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Tabata Training 101 & 20-Minute Workout

Happy Fitness Friday (well, now it’s Saturday but we’ll roll with it…)! I’m trying to focus the first few posts on workouts that you can do at home or at the gym with bodyweight or minimal equipment before I start getting into more complex workouts that use a variety of equipment. Today I have a 20-minute tabata workout for you.

What is tabata?
Tabata-style workouts are a form of high intensity interval training where you work a certain movement or exercise at max effort for 20 seconds with a 10 second rest for a period of four minutes.

What are the benefits of tabata training?
When you work short bursts of all-out effort you are training in an anaerobic pathway. This means that the energy used to perform the exercise is done without oxygen. These types of activities are usually under 90 seconds in duration and require high power output. Examples are short sprints, push ups, pull ups, squats, etc. In contrast, aerobic training is done with oxygen and consists of activities like steady state cardio on the elliptical or treadmill, walking the dog, swimming, etc. It’s important to incorporate a mixture of both anaerobic and aerobic training in your workout mix but today we’ll talk about the benefits of anaerobic training.

Studies have shown that anaerobic conditioning is the pathway to making big gains in strength, power and speed. Anaerobic training is basically a fast track to upping your aerobic fitness. Want to be able to run longer? Looking to set a new 5K PR? Want to improve your endurance for performing unbroken sets of squats and pushups in the weight room? Incorporate this style of training into your workout mix.

This style of training will also help you burn fat more efficiently and kick your metabolism into high gear. I like to explain to my clients that it’s like placing shock pads on your workout to jolt you to a new level.

Who can tabata?
I recommend that you establish a base fitness level before routinely adding in anaerobic work. Baseline fitness required for starting to train anaerobically would be the ability to do things like run a mile while maintaining a conversation and being able to perform movements like 25 consecutive bodyweight squats or sit ups without too much struggle.  It’s not that you can’t do tabata-style workouts at a lower fitness level but you’ll spend most of your working time taking breaks and won’t be able to sustain the max effort for the full work period. Of course, check with your physician before starting to train at high intensity levels, especially if you have a history of cardiovascular issues.

How to tabata?
Remember, the tabata cycle is 20 seconds work, 10 seconds recovery for four minutes of the same exercise. Since the work and rest intervals are so short it can be tricky to tabata on your own without someone telling you when to work and when to rest. There is an app called Tabata Pro that you can purchase for $2.99 that will help you keep track of your time and your cycles.

20-Minute Tabata Workout
I have put together a 20-minute tabata workout for you that only uses your own bodyweight so that you can easily do this at home, at the gym or while traveling. You don’t need a lot of space so it can be done in your living room or in a hotel room. I also filmed a short video that demonstrates proper technique for all of the exercises included in the workout.

Let me know if you have any questions about tabata or about the workout. As always, I would love to hear your feedback on the workout if you try it.

Have a great weekend and go get sweaty!


{ 57 comments… add one }
  • Rebecca @ Pavlova's Dog February 16, 2013, 3:22 pm

    Loved this! Watched it all the way through, it’s so obvious how natural a teacher you are :).

    • Jen February 16, 2013, 4:11 pm

      thanks girl! 😛

  • Steph February 16, 2013, 3:37 pm

    How often do you recommend doing a Tabata workout each week? Do you typically do another workout or strength training after a twenty minute Tabata workout?

    • Jen February 16, 2013, 4:11 pm

      steph – i like to incorporate high intensity training into my workouts 2-3 times a week. and i know it can be tough to mentally accept but this 20 minute workout IS your workout. you’re working at max effort here so you should be exhausted at the end!

  • Traci from Chocolate and Cardio February 16, 2013, 3:46 pm

    I love Tabata workouts! I love that you can make a plan and doing them wherever you have space. I am going to try the one you shared tonight.

  • Heather @ girlyeverafter February 16, 2013, 4:50 pm

    Thanks for the app info. I did a boot camp where we focused on tabata and I really enjoyed doing that style of workout.

  • She Rocks Fitness February 16, 2013, 4:56 pm

    LOVE this workout and the video! You are so natural on camera and you look fabulous. Rocking body!

  • Julie February 16, 2013, 5:53 pm

    i was all dressed for a run til I checked FB and all my Charlotte buddies were posting pictures of snow! So checked the weather map and surely if I were to have run, I would of been caught in it! So I needed a quick at home replacement workout. Popped in a video and last 10 minutes… nah wasn’t doing it for me. Then I read your post and thought I could get that a go. My arms are still trembling from the last sets of tri dips. I turned the frog jump to a burpee for fun. Thanks for saving my workout for today!

    • Jen February 16, 2013, 8:16 pm

      yay! i’m so glad the timing of this worked out so well for you! the snow is pretty but would have been tough to run in. it was really coming down!

  • Babs February 16, 2013, 5:53 pm

    Thanks for posting a video. You have great form and it looks like a killer workout.

