won’t reap the strength and cardio benefits from leisurely going through the movements.
When performed correctly, Tabata has another benefit: the afterburn effect. That means you keep burning calories for hours after your quick workout has ended.
With that in mind, Tabata typically isn’t a good idea for workout novices. Because you’ll be trying to squeeze in as many reps as possible, you’ll be moving fast — which can be an easy way to get injured if you’re not careful.
This exercise strategy is more of a formula than a specific workout, so the possibilities of a Tabata protocol are nearly endless. Love bodyweight exercises? Do a set of push-ups. Are you outside? Perform a few sets of sprints.
Below, we’ve included some classic Tabata moves to get you started. After that, we’ve got some creative variations and a six-move workout courtesy of Amanda Young, a group fitness instructor at Equinox Fitness Club and Z Club NY.
- Kettlebell swing
- Dumbbell squat (or another squat variation of your choice)
1. Broad jump to fast feet
Stand with feet hip-width apart. Bend knees and send hips back, keeping chest lifted. Engage glutes and core, then jump forward with both feet, landing softly.
Lift onto your toes, keeping a soft bend in your knees and a slight hinge in your hips. Take small, quick steps backward to the starting position.
Make it easier: Step as far forward as you can instead of jumping, and then jog back slowly.
2. Jump squat
Stand with feet hip-width apart, toes parallel to one another. Engage glutes and core, then send hips back as you sink into a squat.
From the bottom of your squat, use all your strength to explode up, getting both feet off the floor. Land lightly on your toes and immediately sink into your next squat. Repeat.
Make it easier: Skip the jump and perform regular squats with perfect form as quickly as possible.
3. Lateral lunge to knee drive
Stand with feet hip-width apart and core engaged. Send hips back and take a wide step to the left with your left foot. Bend left leg and lower into a lateral lunge, keeping right leg straight.
Shift weight to right foot and push off your left, bringing left knee up to chest as you simultaneously jump up off right foot.
Swing arms naturally to help gain momentum and give you lift. Land lightly on right foot and repeat on the same side. On the next round, switch sides.
Make it easier: Skip the jump and simply raise your left knee to your chest.
4. Lunge chop
Start in a lunge position with right foot forward and left leg extended behind you with knee bent. Clasp hands in front of you and keep most of your weight on right foot.
Engage core and think about sending your weight down as you bend right knee and sweep hands across your body to the outside of right leg.
You should feel your abs engaged as you rotate. Jump up, switching legs in midair and lifting arms overhead. Land with left foot forward and immediately sink into a lunge, sweeping hands to the outside of left leg. Continue to alternate.
Make it easier: Instead of jumping to switch, push off your left foot to return to a neutral standing position. Lift both arms overhead and step your right foot backward.
5. Mountain climber to single leg push-up
Start in a high plank position. Quickly drive right knee to chest, then left knee to chest (performing a mountain climber).
Extend left leg. Without placing it on the floor, bend your arms and lower your chest into a push-up, lifting left leg higher than hip height.
Return to high plank position. Place left foot back on the floor and do a mountain climber starting with your left leg, so you end by doing a push-up with right leg lifted.
Make it easier: Place both feet on the floor for a push-up or do the push-up with your knees resting on the floor. You can also move more slowly during the mountain climber.
6. Squat thrust to frog jump
Stand with your feet just wider than shoulder width, toes turned out slightly. Engage glutes and send hips back, sitting into a low sumo squat. Place both hands on the floor as you jump your feet straight back, extending legs into a high plank.
Immediately jump forward into the low squat position with feet outside hands, hips low. Jump straight up in an explosive movement and extend arms overhead. Land lightly and repeat.
Make it easier: Instead of jumping back into a high plank, step one foot back at a time. Instead of jumping up, lift up onto your toes and stretch upward.
7. Skater to curtsy lunge
Start with feet together, keeping knees bent and a slight hinge in hips. Shift your weight onto right foot and leap laterally to the left as far as you can. Land softly on left foot. Repeat 2 more times, propelling back to the right side and then to the left.
On the third jump, allow right leg to land behind your left and lower into a curtsy squat. At the bottom of the squat, both knees will be bent and your left knee will be in front of your right. Repeat the same sequence starting to the left.
Make it easier: Instead of jumping, take as wide of a step as you can.
8. Russian twist
Sit on the floor with knees bent and feet together. Lift feet several inches off the floor, keeping knees bent. Lean back to help your balance, so your back is at a 45-degree angle from the floor.
Engage your core. With palms touching and arms extended in front of you, move arms from side to side in a twisting motion. Be careful to rotate only your upper body, engaging upper abs and obliques. Don’t put any pressure on your low back.
9. Plank with row
Start in a high plank position. Lift right hand off the floor and bring it up to your right side, keeping right elbow in line with ribs.
Place right hand back on the floor and immediately repeat on the other side. Continue to alternate as quickly as possible without hiking your hips or letting them drop.
Perform each move below, alternating 20 seconds of all-out effort with 10 seconds of rest. Repeat the same move for 8 rounds, for a total of 4 minutes.
Then perform the next move on the list, following the same directions. You should complete the entire list of moves in 24 minutes.
- Broad jump to fast feet (No. 1)
- Mountain climber to single leg push-up (No. 5)
- Lateral lunge to knee drive (No. 3)
- Lunge chop (No. 4)
- Squat thrust to frog jump (No. 6)
- Skater to curtsy lunge (No.7)
Special thanks to our model, Amanda Young, who also designed the moves and workout. Amanda wears a Lululemon top and pants.