What is a Tabata Workout? And Can it Really Save Me Time?

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20 Minute at Home Tabata is an Easy Full Body Workout for a Busy ScheduleCan a Tabata workout really save me time? This was one of the first questions I had when I learned about high intensity workouts such as Tabata.

For over the past decade, the biggest drawback for me when it comes to exercising is not doing the physical work. Sure … running 6+ miles or sweating my butt off on a stair climber isn’t my idea of fun. However, once I get started, the exercising is not the hard part.

Outside of staying motivated, the biggest hurdle for me has always been the time commitment.

Working a full time job and having 3 young children doesn’t leave a lot of extra time in my day. After all of my commitments from job and family are added up, there isn’t much time left over for exercise.

Finding the Time to Workout

I could certainly make exercise more of a priority and sacrifice my sleep (which I am finding out is way too important). However, that would either require a pre 4:30 AM workout or starting sometime after 10:00 PM on most days. That is way more dedication than what I want to commit to at this point in my life.

For many years I tried to squeeze a workout in during my lunch hour at work. I purchased a local gym membership close to my office, but found myself stressing out trying to have enough time to get a good workout in.

By the time I would get to the gym, change into workout clothes, run on a treadmill for 20 minutes, shower, and get back to work – it really added up. Too much wasted and valuable time if I am being honest.

Then I was never satisfied with just 20 minutes on a treadmill – so I increased it to 30 minutes, then 40, and eventually almost 60 minutes. By the time I pushed up my cardio to 60 minutes a day – I began to feel burnt out and lost motivation to keep going.

At that point, exercise was no longer fun. It felt like a chore. Plus I was spending about an hour and a half each day working out!

I finally came to the conclusion that I needed to find a different way to workout.

Chronic Cardio Workouts

Working out on a treadmill at the gym is just one example of the long chronic cardio workouts that I used to believe in. I went through a running phase one summer (before I was married) where I ran 6+ miles a day! Talk about spending a bunch of time working out.

There are plenty more examples of long cardio workouts that I have wasted many hours on, but I have since changed how I exercise.

Since burning myself out at the gym, I have discovered a few things.

First of all, that type of chronic cardio training is actually not very good for you. It is a very inefficient form of exercise for the amount of time you spend.

People that over train by say, running everyday, actually do more harm than good. Your body needs rest in order to get stronger and faster. Check out this article on the problems with chronic cardio.

Second, interval training can provide a much better workout that focuses on your entire body in a lot less time compared to chronic cardio. High impact interval training can not only help one lose weight but is also great in building muscle – something I have started to focus on.

So when comparing the two different styles of workouts, high intensity interval training (HIIT) is very appealing to me. Not only can I save a ton of time, I have the opportunity to build muscle and work all parts of my body while not over train.

That is why I have transitioned to Tabata style routines as my “go to” workout.

What is Tabata?

So what exactly defines a Tabata workout? Generally, in less than 20 minutes you can get a awesome workout in that can totally rip your body.

The name Tabata comes from a researcher named Dr. Izumi Tabata. Tabata conducted several studies comparing long periods of cardio training versus short periods of high impact interval training.

The research concluded that the high impact training was much more effective and required a lot less time compared to longer periods of cardio. This type of training goes against the chronic cardio that I have always been use to.

So instead of running on a treadmill for 20, 40, or even 60 minutes at a slow to moderate pace, Tabata workouts are short, maxed out exercise focused on interval based training. This type of training is high intensity and is not recommended for those who are not in shape.

Tabata Cycle

A Tabata cycle consists of the following characteristics and can be preformed with a variety of different exercises.

  • 20 seconds of maximum output for the exercise of your choice
  • 10 seconds of rest
  • Repeat this pattern 8 times without pause for a total of 4 minutes

The end result of a Tabata cycle is a total of 4 minutes of exercise. During that time, 2 minutes 40 seconds will be exercise, while the other 1 minute 20 seconds will be rest.

Additional Tabata cycles can be added to your workout routine with different exercises that focus on various parts of your body.

One could add an additional Tabata cycle for a total of 8 straight minutes of working out. Or you could put together 4 different cycles for a total of 16 minutes.

The possibilities are endless for building a Tabata workout that fits your fitness level. It is also important to point out that the time spent exercising needs to be at your absolute max for best results.

Exercises and Benefits

Any high impact exercise will work with Tabata. Many popular exercises include – sprinting, burpees, squats, push ups, jump rope, cycling, crunches, mountain climbers, etc.

The possibilities for exercises and combinations are endless.

Note – It is a good idea to include a variety of exercises that focus on a large number of muscles to get maximum benefit. It is also a good idea not to over train with Tabata or HIIT workouts too. I try and limit my workouts to 4 days per week.

Short high intensity exercise has been proven to raise your metabolism and heart rate immediately. In combination with a proper diet (i.e. Paleo), Tabata exercises can be a great weight loss training program that focuses on building lean muscle.

The great thing about high intensity workouts like these is that your metabolism will be working for you full time while you are working out and later throughout the day!


I am very encouraged by the possible results I can get through high intensity workouts like Tabata. While the exercise may be difficult, I would trade off the time savings compared to running for 60 minutes straight.

I have dabbled in the past a little with other high impact training like T25 and INSANITY workouts. Despite their effectiveness, these workouts still take a good chunk of time (especially INSANITY).

I think developing a Tabata routine will be a nice complement to my current lifestyle.

Have you heard of Tabata? What exercises or training have you done following the Tabata plan? Have you seen results?


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