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Tabata: How To Work Out for Only Four Minutes

woman exercising

There are a few adages I have about working out. They are:

  1. Something is always better than nothing. Don’t talk yourself out of 10 minutes of walking because you don’t have 30 minutes or an hour.
  2. Consistency and routine bring results. Working out like Tom Cruise’s body double one day and taking the next four off because you’re so sore is not going to lead to progress, by whichever metric you measure progress. Literally. You can’t get up off the floor!
  3. Don’t do something you don’t want to do. Don’t pick an exercise because it’s a fad, or because your friend Martha loves it, or even because you read this! You are not Martha! You are not me! You like different things! Pick an exercise or an activity that you like doing. If you don’t like to run, then don’t. That’s okay!
  4. Sometimes working out sucks. It just does. It’s hard and you’re sore and you can’t breathe. Sometimes the only good part about working out is when it’s over.
  5. You will feel better after. Physically. Mentally. My mom (Barb) always says, “you never regret a work out.” And at the very least, you spent some time moving, and you spent some time off your phone.


So if you’re in a rut, or feel stuck on the literal and proverbial treadmill, or want to get the most efficient workout, let me bring your attention to high intensity interval training (HIIT). HIIT workouts are a series of sprint efforts with minimal rest in between. It’s a more efficient workout because HIIT workouts tend to be shorter, and you end up burn more calories!


Unlike other workouts, your body continues to burn calories after your workout. It’s called excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC). You can read more about the phenomenon and HIIT here and here. But whether you understand the science or not (for me, not) the great thing is it still works for you!


With that in mind, let me tell you about this HIIT workout structure, Tabata:


Tabata is eight rounds of 20 seconds of fast-as-you-can movements with 10 seconds of rest, for four minutes in total. For instance, you decide to do air squats. You would do as many air squats in 20 seconds as you can, rest for 10 seconds, and do that seven more times. Four minutes, that’s it. That’s not too horrible, right?


Wrong. For the first two rounds, sure, you feel great. You check to see if your butt is any bigger from the minute of exercise you just did. But soon you’ll find yourself exhausted, wondering if 10 seconds always felt so short, and four minutes felt so long, and you still have three rounds left.


But you can get through four minutes! And you can pick nearly any movement. Legs feeling sore? You could pick pushups, burpees, sit ups, the list could keep going but I’m tired just thinking about it. Not only is this great if you don’t have a lot of time, but these are all body weight movements that don’t require special equipment. Sorry I’m taking all of the excuses away!


Just remember, it’s supposed to be hard. That’s the point. You’re doing it right. And it’s not supposed to get easier. At a certain point you’ll just be able to fit more into those eight rounds of 20 seconds. You don’t work out to make the workouts easier. You do it to make life easier. 


It takes you as long as you just spent reading this. You’ve got it!


And if after the tabata you find yourself really sore, try The Cookie Jar's Arnica Massage Body Oil for those growing muscles.

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