11 Butt-Kicking Tabata Exercises

A group exercising.

After 10 seconds, I was gasping for breath, sweaty, and definitely convinced that four minutes of Tabata intervals counts as a real workout. 

Greatist's Chief Research Officer David Tao was helping me "research" Tabata protocol, and after a round each of burpees, medicine ball clean and presses, and squats, I was feeling the burn (and then some, given how sore I was for the next three days).


Tabata Protocol is a system of short, high-intensity intervals developed by Japanese professor Dr. Izumi Tabata to train Olympic speed skaters. Grab a stopwatch, because this workout method is all about timing. 

The basic formula is 20 seconds of work followed by 10 seconds of rest, repeated between six and eight times (between three and four minutes, total). No cheating—the 20/10 ratio has been shown to work both aerobic and anaerobic metabolic pathways harder and more effectively than longer bouts of exercise.

The teeny-tiny intervals force the body to keep moving before it actually recovers from the previous set. So to get the full benefit, those 20 seconds need to be serious business—doing as many reps as possible is key.

Sometime between rounds six and eight the body reaches maximum oxygen intake, so prepare for trembling muscles and burning lungs. On the bright side, working the aerobic and anaerobic pathways fires up the "afterburn effect," so you'll be burning calories long after hitting the showers.


Because this exercise strategy is more of a formula than a specific workout, the possibilities for Tabata are pretty darn flexible. Love bodyweight exercises? Do a set of push-ups. Feeling a dip in the pool? Pull on that swim cap and do some freestyle intervals.

As with any workout regimen (and especially a high-intensity one like Tabata intervals), consult with a trainer beforehand to learn the correct technique. When going all-out, proper form can be the difference between a ticket to the gun show and a ticket to the physical therapist's office.

To make the journey from Tabata newbie to pro a bit easier, we called in the big guns: renowned trainers and Greatist Experts Ilen Bell and Kelvin Gary. Bell and Gary each picked one or two of the best moves for each area of the body, with added weights and using bodyweight alone. Each of these four-minute wonders packs a serious punch (just ask my quads after a round of squats), so start with just one or two exercises per workout.

Feel free to rest for a few minutes in between the 4-minute bouts, or go back-to-back for an added challenge.

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