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 tried it already: Tabata. The high-intensity interval training style was developed by Japanese professor Dr. Izumi Tabata to train Olympic speed skaters in the late 1990s. Today, the training style is applied to just about any move.
The system is easy to remember: 20 seconds of work, followed by 10 seconds of rest, and repeat. The short rest intervals force the body to keep moving before it actually recovers from the previous set—and that's part of the reason why Tabata leads to significant aerobic and anaerobic gains. Effects of moderate-intensity endurance and high-intensity intermittent training on anaerobic capacity and VO2max. Tabata I, Nishimura K, Kouzaki M. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 1997, Feb.;28(10):0195-9131. But there's a catch: You have to push yourself—really push yourself all out. Metabolic profile of high intensity intermittent exercises. Tabata I, Irisawa K, Kouzaki M. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 1997, May.;29(3):0195-9131. You won't reap the strength and cardio benefits from leisurely going through the movements. But when performed correctly, there's another benefit: the afterburn effect. That means you keep burning calories for hours after your quick workout has ended. A 45-minute vigorous exercise bout increases metabolic rate for 14 hours. Knab AM, Shanely RA, Corbin KD. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 2012, Mar.;43(9):1530-0315. Postexercise oxygen consumption in trained females: effect of exercise duration. Quinn TJ, Vroman NB, Kertzer R. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 1994, Nov.;26(7):0195-9131.
With that in mind, Tabata typically isn't a good idea for workout novices. Because you will 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.
Your Action Plan
Because this exercise strategy is more of a formula than a specific workout, the possibilities of a Tabata protocol are nearly endless. Love bodyweight exercises? Do a set of push-ups. Outside? Perform sets of sprints.
Classic Tabata Moves
New Tabata Moves
1. Broad Jump to Fast Feet
Stand with feet hip-width apart. Bend your knees and send hips back, but keep chest lifted. Engaging your glutes and core, jump forward with both feet, landing softly. Lift onto your toes, and keeping a soft bend to your knees and a slight hinge to your hips, take small, quick steps backward to your starting position.
Make it easier: Step as far forward as you can instead of jumping and jog back slowly.
2. Jump Squat
Stand with feet hip-width apart, toes parallel to one another. Engage your glutes and core, and send your hips back as you sink into a squat. From the bottom of your squat, use all of your strength to explode up, getting both feet off the ground. Land lightly on your toes, and immediately sink into your next squat. Repeat.
Make it easier: Skip the jump, and perform bodyweight squats with perfect form as quickly as possible.
3. Lateral Lunge to Knee Drive
Standing with feet hip-width apart and with 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 the right foot and push off your left, bringing the left knee up to your chest as you simultaneously jump up off your right foot. Swing your arms naturally to help gain momentum and give you lift. Land lightly on your 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, left leg extended behind you with a bent knee. Clasp hands in front of you, and keeping much of your weight in your right foot, engage your core, and think about sending your weight down as you bend your right knee and sweep hands across your body to the outside of your right leg. You should feel your abs engaged as you rotate. Jump up, switching legs mid-air and lifting arms overhead. Land with the left foot forward, and immediately sink into a lunge, sweeping hands to the outside of the left leg. Continue to alternate.
Make it easier: Instead of jumping to switch, push off left foot to return to a neutral standing position, lift both arms overhead, and step the right foot backward.
5. Mountain Climber to Single Leg Push-Up
Start in a high plank position. Quickly drive your right knee to your chest, then your left knee to your chest (performing a mountain climber). Now, extend your left leg, and without placing it on the ground, bend your arms and lower your chest into a push-up, lifting your left leg up higher than hip height. Return to high plank position, place left foot back on the ground, and repeat a mountain climber starting with the left leg, so that you end doing a push-up with the right leg lifted.
Make it easier: Place both feet on ground for push-up or complete your push-up by dropping to your knees. You can also move slower during the mountain climber.
6. Squat Thrust to Frog Jump
Stand with feet just wider than shoulder width, toes turned slightly out. Engage glutes and send hips back, sitting into low sumo squat. Place both hands on the ground as you jump feet straight back, extending legs into a high plank. Immediately jump forward into the low squat position with feet outside hands, hips low to the ground. Now explode up, jumping straight up and extending arms fully overhead. Land lightly and repeat.
Make it easier: Instead of jumping back into a high plank, step feet back one at a time. Or instead of jumping up, raise up onto your toes and stretch upward.
7. Skater to Curtsy Lunge
Start with feet together, knees bent, and slightly hinged at the hips. Shift weight slightly into your right foot and leap laterally to the left as far as you can. Land softly on your left foot. Repeat 2 more times, propelling back to the right side and then again to the left. On the third jump, allow your right leg to land behind the left, and lower into a curtsy squat. At the bottom of your 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: Take as wide of a step as you can (instead of jumping).
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 balance, so your back is at a 45-degree angle from the ground. Engage your core to help balance, and with hands together, move your arms from one side to the other in a twisting motion. Be careful to only rotate the upper body, engaging your upper abs and obliques and not putting any pressure on your low back.
9. Plank With a Row
Start in a high plank position. Lift right hand off the ground and bring up to your right side, keeping your right elbow in line with your ribs. Place right hand back on the ground, 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. Continue to repeat the same move for 8 rounds, 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
- Mountain Climber to Single Leg Push-Up
- Lateral Lunge to Knee Drive
- Lunge Chop
- Squat Thrust to Frog Jump
- Skater to Curtsy Lunge
Originally published April 2013. Updated January 2016.