Tabata Workout: The Powerful 4-Minute System That Works

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Tabata Workout- Fast 4-Minute System that Works
Wellness Mama » Blog » Health » Tabata Workout: The Powerful 4-Minute System That Works

Going to the gym can be impractical when you’re a mom of littles, but thankfully there are many great workouts that can be done from home. That’s why I’m such a fan of the Tabata workout, and it just might be the perfect choice for moms on the run … pun intended!

Tabata Workout: Not for the Faint of Heart

A Tabata workout is a high-intensity workout. Although it lasts only a few minutes, it will really kick your tail. They’re perfect for those of us who don’t have a lot of time to devote to fitness but want to get in a good workout.

Note: Those with any condition that prevents strenuous exercise should not do a Tabata workout without first getting an OK from a doctor!

Is Tabata Perfect for Moms?

I get it … you’re busy! It takes time to prepare healthy food from scratch every day (What? They want dinner again? I just cooked last night!). It also takes time to make healthy cleaning products, or follow a natural beauty routine, or research how to best take care of your family. Living a wellness lifestyle is a full-time job.

But staying fit is important, too (and part of a well balanced life).

That’s why the Tabata workout is so perfect for busy moms! It only takes four minutes. Literally, four minutes and you get an intense workout.

What Is a Tabata Workout?

I’m so glad you asked. Here’s the gist: sprint hard for 20 seconds; rest for 10 seconds; repeat for a total of four minutes (generally 6-8 rounds). That’s it. Sounds simple, but this short workout can burn some serious calories.

Developed by Dr. Izumi Tabata in Japan, Tabata exercise has been found to be superior to other types of exercises. In a 1996 study done at the National Institute of Health and Nutrition in Tokyo, Dr. Tabata and his colleagues studied two groups of athletes: one group did medium-intensity exercise for long periods of time and the other did high-intensity exercise for short periods of time.

Tabata and his team observed the athletes for six weeks, and after that time, it was found that the first group increased their aerobic capacity (how long you can run) by 9.5% and their anaerobic capacity (how long you can run at maximum effort) by 0%, while the second group increased their aerobic capacity by 14% and their anaerobic capacity by 28%.

The second group showed greater improvement in lung capacity and oxygen utilization, while the first group showed only minimal improvement, thus proving the benefits of short, high-intensity training.

How to Train for Tabata (Hint: Slowly)

The Tabata regimen was originally created for elite athletes as a means of improving athletic performance. If you’re like the average mama, you may need to work your way up—train so to speak—for Tabata sprints.

You can start by doing some simple interval training:

  • Begin with longer, less intense sprints, with a longer recovery time in between.
  • Instead of 20 seconds of all-out running, try 60-90 seconds of mid-intensity running, followed by a one minute break rather than ten seconds.
  • Every few days, increase your intensity and shorten your exercise and break times.
  • Start with only a couple of minutes and work your way up to four minutes, a few times a week.

The Unique Advantages of a Tabata Workout

Burns fat – Intense cardio burns calories and melts away fat. But more than that, it may affect how our bodies process glucose, a huge contributor to belly fat. One study found that “a high amount of moderate-intensity exercise alone was very effective at improving oral glucose tolerance….” Intense exercise may help how our bodies process sugars.

Builds muscle – Tabata exercise allows gives muscles an intense workout.

Creates endorphins – Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands. They just don’t.

Highly portable – No fancy equipment or special place needed for this workout!

Short and sweet – Get your exercise out of the way quickly … a bonus for every busy mama.

Other Tabata Variations: Not Just for Runners

Armed with Dr. Tabata’s research, you can apply the Tabata exercise principle to any type of workout. In fact, cycling is one of the more popular ways to utilize the method.

Other great workouts to use the Tabata principle with:

  • jumping rope
  • squats
  • push ups
  • pull ups
  • kettlebell training
  • basically any type of exercise—get creative and have fun with it!

How to Do Tabata, Step by Step

Are you ready to give Tabata sprints a try? Remember, make sure to work your way up, starting with gentler interval training. Once you’ve done that, get ready—this intense workout will kick your exercise regimen into high gear!

Step 1: Start by stretching: You want your muscles nice and warm, because the level at which you’ll push them can lend itself to pulled muscles. Even better if you can do your workout in a warmer place versus outdoors on a cold day.

Step 2: Get a timer ready: Make sure you can easily see a clock with a second hand or have a timer handy.

Step 3: Run, Forrest, run! Run as hard as you can for 20 seconds.

Step 4: Rest: Take a breather for 10 seconds.

Step 5: Repeat: Again, run for 20 seconds, followed by a 10 second breather. Repeat 6-8 times, for 4 minutes total. (Many people, even well-trained athletes, can’t make it past 6 times. That’s normal, and, it should be noted that if you’re not struggling, you’re probably not working hard enough. Tabata sprints are meant to be difficult.)

