4-Minute Tabata Workout Ideas That Burn Serious Calories

Often when people are trying to lose weight, they tend to do two things: change their diet and spend hours on the treadmill at the gym. This type of approach usually follows a principle known as CICO – where you try to burn more calories than you consume. While clean eating is always a good idea, and cardio certainly does a body good, there may be a different sort of weight loss method that can help you torch calories in a minimal amount of time.

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If that sounds good to you, Tabata workouts may just be your thing.

Tabata Workout Basics

Developed by Japanese scientist Izumi Tabata, Tabata is a four-minute, high intensity workout designed to maximize your time spent in the gym. In Dr. Tabata’s research, athletes were divided into two groups. The first group trained at a moderate level of intensity, five days a week for an hour. The second group worked out at an extremely high level of intensity, but they only trained four days a week. And instead of training for a whole hour, their exercises only lasted about four minutes.

At the end of six weeks, both groups of athletes saw positive effects from their exercise. Both groups saw their VO2 max (a measure of the body’s ability to use and transport oxygen) increase, although the high intensity group saw a larger increase. VO2 max is related to one’s ability to keep endurance with relatively unchallenging exercises. However, only the high intensity group saw an improvement in their anaerobic capacity. Anaerobic capacity is crucial for high intensity, short lasting exercises like weight-lifting and sprinting.

The high intensity group only spent 120 minutes training over those six weeks. During this time, they experienced a 15% increase in their VO2 max and a 28% increase in their anaerobic capacity. Not bad, especially when you consider that the medium intensity group trained for 1,800 minutes, only saw a 10% increase in their VO2 max and had no change at all in their anaerobic capacity.

Tabatas For Weight Loss

Improving one’s VO2 max and anaerobic capacity are great in and of themselves, but a Tabata workout routine has many more benefits to boot, including helping with weight loss. A Tabata workout ramps up your metabolism, burning calories even long after your workout is over.

Another great thing about Tabata is that it’s easy to fit into a busy schedule. Adding hours of exercise into a hectic week can be daunting, but a fat-burning Tabata workout only takes four minutes (plus warm up and cool down). While you’ll undoubtedly wish to find more ways to exercise than just performing endless Tabatas, doing one is a great option on those busy days when you’re strapped for time.

Tabata Workouts

There are a variety of ways you can incorporate Tabata workouts into your life and reap the rewards. Here are just a few ideas; we’ve also got plenty of actual sample Tabata workouts for you to try. 

How it works is pretty straightforward: you give it your absolute max for 20 seconds, rest for 10 seconds, and repeat until 4 minutes are up. Sounds easy? You’d be surprised.

Work:  20 seconds
Rest: 10 seconds
Heart Rate: Above 100 per cent
Total Workout Time: 4 minutes


If you have a deserted stretch of road, some good shoes and a watch, you have enough to perform Tabata sprints. If you have a hill, even better. With Tabata sprints, you can get in a four-minute high intensity workout during your lunch hour and also have time to warm up, cool down, change, shower and eat lunch.

Bicycle Sprints

The exercise performed in Dr. Tabata’s original research was on an exercise bike, and there are a lot of reasons why it’s is a great option. On an exercise bike, you can really push yourself to your limits without worrying about your balance or surroundings (not to mention, your knees and joints, unlike with sprints). There are few exercises that burns more calories than going all-out on an stationary bike.

Jump Rope

If you have a jump rope, you can do Tabata without ever leaving the house. Simply go as fast as you can during your high intensity periods.


A full-body exercise burns more calories than an isolated move that only works one or two muscle groups. As such, Tabata burpees can be a powerful way to help you lose weight and get in shape faster.


If you have access to a pool, swimming Tabatas allow you to exercise without a lot of wear and tear on your joints. You can use whatever swimming stroke you’d like, but be aware of other swimmers and your surroundings as you swim. Bumping heads with another swimmer or crashing into a wall would definitely put a damper on your workout.

Get Creative

While these are some good options for Tabata workouts, they’re far from the only ones. Try using the Tabata pattern for exercises like push-ups, squats, jumping jacks, pull-ups and animal motions, too. While these may not all have the same effect as a Tabata workout performed with full-body motions, there are still a lot of benefits to be gained.