How four minutes of fitness a day can transform your workouts forever

"Tabata", a HIIT-style workout which takes just four minutes, is more difficult than one hour of jogging

Tabata
(Image credit: Jonathan Borba (Unsplash))

Sometimes, you just don't think you have the time to work out. With a struggle to balance work and home life, your health often falls by the wayside as an easy thing to "sort out later" when you've got the time. 

Well, now you've officially got the time. If you're into high-intensity training, we've got just the thing for the busy person who wants to fit more exercise into their day: a scientific method of doing your workouts known as "tabata". 

What are Tabata workouts?

A Tabata workout is a sort of high-intensity interval training (or HIIT), asking you to work as hard as possible, rest for a short period, and go again. Tabata, like HIIT, can be applied to lots of different kinds of exercise, whether it's sprints, kettlebell swings, squat thrusts or a mix of lots of different moves.

However, Tabata places huge emphasis on a very strict timeframe. When doing a Tabata workout, you must perform your chosen exercise at 20 seconds of maximum intensity. Once your timer beeps, you get 10 seconds of rest before the timer beeps and you're off for another 20 seconds. 

The aim is to complete eight rounds of 20 seconds with 10 second rest periods, which makes up a four-minute workout. It might sound easy on paper, but if you're working hard, four minutes feels like a long, long time.  

Resistance band

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Surely you can't do a good workout in four minutes?

The scientific journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise conducted a study measuring the body's response to Tabata workouts compared to sixty minutes of moderate intensity exercise, like jogging. The study found Tabata workouts worked the participants' much harder, elevating the amount of oxygen they needed to take in and raising their energy burned by 28%. The joggers, meanwhile, didn't work nearly as hard.

Yes, it's true: just four minutes of demanding Tabata exercises can actually work you harder than an hour of running. Still don't think you've got time to work out? 

Sit up

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Tabata's demanding nature means only those who are already comfortable with moderate-to-high intensity exercise should start doing the four minute workouts, while beginners should work up to it by taking on slightly less intense cardio sessions.

But for those who do want to take on the challenge to get fitter in four minutes, start here with workouts designed to test your core.