What is Tabata? Here’s How to Do it at Home

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Working out can be daunting if you think you need an hour to get sweaty and for it to be effective. First off, you may not always have the time to give to such a long workout.

And two, the duration is not as important as long as the intensity is high. Plus, what’s more, doing super long workouts each day can lead to overtraining or injury too, so there are times where doing a shorter but effective one could be the perfect fit after all.

That’s where a tabata comes in handy, as each tabata set is 4 minutes long (yes—no joke!) and you are “sprinting” to get that heart rate high and are breaking a sweat in no time. And if you do a few sets of tabata work for a 10- or 20-minute workout, or you intersperse tabata moves into your workout plan for those intensity bursts, it can be just as effective as a moderate hour-long run or a something that was longer but lower-intensity, too.

Here’s how to get in a quick workout at home between zoom meetings and some downtime while working from home. Trust us—it’s a way better way to pass the time than heading to the fridge for the umpteenth time.

When doing the tabata moves, your body barely has enough time to recover before you are right back at it with the next 20-seconds of work.

What is tabata?

“Tabata is a format of high intensity training that is based around a 2 to 1 work-to-recovery ratio. This means you are working in an exercise for twice as long as your recovery period,” says Kat Wiersum, Interval Instructor at Studio Three in Chicago.

The concept originated from a Japanese doctor whose name was (shocker) Dr. Tabata. And Tabata-style work is typically used with running or other cardio and high-intensity exercises, like pushups, burpees, squat jumps, atomic lunges, and planks, among other moves. So, they’re not messing around!

“Dr. Tabata’s study behind the 2 to 1 ratio found that your body burns fat and calories long after you are done with your tabata workout session,” she says. So, that after-burn effect is how you’re still burning calories for the rest of the day and your heart stays slightly elevated for a while after.

When doing the tabata moves, your body barely has enough time to recover before you are right back at it with the next 20-seconds of work. “This helps keep your metabolism going and creates that ‘afterburn’ concept,” she explains.

And what’s even better? Likely your mood and energy will be higher. So, consider this tabata break over another kitchen break as being a great re-set for getting back to work and Zoom sessions with an invigorated mind and greater productivity levels. It’s a win-win. After all, once all this passes, we’ll return to the breakneck speed of modern society, so might as well be prepared.

How does it work?

True Tabata work should be very short—think 5-10 minutes straight through. But Tabata intervals can be interspersed throughout another workout program to provide a burst of higher intensity work, too, Kat says. So, if you were going to do a strength training session at home, you might do tabata in between reps of weights to get that heart rate up and make the workout more HIIT style, for example.

“The two most common time ratios are 20 seconds of work to 10 seconds of rest (the ratio Dr. Tabata used) and 40 seconds on, 20 seconds rest,” she says. It is super customizable, so pick whatever exercises you like and for the areas of the body you are trying to target.

Need some examples? Here are a few exercises fit for tabata from Wiersum, along with a structure idea to help you do one yourself.

Turns out the planking trend from years ago has some athletic merit!

Plank Holds

Hold a high plank or forearm plank, 20 seconds on and 10 seconds off. “This is a great way to build up to holding planks for longer and longer periods! Make sure your shoulders are over either your wrist or elbow, your head is lifted, you’re breathing steadily, and your heels are reaching away from your head,” she says. Pull that belly button up to your spine.

Squat Jumps

Keep feet shoulder width apart, slightly turned out. Bend your knees and sit back into a deep squat. “Spring off your heels and push off the floor to jump off the ground with straight legs, and land softly back in your original low squat position,” she says. Again do 20 seconds on and 10 seconds off. You can do these standing or on a box if you have the equipment/space.

Athletic woman preparing for workout or sport

Sprinter Hops

“Start with one foot back straight, and one leg bent like you’re about to take off on a sprint or you’re in the bottom of a lunge with a straight back leg. Push off the front heel and drive your back knee up into your chest, jumping off the ground with your front leg,” she says. Land back in your original position with your back leg straight. 20 seconds on and 10 seconds off per side for this one.

How to Implement Them into a Tabata Workout:

Repeat these four moves (remember, you have to do the sprinter hops for both legs!) for four rounds each, alternating between each exercise. It is a total of eight minutes of work. Your heart rate will be high and you’ll burn calories fast!