Tabata workouts not only incinerate fat but also build endurance and even agility.

Tabata has been touted as a “four-minute fat-burning miracle” and roundly embraced by fitness enthusiasts seeking to toss aside long, boring cardio workouts for short, sweet, ultraproductive sessions. And indeed, science has shown that these four-minute micro sessions do, in fact, provide a compelling list of benefits.

The format originated from an obscure study meant to help Japanese speed-skating athletes improve their speed and endurance. Dr. Izumi Tabata and a team of researchers at the Institute of Fitness and Sports in Tokyo compared moderate-intensity cardio training and high-intensity interval training, concluding that while both improved aerobic power, only the latter improved anaerobic performance too, by as much as 28 percent.

From that data, published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise in October 1996, Dr. Tabata derived the now famous formula: eight rounds of high-intensity exercises performed in an interval pattern of 20-seconds-on, 10-seconds-rest, for a total workout time of just four minutes.

It may be four minutes, but at first, it will probably seem longer—these are grueling, exhausting and ultimately exhilarating minutes that will crank up your heart rate and tap into your body fat stores to suck out some much-needed fuel. If you don’t feel completely spent afterward, you’re not working hard enough.

Warm up for five minutes and then do four exercises in total, split over two Tabata-style pairings. Here’s your approach:

  • Alternate each exercise within the Tabata set so that you do each move twice. So in Tabata No. 1, you’ll do the burpee with plank jacks for 20 seconds, rest for 10 seconds, do speed skaters for 20 seconds, rest for 10 seconds, go back to burpees with plank jacks for another 20 seconds, rest for 10 seconds, and finish with speed skaters for 20 seconds. All told, you’ll have worked for two minutes.
  • Jump right into the next Tabata pairing, planking walk-up with frogger and split jump alternating squat jump with 180. Following the same 20-seconds-on/10-seconds-off pattern and alternating between the two movements, work for two minutes total.

The first time you try Tabata training, you’ll probably hate it. But stick with the following workout two or three times per week. As your body adapts, you’ll get stronger, and what seemed impossible will, after just a few sessions, become manageable. Soon, you’ll feel like a superhero.

Tabata Pairing No. 1

1. Burpee with plank jacks

Sets: 1–3
Reps: 20 seconds on/10 seconds rest

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Lower into a squat as you put your palms on the floor.
  • Without pausing, kick your legs out behind you into the top of a push-up position.
  • Push off your toes to jump your feet out, as for a jumping jack, and then jump your feet back together.
  • Keeping your hands on the floor, dynamically pull your feet in underneath you.
  • Extend your hips and knees to explode upward, raising your hands straight over your head as you leap straight up.
  • Land softly and quickly descend into the next rep.

2. Speed skaters

Sets: 1–3
Reps: 20 seconds on, 10 seconds rest

  • Stand with your feet a bit wider than shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent.
  • Bend deep at the knees and lower your hips, keeping your torso upright, spine aligned and head up.
  • Shift your weight onto the left foot and then leap explosively as far as you can to the right. Land softly with your right knee bent to 90 degrees and your left leg extended behind you to the outside of your right leg. Let your arms swing through the motion and across your body.
  • Quickly leap as far left as you can, and continue to alternate sides.
  • Tip: Swing your arms to help generate momentum, but don’t let your trailing knee touch the ground.

Tabata Pairing No. 2

1. Planking walk-up with frogger

Sets: 1–3
Reps: 20 seconds on, 10 seconds rest

  • Start in a push-up position, your body aligned from top of head to heel, your hands directly under your shoulders.
  • Bend your left arm and then your right to lower yourself onto your forearms in a traditional plank position.
  • Without pausing, reverse the action, extending the left arm and then the right to return to the top of a push-up.
  • Keeping your hands on the floor, hop your feet forward, planting them just outside each of your hands. Lift your torso and drop your hips into a squat.
  • Hop your legs behind you, and repeat the sequence.
  • Tip: Be sure to keep your chin up and neck in alignment with your spine throughout the exercise.

2. Split jump alternating squat jump with 180

Sets: 1–3
Reps: 20 seconds on, 10 seconds rest

  • Start in a deep lunge position with your right leg forward. Keep your arms bent and hands up around chest height.
  • Press through both feet to rise up and jump, bringing your feet underneath you so you land in a wider-than-shoulder-width stance, keeping your knees soft.
  • Immediately lower yourself into a sumo squat, knees bent at 90 degrees, hands up and elbows out to help yourself balance.
  • Without pausing, explode into the air and land with your left foot forward in a deep lunge position.
  • Explode into the air and land in a sumo squat. Leap up again, rotating 180 degrees to land in a sumo squat position facing the opposite direction from where you began.
  • Repeat the entire sequence from this position, jumping into a right-leg-forward lunge, followed by a sumo squat, a left-leg-forward lunge, another squat, and finally a 180-degree turn into another sumo squat.

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