4-Minute Tabata Workouts Burn More Calories—Here's How

Don't let the treadmill thumpers fool you. It only takes four minutes to fire up your fat burners.

Image courtesy of John Balsom/Trunk Archive

Don't let the treadmill thumpers fool you. It only takes four minutes to fire up your fat burners.

No, this isn't an infomercial, we're just excited about the Tabata Protocol, the high-intensity interval training method that requires going all out for 20 seconds, resting for 10, and completing the entire bout eight times for a grand workout total of just four minutes. Done right, it's ridiculously difficult, potentially vomit-inducing, and more effective than you can imagine. According to research by Izumi Tabata, the Japanese scientist for whom the protocol is named, itty bitty four-minute Tabata workouts can increase your aerobic capacity, anaerobic capacity, VO2 max (maximal oxygen consumption), resting metabolic rate, and help you burn more fat than a traditional 60-minute aerobic workout.

Seriously—how's that possible? First, a quick biology lesson: Your body turns food into energy through three metabolic systems—two anaerobic and one aerobic. Steady-state cardio primarily puts the aerobic system to work, and even traditional interval workouts typically only hit two systems, says personal trainer Mike Donavanik, CSCS, CPT. "Most people never hit all three energy systems because their intensity is never high enough."

That's where Tabata's all-out intervals come into play. Performing at top effort is the only way to highly engage the third metabolic pathway, the phosphagen system. So by alternating sessions of max intensity and rest, you can tax all three energy systems in four minutes flat. And besides burning more calories during your workout, tapping the phosphagen forces your body to consume more oxygen—and burn more calories—for hours even after you leave the gym.

Still, that doesn't mean you should shorten your sweat sessions to four minutes a day. After all, besides de-pudging, you probably want to add some muscle mass to your frame, says Donavanik. That's why he uses Tabata-inspired workouts to end his classes at Crunch and Equinox in Hollywood. "It's that point in a workout where you're exhausted and want to quit, but boom—here's one last thing to finish you off. It makes you push harder and finish stronger."

Are you ready to crank things up a notch? Here, Donavanik shares how to turn your favorite fitness routines into four-minute fat-frying workout finishers.

Strength Training

Complete each exercise for 20 seconds, rest for 10, then move on to the next exercise. After completing all four moves, repeat for a total of eight rounds.

Dumbbell Squat to Press

Bodyweight Squat Thrusts


Mountain Climbers


Set the speed to what you know as your true all-out sprint. Sprint at that speed for 20 seconds, then carefully jump onto the sides of the treadmill and rest for 10 seconds. (Reducing the speed to rest takes too long and can throw off your work/rest ratio.) Repeat for a total of eight rounds.

Rowing Machine/Bike/Elliptical

Set the resistance to a medium/medium-heavy level. Go as fast as you can for 20 seconds, then pause for 10. Repeat for a total of eight rounds.

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