Step 6: Cool down: Stretch again, catch your breath, and sip some room temperature water. Allow your body to come back to normalcy gently.

That’s it. The whole process should take less than 30 minutes.

How Often Should I Do Tabata Sprints?

Because Tabata sprints are such an intense workout, only two to three times a week should be plenty. You can do weight lifting and gentle exercise like yoga the other days of the week. It should also be noted that the long-term benefits and enjoyment of Tabata sprints may wane, which is why pro athletes typically do them during training seasons and not year round.

Health experts remind us:

For the majority of the population, improving longevity and general health can be done by brisk walking for 20 minutes three times a week – and doesn’t involve spending money joining a gym. (source)

It’s reassuring to know that the best health benefits come from consistent, no-fuss, moderate exercise and a varied routine.

Make Your Wellness Matter

As moms, when taking care of a family, our own wellness should be a priority. It’s easy to let my own needs go by the wayside when I’m taking care of everyone else, but there are a few things I know I should prioritize. If I’m healthy, I can keep everyone else healthy.

By taking advantage of the fast and easy exercise Tabata sprints provide, you can check one more thing off your “keep mama healthy” list.

Your turn. What’s your favorite “quick and easy” exercise routine? Ever tried Tabata before? Share below!

A tabata workout is a super-fast 4-minute high intensity program for maximum results in minimal time. Don't run? Try with kettlebells or other movement.

Katie Wells Avatar

About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.


21 responses to “Tabata Workout: The Powerful 4-Minute System That Works”

  1. Harmony Ranahan Avatar
    Harmony Ranahan

    I just did a 4 min tabata on my rebounder. I went by a lot faster than I thought it would!

  2. David Avatar

    I really do not like long workouts. This one is just 4 minutes and suits me well. Thanks for this wonderful piece of information.

  3. Kathryn Campbell Avatar
    Kathryn Campbell

    Great post, as always! The FREE & QUICK elements of tabata appeal to me greatly and there is not a single reason in the world that I can’t start implementing this routine right away. Funny enough, although I’m not a mom yet, I’ve been reading your blog for years and find it so helpful at trying to live a healthy life. Thanks Katie for all that you do.

  4. KK Stoltz Avatar
    KK Stoltz

    Your comments make me sad. You can offer your opinion (and it is just that your personal opinion) without being disrespectful. Katie does an amazing job with her research. I know because I am a certified nutrition coach with 20 years of experience.

  5. Wanda Avatar


    I am so glad I found your site. I have a low thyroid problem for which I take Armour Thyroid. My problem is my hair, I have lost a great deal, had many blood tests and biopsy done. Well, it came back that I have FFA, another form of Alopecia.

    Have any one had any success with this? I have been to several doctors w/o any luck.

    I am praying for a Miracle. In the meantime, I can hide the bald spots, but I do miss my hair.

    If anyone has used a doctor and had good results, please let me know.


  6. Cindy Avatar

    These 4 minute workouts were created in the 90’s I believe by the Russian weightlifting team. They are proven to help most people lose more weight than endurance exercise. However, if you’ve had your DNA tested, as I have, and they tell you that your DNA shows you have short-twitch muscle fibers, then these short workouts will not work for you for cardiovascular fitness nor for weight loss. For those of us with short-twitch muscle fiber DNA, we must do the old fashioned long, hard cardiovascular workouts for weight loss and cardiovascular health. Best to get your DNA tested by 23andMe and then have the results read by Toolbox Genomics anyway, as you will learn many important things about yourselves, including all the diseases you have genes for, so you can work to NOT turn on those genes. Anyway, back to this workout, everyone likes to claim it as their own and put their own name on it. I first read about it in the 90’s and it some Doctor in America wanted to make it and market it as his own so he called it the Gorilla Workout. Many people have named it many things. Here, it’s the Tabata Workout.

    1. Suzie Lee Avatar
      Suzie Lee

      Thanks for the Toolbox Genomics info, what a great site..if you’ve done 23 and me, it’s free at this time for their genetic information.

  7. Jacqie Muscha Avatar
    Jacqie Muscha

    I have found the barre routine Physique 57 to be life changing in getting my body back after baby and staying in shape. It delivers a very feminine physique. I admit that I hate cardio, jumping around, and sweating like crazy so Physique 57 has been perfect for me. I still do sweat because it is intense, but it is low impact. It does require a little more time, but it is so worth it. I’m 35, have had three children via c-section, and am in better shape then when I got married 9 years ago. I have also heard of that Mama Strong program that someone mentioned earlier and that looks good too if you are looking for quick, effective cardio, but I have not tried it. I do like that she has programs that heal the core which you will want to happen if you try Physique 57. Their ab routines are not for the faint of heart or anyone with split abs.

