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What is Tabata? The effective workout you do in 20 minutes or less

Tabata exercises can improve heart health, build strength and burn fat. Try it with these 4-minute Tabata training workout routines.
TODAY Illustration / Courtesy of Stephanie Mansour

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As high intensity interval training (or HIIT) has grown in popularity, Tabata workouts have also become a staple for many.

Tabata workouts are popular because they can be performed with just your body weight in a short amount of time. That makes Tabata ideal for people who are short on time but want to get in a killer workout. Tabata can also help you improve your cardio endurance and your aerobic fitness, according to research

The concept behind the workout is pretty straightforward, but Tabata can seem intimidating if you don’t know what it is. Here's everything you need to know about Tabata and exercises to try at home.

What is Tabata?

Tabata is a type of HIIT workout with timed intervals and short recovery times. "Tabata” is named after a Japanese speed skating coach whose last name is Tabata. He designed the workout to improve cardiovascular fitness and build muscular strength. In other words, Tabata isn't an acronym, it's a style of exercise named after the person who created it.

What is a Tabata workout?

In a traditional Tabata workout, you will perform an exercise at max intensity for 20 seconds and then rest for 10 seconds. This repeats 8 times for a total of four minutes. If you're running, for example, you would sprint for 20 seconds and then walk or stop for 10 seconds.

Similar to other types of HIIT workouts, Tabata focuses on moving fast for a short duration in order to perform at an all-time high before recovering. But Tabata can be even more intense and exhausting because you’re going all out and doing as many reps or going as hard as you can for a specified amount of time.

Tabata vs. HIIT

Technically, Tabata is a kind of HIIT workout. But Tabata can be more intense than typical HIIT workouts because doing 20 seconds of high intensity followed by 10 seconds of rest is harder than the longer — but lower exertion — segments in traditional HIIT workouts. Traditional HIIT workouts also allow more rest time and don’t require full out effort during the high-intensity bursts.

Tabata workout benefits

Doing Tabata workouts consistently can help you build lean muscle mass and boost your metabolism, which may help with weight loss. It’s also a great workout for people who get bored easily, because it will keep you on your toes — literally — as you move from one exercise to the next. 

Recent studies suggests that consistent Tabata training may help the body use insulin more effectively, which can increase your body’s ability to burn fat. Another recent study showed that doing Tabata workouts for 10 weeks significantly improved the respiratory fitness of participants by up to 28%.

Who should do Tabata

  • People with fitness experience.
  • People looking to level up their workouts without increasing the amount of time they work out.
  • People familiar with traditional workout moves who want to do them faster, with less instruction.

Who should not do Tabata

  • People who are new to exercise.
  • People who prefer or require lengthy instruction.
  • People with high blood pressure or known heart conditions.

How to do Tabata workouts

A traditional Tabata workout consists of eight rounds of the routine — which makes the whole workout just four minutes long. If you repeat this a few times and add time for a quick warm up and cooldown, a comprehensive and effective Tabata workout won’t take more than 20 minutes.

Bodyweight exercises are great for Tabata because you don’t need to waste time worrying about equipment. You can simply flow from one exercise to the next. But that doesn’t mean you can’t use equipment! Athletes or advanced Tabata enthusiasts may want to do Tabata on a rowing machine or resistance bike. And dumbbells or a kettlebell can be used to change up the exercises and add another level of difficulty. While doing a Tabata workout at home, adding in plyometric exercises like jumps or side shuffling can help up the intensity and difficulty. 

Get a taste of Tabata training with these at-home workout routines you can do with no equipment. For each routine, perform each exercise for 20 seconds at maximum effort, rest for 10 seconds and then repeat for a total of eight rounds. 

Tabata workout #1

Jumping Jacks

Start standing tall with feet shoulder-width apart. Jump both feet out to the sides as you raise the arms out and up overhead. Bring the arms down as you jump the feet back to center.

10-second rest

Tricep dips

Sitting on the ground, place your palms on the ground behind you with your fingers facing your body. Move your butt back toward your hands and press down through your feet to lift your butt up. Keep your knees bent. Bend your elbows straight back to lower down into the dip, then press down through your hands to come up to the starting position.

10-second rest

Curtsy lunges

Stand up straight with your feet shoulder-width apart. Take a step back on your right leg, crossing it behind your left leg, as if you were about to curtsy. Keep your weight in your left foot and slowly bend your knees, lowering your body straight down. Hold for a moment and then return to the starting position. Continue alternating side to side.

10-second rest

Calf raises

Start in a standing position with your feet hip-width apart and your core engaged. Squeeze your calf muscles to slowly raise your body, lifting your heels until you’re on your toes. Make sure to stand tall and straight, and then lower your heels back to the floor with control.  

