What if I told you – in my lowest faux-Morpheus voice – that you don’t have to sweat hours on a treadmill. In fact, those wasted hours are often why you later binge on food.

It’s time to do exercise smarter, faster and more efficiently.

Enter the 4-minute workout

Every client I introduce to the active lifestyle tends to slip back into their comfort zone. This doesn’t surprise me, since we spend the majority of our days trying to achieve our career goals, and leaving little time for anything but sleep and recovery.

If you tried to create more time to get that sixpack or just lose weight, you could hit a wall quickly. Where would you even take the time from? So the alternative is clear: to achieve your fitness goals you need to exercise efficiently, completing faster and more powerful workouts. Pushing yourself to your limit in a short time.

All of these requirements are described by the fitness industry as High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). HIIT helps both amateur and pro athletes in several ways: to increase their endurance, mitochondrial ATP response (or energy production) and to increase the length of time after exercising when you’ll burn extra calories[1].

Sounds perfect, right?

Let’s dive into specific workout plans you can do today to unlock the benefits of super-short, intense workouts.

Tabata Sets

Back in 1996 Prof. Izumi Tabata studied the training of a skating team competing at the Olympics. His intention was to increase the team’s aerobic capacity.

Prof. Tabata assumed that aerobic capacity could be increased by training in 8 cycles of ultra-intense but short bursts of movement (at 170% of your VO2Max, i.e. your body’s maximum physical effort based on oxygen intake) supersetted with short rests. He was right. This style of exercising could take you further in a week than any other cardio. You’ll be faster, better and any extra fat will come off more quickly.

Since Prof. Tabata’s research, various versions of his training protocol have been created. However, the most common Tabata protocol:

8 sets of 20 sec bursts followed by 10 seconds of rest (work to rest ratio: 2:1). This totals exactly 4 minutes.

tabata-breakdown-timing

Fat loss really is this simple.

If you maintain your usual calorie intake, you will gradually lose weight by spending just 4 minutes a day exercising.

Now that you know how and why this works, let’s dive into more nitty gritty side of how it’s done:

 

Step #1: Decide on the perfect exercise.

Use calisthenic and plyometric (bodyweight movements) e.g. squats, pushups, pullups or if this too easy – get a kettlebell.

Bodyweight Tabata

Here you can alternate those bodyweight movements throughout the protocol, for example:

  • 20 secs of super fast pushups
  • 10 secs of rest
  • 20 seconds of super fast squats
  • 10 secs of rest
    and so on…

If you not sure which movements to include, pick one you are already familiar with from the list below:

  • Burpees
  • Jumping Jacks
  • Pushups
  • Pullups
  • Crunches (bicycle, full body extensions etc.)
  • Squats (regular or jump squats)
  • High knees
  • Lunges (walking lunges, jumping lunges)
  • Sprint runs
  • Plyometrics (box jumps, vertical jumps)

 

Please note that you should master your bodyweight moves (perfecting your form) before you move on to using extra weight like kettlebells.

 

Get a kettlebell

Kettlebell conditioning hiitThe kettlebell swing is an all-rounder among exercises. It makes for a good tabata workout and it helps you build a tree-trunk strong core, durability and coordination. The best part about kettlebells is that they take your at-home workouts to another level but can be stored anywhere. They’re also relatively cheap.

People tend to either overestimate or underestimate their strength thus choosing a kettlebell too big or too small. To avoid injuries go to the store and try it out in person – even better try to do 10 swings (as pictured) to understand if this is challenging enough for you – remember you’ll be doing 8 sets in just 4 minutes.

How to do a kettlebell swing:

how to do kettlebell swing

How to perform a simple kettlebell swing

 

Step #2: Timing the Tabata

As highly driven achievers we tend to love automation. Thus counting seconds might be the least resourceful option out there. Gladly there are some premade playlists, which you can freely access via the click of a button.

Personally I use a Tabata playlist available on Spotify. We’ve no affiliation with this playlist, but it’s one of the best guided tabata soundtracks and it’s available in various genres (from house to deep orchestra). To access it, just search ‘tabata songs’ in your Spotify or click the link below:

It helps you to focus on your form and exercise so you can make those 4 minutes count.

Step #3: Mix it up and stay consistent

This will be the hardest part.

Your body will get lactic (this is the painful burn you experience after high-intensity bursts) and will sweat more. Prepare for the heart rate to elevate close to your working maximum. If you are an older person and fear for your well being – simply reduce the intensity.

Another challenge I faced and you will too is the tedium of doing this exercise everyday. Because of the small commitment value of just 4 minutes, you might not be as motivated to do this daily. I battled with this myself. Back in the day I simply didn’t take tabatas too seriously – I overate after the sessions and simply exploited this amazingly sounding fat burn protocol.

What works best to help you do tabatas regularly is:

  • Doing different movements in your tabata sessions. No consecutive days can have a repetitive patterns, like doing push ups and squats every time.
  • Do it no matter what. Even if I was full of food, too tired or too sleepy, it had to be done. One of the ways to work on this is to introduce an accountability partner, who will help by monitoring your progress and consistency.
  • To get an accountability partner, recruit a friend, family member or even a stranger and share your goals with them. If it helps, you can make the accountability reciprocal by having them commit to something in exchange. Every workout you miss, you have to call them (no texts!) and confess. Doesn’t sound too pleasant, does it? That is exactly why you’re more likely to stick with your commitment.

 

To sum up, this is probably the best exercise hack I’ve encountered for physical well being and fat loss. It covers a lot of problematic areas but diet and nutrition still play an important role to decide how successful it will be for you. Nutrition is especially important for building muscle, losing fat and changing your body’s composition.

You’ll see great results if you combine tabata workouts with eating clean. However, if a flat stomach is your only goal, you can simply go on as you were in terms of diet, instead focussing on maintaining your regular tabata workouts. The fat will then trim gradually.

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References
[1] The two best ways to build endurances without destroying your body – Ben Greenfield Fitness: http://www.bengreenfieldfitness.com/2013/03/best-ways-to-build-endurance-2/