  8. Cassie Avatar

    I am a busy homeschooling mom of 5 kids and my favorite work out is Pilates and PIIT (Pilates interval training). I follow Casey Ho at and follow her monthly Calender. They’re short 5-10 minute videos that can be combined to make an hour. I can usually only get through 2-3 of them though which is a perfect 15 minute sweat session for me! My kids love doing them with me too!!

  9. Frankie Avatar

    Katie, I love your blog and admire you as a busy mom. I have referred lots of people to your site. I typically would not comment on anything that you write…..But I cannot sit back and stay quiet on this one.
    The Tabata workout (as shown in Dr. Tabata’s reasearch) is a VERY specific timed exercise program and yet what you described is the the common variation of Tabata known as HIIT or high intensity interval training. While both Tabata and HIIT are extremely effective fat burners they are also very different. Tabata must be 20 seconds work followed by 10 seconds rest repeated 8 times. Not so with HIIT which is ANY variation of intervals of work and rest with no specifics timing. Tabata can be any kind of exercise including things like push-ups and burpees and jumping jacks etc. You also mentioned stretching before beginning your workout and this is a very unsafe practice that has been proven ineffective and can possibly lead to injury. The research has been out for a long time. We should NOT stretch before exercise of any sort. Instead we need to do lower intensity rhythmical movements that simulate the activity we are about to do so we can gradually warm up the joints and muscles. It is best to save static stretching until after the workout so we can stretch out muscles back to their resting length.
    I would be happy to discuss this with you more since these are very common mistakes that people who are not educated in the exercise world make. I am a certified fitness instructor and yoga and pilates teacher for over 25 years. Please contact me so I can help you with future fitness posts. This post makes (sadly) me doubt your information on your other subjects. Maybe you need to outsource your fitness and exercise posts to trained professionals such as myself. Your audience deserves accurate information.
    Frankie Owens-Puglisi

  10. Virginia Miner Avatar
    Virginia Miner

    I was doing Krav Maga but it got expensive and hard to find babysitters… maybe I will try tabata. I would like to build some bulk, too; I am pretty skinny and extra fat is not my problem. Any suggestions for efficient muscle building?

  11. Darlene Avatar

    I use a free online program called Fitness Blender. This husband/wife team have posted over 600 excercies videos and programs and they often include tabata style workouts. They have done all the thinking behind which excercies to do when, warm ups and cool downs, etc. I just turn it on and follow their lead. You can also purchase 8 week programs that fit it all into a calendar for you for a reasonable price. I started this several years ago and have never looked back! I also got to throw away all those excercise programs I have pulled from countless fitness magazines!?

    1. Gwen Avatar

      I love Fitness Blender, too! Plus their clear and detailed verbal and visual instructions for keeping good form are excellent.

  12. Lawrence Avatar

    I really do not like long workouts. This one is great because it only takes 4-minute and that’s all.

  13. Alison Avatar

    I love Tabata training. It got me back into shape after my third child. There are many 4 min Tabata workouts on YouTube. My favorite is Bexlife.

  14. Jamie Zacharias Avatar
    Jamie Zacharias

    MASHUP is a live class taught at gyms (YMCAs, Lifetime Fitness, etc.) ranging from 15-45 minutes long and incorporates High-intensity intervals (similar to tabata intervals), Agility and Strength, and Mind/body (yoga/Pilates) for all fitness levels. However, there are just 15-minute digital workouts available (similar to the live class) for those that need something more on the go. Search mashup conditioning to learn more or try a few free workouts on You Tube.

  15. Maria Fenwick Avatar
    Maria Fenwick

    Momma Strong is a fantastic community of women who do the “Daily 15” – brand new high intensity workouts recorded and posted online every day. One of the best parts is all the training videos about di recti and proper form, etc. The other best part is that it’s all run by a single mom of two. She’s funny, real, and motivating. Oh, and only $2 a month.

  16. Vicky Avatar

    Hello, Katie! Is there any good fitness program out there recommended for young male teenagers? My 15 year old son would like to start doing this kind of exercise. I have found a couple on the internet but I would rather use one that is recommended personally. I would really appreciate your advice and recommendations! Many thanks.

      1. Vicky Avatar

        Ok, thanks anyway! I’ll let you know when I find something acceptable to give you a headstart on your future search!

        1. mj Avatar

          The mother of my sons (not me…), is a ‘nutritionist/fitness instructor’ and the proprietor of a CrossFit gym. She has both boys (nearly 11 and nearly 15) participate in ‘kid’ classes/workouts and competitions. They have each done so since the age of eight, on and off.

          When they are with their father and I (every other week), we do ‘farm/homestead’ chores and play hard.

          I don’t know if this is something we would seek out on our own, if it were not their mother.

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