  • Trish February 16, 2013, 6:33 pm

    I am not a huge fan of tabata workouts – in fact I remember the first one I did involved pushups and my arms actually swelled up from my efforts – not alot, but enough that I couldn’t bend them comfortably to talk on the phone. I almost always add sprints to my runs tho, so hopefully I am getting the benefits there.

    • Jen February 16, 2013, 6:38 pm

      trish – they can be a great tool for high intensity cardio like sprinting or rowing like you mention!

  • Katherine February 16, 2013, 9:22 pm

    Wow – great video, Jen!


  • Heather February 16, 2013, 11:43 pm

    Hi Jen,
    Just wondering – I’ve never seen anyone do that particular variation of sit-up?! – and I’m intreigued! …What is the benefit of having your legs/feet as you demonstrated vs. the traditional (feet flat and knees up) or even vs. a crunch?

    • Jen February 17, 2013, 8:48 pm

      We use this type of sit up a lot in CrossFit. Basically the benefit is that you are performing a full range of motion so it’s more challenging and more of a functional movement that mimics lying down and sitting up in real life. I still use basic crunches in my workouts too but like to mix it up!

  • Liz Lovett February 17, 2013, 5:15 am

    Hi Jen, this video looks great, and just what I was looking for, thanks so much. One thing though – I have an ongoing issue with pain in my knees, as a patellofemoral tracking problem means that the cartilage is degrading (I think that’s what the physio said!). Anyway, anything that impacts on my knees, specifically squats and jumps, cause inflammation and soreness and means walking, running and cycling are out – and they’re my passions! Do you know of any replacement exercises I can use for strength/high intensity interval training so I can add it into my regular cardio work? I’m desparate to tone up/get faster/stronger but don’t want to knacker my knees!

    Thanks a lot!

    • Jentry February 17, 2013, 12:16 pm

      I’m interested in Jen’s response because I also have periodic knee issues. But, I would recommend a gentle squat with alternating fist punches. Tighten your abs and it’s a good cardio workout.

    • Jen February 17, 2013, 8:46 pm

      Hi Liz –

      Wow, I’m so sorry to hear about your knee issues. First, I would recommend swimming for your general cardio needs. It’s so gentle on the body but so effective from a cardio and calorie burning standpoint. You could also try aqua jogging.

      As far as strength goes, I echo Jentry’s response about maybe trying slower squats or squatting down to a bench or box so that you actually sit and then standing back up. You’ll take the pressure off at the bottom and you have to engage different muscles to stand back up. I would encourage you to keep working some sort of unweighted/bodyweight squatting or stand/sitting motions because they are things you will use in your every day life for the rest of your life. You can’t avoid the motion all together so it’s really important that you strengthen all of the muscles that support your knees so that you can stay mobile and healthy. Squat to a range where you begin to experience discomfort then back off. Slowly build your strength and work deeper. The squatting motion is SUCH an integral functional movement.

      I hope that helps. Let me know if you want to talk about this further.

      • Liz Lovett February 18, 2013, 1:18 pm

        Hi Jen, thanks so much for taking the time to answer my question! I know I should swim rather than cycling and running but I just love cycling and running…also I cycle to work and back, and commuting by swimming wouldn’t work nearly as well 😉

        I’ll definitely try your suggestions on squats – I think my main problem is that I don’t experience discomfort until afterwards, so I always get really into my workout and then suffer later! A box would really help with this I think.

        Thanks again – I love your blog, read it every day, and appreciate the time and effort you put into it so much xxx

        • Kim February 19, 2013, 9:08 pm

          As I was scrolling through the comments I couldn’t help but respond to your knee pain. This sounds exactly like what I struggled with a few years ago. My knee pain, patellar tracking issue, stemmed from weak quads and glutes (especially glute med), tight IT ban and general lack of flexibility. Strength training, yoga, foam rolling, seeing a PT (my sister), a chiropractor (my hubby) and orthotics in my shoes has made a world of difference in how I feel after working out. I have to limit my running to a max of 3 days a week. It usually winds up being just 2 because I feel like the third day may just push my knees over the limit. The orthotics I use are Power Step and can be found in local running store in Kansas City. I bet you could find them where you are too. Best of luck to you. Wishing knee pain free days in the future!

  • Anne February 17, 2013, 8:58 am

    I’ll try this today. Thanks ! Very good teaching and I like how muscular and strong your body look. Your a good exemple for women; being “skinny” do not equal being strong, muscles are protecting us.

    • Anne February 17, 2013, 3:34 pm

      Just did it. Good little workout. I already feel it in my upper body (but less in the lower). Thanks again.

    • Jen February 17, 2013, 8:49 pm

      thank you!

  • Laura February 17, 2013, 9:24 am

    This looks great, and I can’t wait to try it. My gym offers tabata for a fee. I’m of the belief that paying for my gym membership is enough (and my bank account agrees). Thanks for sharing so I can try it on my own. I love your Fitness Friday posts!

  • Joy February 17, 2013, 11:49 am

    Thanks for posting this video.

    I tried it after my run this morning and only made it half way through the pushups. 🙁 I’ll give it another go tomorrow!