10-second rest

Knee pushups

Start by getting down on all fours with your palms on the floor a little wider than shoulder-width apart. Make sure your arms are straight. Scoot your knees back a few inches and shift forward to make sure your shoulders are over your wrists, but your knees are behind your hips. Bend at the elbows, lowering your body until your chest almost touches the mat, then press down into the ground to straighten your elbows and push your body back up to return to the starting position.

Repeat the above for 8 rounds. 

Tabata Workout #2

A woman doing a tabata workout
High kneesCourtesey of Stephanie Mansour

High knees

Start standing with feet hip-distance apart. Lift your right knee as high as it will go and raise the opposite arm, then switch quickly so left knee is up before right foot lands with a little hop. For a low-impact modification, eliminate the hop and just march in place with high knees while swinging the arms! Repeat 20 times or for 20 seconds.

10-second rest

A woman doing a tabata workout
SkatersCourtesey of Stephanie Mansour


Start with your legs a little wider than shoulder-width apart and your arms at your sides. Bring the left leg behind at a slight angle into a reverse lunge. The right knee will bend to a 90-degree angle. Then swing the arms in front of that bent knee and jump the back leg forward to switch sides in a skating motion. Alternate your arms as you switch sides and channel your inner speed skater! For a low-impact modification, only bend the knees halfway and go into a halfway reverse lunge. Also slowly shift from one side to the other. Repeat 5 times to each side or for 20 seconds.

10-second rest

A woman doing a tabata workout
Knee tuck to pushup — the tuckCourtesey of Stephanie Mansour

Knee tuck to pushup

Start in a pushup position with hands wider than the shoulders. Lower down with the elbows bending out to the sides and then press down with the hands hard to come up. While at the top, bring your right knee up towards the center of your chest into a knee tuck position. Then place it down, repeat the push-up, and then bring the left knee tucked in towards the chest. Repeat 6 times or for 20 seconds.

10-second rest

A woman doing a tabata workout
Plank to down dog tapCourtesey of Stephanie Mansour

Plank to Downdog Tap

Start in a plank position, and then lift the hips up and back to downward facing dog. Your body should look like an upside down V. Once you get that movement down, shift forward into plank. Then shift back to down dog and reach your right hand back towards your left ankle. Come forward to plank, and repeat with the left hand reaching towards the right ankle as you move into down dog. Repeat 10 times, alternating sides — or for 20 seconds.

10-second rest

A woman doing a tabata workout
Bicycle crunchesCourtesey of Stephanie Mansour

Bicycle Crunches

Lying on your back, bend your knees and lift them up to a table top position. Place your hands behind your head. Curl up with your head, neck, and chest and crunch your left chest towards your right knee. Extend your left leg at a 45 degree angle, and then switch sides. Repeat 10 times or for 20 seconds.

Repeat the above for 8 rounds

Tabata Workout #3

Squat jump
Squat jumpCourtesey of Stephanie Mansour

Squat jump

Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, and reach your butt back as you bend your knees into a squat position. Press down through the heels as you jump up, and then bend the knees to land softly. Repeat 10 times or for 20 seconds.

10-second rest

A woman doing a tabata workout
Lateral shuffleCourtesey of Stephanie Mansour

Lateral shuffle

Stand with your feet as wide as your shoulders, and sit your butt back almost into a full squat. Take a step to the right with your right foot, and then bring your left foot to the right to get into the starting position. Repeat this 5 times to the right and then 5 times to the left or for 20 seconds.

10-second rest

A woman doing a tabata workout
Lateral plank walkCourtesey of Stephanie Mansour

Lateral plank walk

Start in a pushup position. Pick up your left hand off of the ground and step it to the left about ½ a foot. Then bring your right hand to the left to get into the push-up position again. Repeat this 3 times to the left, and then 3 times to the right or for 20 seconds.

10-second rest

A woman doing a tabata workout
Mountain climbersCourtesey of Stephanie Mansour

Mountain climbers

Come into a plank position and then pull your right knee into your chest, step it back and then pull your left knee into your chest. Pretend like you’re running in a plank position for high impact, and go slower for lower impact. Repeat 10 times or for 20 seconds.

10-second rest

A woman doing a tabata workout
Russian twistCourtesey of Stephanie Mansour

Russian twist

Sit on the mat on your sits bones, and bend your knees. Lean back slightly by engaging your lower abs and squeeze your inner thighs together. From this leaned back position, twist your torso side to side with your hands clasped at your chest. Repeat 10 times to the right and left alternating sidesor for 20 seconds.

Repeat the above for 8 rounds