Time is our most precious resource. It’s the one commodity that we cannot simply manufacture more of. When it comes to the demands on your time in the course of a normal day, it’s hard to fit in the things that you need to do—such as work or take care of your household—along with the things that you want to do like exercise.

You may love going to the gym yet believe that unless you can spend at least an hour sweating, it’s not worth your while. Or you may have to drag yourself to the gym, yet once you make it there, you want a time-efficient way to exercise. In either case, the solution is the same —an express workout using high-intensity interval training or, more specifically, using the Tabata protocol of HIIT so that you can get a great workout in less than 10 minutes.

Yes, that sounds like a cheesy, late-night infomercial, but the truth is that recent research demonstrates that four-minute Tabata training sessions can actually be more effective than 30 minutes on a treadmill for improving aerobic capacity and running economy, which strongly supports the concept of “less is more” when it comes to high-intensity exercise.

In a recent study, researchers organized participants into three separate training groups for a 16-week workout program. The 55 participants were healthy young men (average 23 years old) organized into three groups:

  • HIIT-T — Seventeen participants would follow a Tabata protocol on a treadmill: They ran at a velocity associated with 130 percent of VO2 max (maximum oxygen uptake) for 20 seconds followed by a 10-second rest, repeated for eight cycles for a total of four minutes.
  • HIIT-WB — Nineteen participants would do a Tabata interval using body-weight movements, including burpees, mountain climbers, jumping jacks and squat thrusts with 3-kilogram kettlebells.
  • MICT — Nineteen participants would run on a treadmill for 30 minutes at an intensity associated with 90 percent of the heart rate at the second ventilatory threshold (VT2).

The HITT-T group did a four-minute warm-up on the treadmill, the HIIT-WB group used the same body-weight exercises but moved at a much slower tempo for four minutes, and the MICT group gradually increased its running tempo for a warm-up.

Once the 16-week training protocols were completed, each group improved its fitness level—measured by time to reach the second ventilatory threshold and the time to reach exhaustion. The HIIT-T group demonstrated better results than the HIIT-WB or MICT groups, which adds support that HIIT is a time-efficient workout solution. However, more important, the study shows that the HIIT-WB group following the Tabata high-intensity training protocol can be used to help improve fitness levels, which is great news for those days when time can be a factor and a gym workout just isn’t in the plans. What this means for you is that when time gets tight, a four-minute Tabata workout is all you need to maintain your existing level of fitness.

There are two options for applying the above research to doing your own Tabata protocols:

1) Use a self-powered treadmill like the Woodway Curve to do a complete four-minute Tabata of 20 seconds of sprinting followed by 10 seconds of resting while standing on the side rails—repeated eight times. (The self-powered Woodway Curve is recommended. Trying to hop on a running treadmill belt could be dangerous and is not suggested!)

 2) Complete a Tabata interval using body-weight exercises, which are perfect for when your schedule won’t make time for a trip to a gym like when you’re traveling and are stuck in a hotel. The circuit used in the aforementioned study is perfect–moves listed below. If no weights are available for the squat thrust (which is a squat to overhead press), then do the ice skater—lateral hopping from one to the other, as fast as possible.

  • Burpee
  • Mountain Climber
  • Squat Thrust or Ice Skater
  • Jumps Jack


In reality, the entire workout should take about 12 minutes because you should allow some time for a warm-up and cool-down with stretching for the involved muscles. For the warm-ups, follow the workout protocols from the research study (listed above).

Here are some general guidelines when doing the body-weight exercises:

  • Keep your spine long. When your spine is extended, you use more of your hips.
  • Move from your hips. Whether you are hinging forward or rotating, make sure that the movement comes from your hips, not your spine.
  • To increase activation of your core muscles, press your feet and hands firmly into the floor when they make contact. In both cases, pretend like you are trying to push the floor away from you, which can help improve activation of your deep core muscles. 

Yes, it’s always nice to have a good, long, stress-reducing workout session, but on those days when time really is a factor, it’s nice to know that time-efficient workouts really do work. And if you’re one of those people who want to maximize the efficiency of your time spent sweating, then you now have a solution that has been shown to produce results!