    • Jen February 17, 2013, 8:49 pm

      haha – the pushups are the hardest part. i swear! maybe switch the order around next time and do those last! 😉

  • willa February 17, 2013, 5:04 pm

    grabbed my hubby and did this together. push ups were tough but stayed strong. also, loved your yoga class today. happy week!

    • Jen February 17, 2013, 8:50 pm

      yay melissa! glad this worked for y’all. thanks for braving the snow and coming to class today!

  • JennyV February 17, 2013, 5:44 pm

    Subbed burpees for the frog jumps and my arms were burning in the final tricep dips too! Great workout and great video instructions. Too often our form breaks when tired so it is great to see a refresher!

    • Jen February 17, 2013, 8:51 pm

      go girl! i love burpees but so many people struggle with them so i thought the frog jumps would be a good prep for introducing burpees later! 😛

  • Tara | Treble in the Kitchen February 18, 2013, 5:21 am

    I LOVE the tabata technique and these 5 exercises look awesome!! Thanks for sharing!! 🙂

  • Lauren February 18, 2013, 7:46 am

    those tricep dips were a killer!! thanks for including the tabata pro app, well worth the 2.99 🙂

  • Nicole @ wethreelocals February 18, 2013, 11:43 am

    Tried that tabata workout this morning. Pushups were definitely my steez! I totally felt the burn and can’t wait to try more tabata technique. Thanks, Jen!

  • Dana February 18, 2013, 2:35 pm

    I was out of breath just watching you do the frog jumps. I’m terrified to try this all when I get off work today, but I’ll just keep saying “It’s only 20 minutes, it’s only 20 minutes…”
    Thanks for posting the workout and video!

  • Liz N. February 19, 2013, 2:47 pm

    I am very familiar with Tabata workouts, as a Crossfit athlete! In fact, Tabata WODs are what I typically do when I am on the road or even at home, when the weather is just too nasty to get to the gym. My Tabatas are usually 4 rounds (16 minutes), but when I am ambitious or have more time, I’ll do 5 rounds to do an even 20 minutes. Love me some Tabatas!

  • Kim February 19, 2013, 8:58 pm

    Loved it Jen! Thanks for taking the time to post these workouts. I love that they are so easy to do at home. With a full time job and two little ones I can easily talk myself out of going to the gym. I feel better getting in an intense quick workout and I’m setting a great example about being healthy for my kids.

  • Katie February 22, 2013, 12:15 pm

    Jen this was fantastic! The push ups were tough but it was the frog jumps that really got me! Thank you so much for this post, I had been curious about tabata workouts, but not knowing anything about them I avoided them. Your instructions were great and I have noodly arms as I type this! Can’t wait to begin challenging myself more by adding in weekly tabatas. Happy Friday!! 🙂

  • Mandi April 10, 2013, 2:48 pm

    Hi Jen

    I just found your blog a couple days ago researching Tabata workouts. I have a question. If i’m having a rough time doing the 20work/10rest set, could I switch them? So I’d do 10work/20rest. Is that even worth it? I did find a sprinting interval that had me sprint for 10seconds and walk/job for 20 seconds and just wondering if it’d work for this as well.

    Thanks for your help!

    • Jen April 10, 2013, 2:52 pm

      i am always a proponent of modifying however necessary. you could always start with 10 on, 20 off and then move to 15/15 and then into the 20/10. i think it’s awesome that you are trying and working hard! it’s always worth it!

  • Hilary August 1, 2013, 11:01 am

    I just did this workout and it was great!! Very tough. Although my golden automatically thought it was play time when I laid on the floor for the sit ups haha! definitely added an extra challenge 🙂

  • Filipa October 23, 2013, 2:28 pm

    Sorry for the late comment, but started learning about Tabata recently and came across your blog today! It was super helpful! But I was wondering, if you do this kind of workout 2-3 times a week, what do you do on those other days? I’m really looking forward to lower my body fat %… Thanks!! 🙂

  • Janelle January 27, 2014, 7:46 pm

    Did this today and it was HARD! I’m sure my frog jumps didn’t look like yours but I did my best! Thank you for all your workouts and recipes, I really enjoy your website!

    • Jen January 27, 2014, 8:00 pm

      janelle – thanks so much for trying my workout. i’m glad it was challenging for you and that you gave it your all! great job!

  • Lauren @ sassy molassy March 24, 2014, 10:00 am

    I really couldn’t decide which exercise was the hardest. First I thought the push ups, then the frog hops and finally the dips. Ha! Thanks for a great workout!

  • Jennie April 10, 2014, 12:33 pm

    I’m new to your blog and I love it! I knew I wouldn’t have time to go to the gym on Tuesday so I did this workout at home before work and my arms still hurt – in a good way! You’re right, something is better than nothing. 🙂

    • Jen April 10, 2014, 7:06 pm

      thanks for reading and trying out my workout! glad it was a good one for you! 🙂

  • Tina July 22, 2014, 6:37 pm

    Somewhere in the 19th minute, I sprawled on my stomach on the floor, panting like a hot dog. Wow. You’re right. This is definitely enough of a workout.

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