The 4-Minute Miracle Workout (That Really Works)


By: , SparkPeople Blogger
  :  149 comments   :  289,314 Views

Tight on time?

Don't give up on your workout today. If you have a mere four minutes—that's just 240 total seconds—to spare (and who doesn't), then you do have time to squeeze in a super effective workout that provides major health, fitness and weight-loss benefits.

What is this 4-minute miracle workout?


Tabata is a specific style of interval training that has you alternating between:
  • 20 seconds of the highest intensity you can handle (all-out effort)
  • 10 seconds of total rest (no movement)
You repeat the 20-second "hard" intervals and 10-second "recovery" intervals for a total of eight rounds, which equals just four minutes.
Research shows that athletes who performed these specific time and intensity intervals saw significant increases in fat burning, increases in metabolic rates, and improvements in cardiovascular fitness that were comparable or better to exercisers who go for longer, more sustained workouts.
While no one would recommend that you swap out that hour on the treadmill for a four minute workout all the time, Tabata intervals are easy to incorporate into your existing cardio plan or a way to squeeze in a workout that still makes a big difference if you're really short on time. Personally, I'd recommend no more than three Tabata-style interval sessions per week (along with the inclusion of more traditional and longer-lasting cardio workouts).
Here are some ideas to help you incorporate Tabata intervals into your workouts.
  • ON THE BIKE: Sprint with high resistance for 20 seconds, then recover with leg speed as slow as possible for 10 seconds. Repeat for a total of four minutes.
  • ON THE TREADMILL: Sprint as fast as possible for 20 seconds, then recover by walking or standing still for 20 seconds. Repeat for a total of four minutes.
  • WITHOUT EQUIPMENT: You can do "all-out" efforts of jumping jacks, burpees, mountain climbers, box jumps, jumping rope, high-knee jogging in place—any activity that gets your heart rate up will work for 20 seconds, followed by 10 seconds of total rest. You can stick to four full minutes of one move OR alternative between a few. It doesn't matter what you're doing—as long as you are pushing yourself to your highest possible intensity. Repeat for a total of four minutes.
  • OUTDOORS: Run or sprint (on a flat or up a hill) for 20 seconds, then recover by coming to a complete stop. Repeat for a total of four minutes.
  • ON DVD: Check out these titles by one of my favorite fitness trainers, Amy Dixon: "Breathless Body"  has countless rounds of no-equipment-needed Tabata drills that will Kick. Your. Butt. Her newest title "Breathless Body Volume 2: The Edge" is now available and follows a similar format. I cannot wait to try this one myself!
The great thing about Tabata is that YOU control the intensity of your intervals. You go as hard as you can feasibly go—that's what it takes to get the benefit. So even if that is 20 seconds of power walking, you're doing it right. Cater it to your own level.
As a standalone workout, Tabata is great way to fit in a nice fitness challenge (and calorie burn) when you're too busy to do anything that takes longer than 5-10 minutes. It gives you a big bang for your fitness buck.
And as a way to up the ante of your regular workouts, try incorporate a 4-minute round of Tabata 1-3 times a week into your runs, walks, or other cardio workouts to take your fitness to the next level. It could be just the thing you need to bust that plateau and start seeing the pounds drop off again.
Have you tried Tabata-style intervals before? Will you try them now? What is your favorite way to push yourself during interval training?

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  • 99
    You download music that has the 20/10 timing built in. It really helps me. - 6/18/2013   3:14:07 PM
  • 98
    Who doesn't have 4 minutes? I've got to try this :) - 6/11/2013   2:10:03 PM
  • 97
    I am going to try this. Sounds amazing and have never heard about it before here. Thanks for the info - 6/9/2013   10:49:23 AM
  • 96

    Also know as 'Surge training' - 6/4/2013   8:31:53 PM
    Reading this is perfect timing. In June I will be on a 6000 mile trip while helping son relocate with his family. I plan on fitting this exercise into stops at rest areas. - 5/30/2013   1:45:32 PM
  • 94
    Great to know! - 5/29/2013   3:31:47 PM
  • 93
    Great information. - 5/26/2013   8:52:14 PM
  • 92
    I'm a big fan of interval work, including HIIT. I love getting into my anaerobic 'zone'. My HIIT intervals are usually 8 or 9 @ 30 sec sprint + 60 sec recovery. Although I have been practicing high intensity interval training for some years, I have yet to do more than 4 @ 20 sec sprint + 10 sec recovery which is Tabata. I'm aiming to do 8 sets. That 10 seconds is no time to recovery at all! When I start my next sprint, still winded from the last sprint, going full steam, I feel like my heart is going to explode. I do a 12 min warm-up and a 12 min cool-down with Tabata training. I use those 12 minutes of warm-up entirely to psych myself up for what is about to happen. Holy Moly! - 5/26/2013   5:19:48 PM
  • JLRIV781
    I've been doing this at work during my bathroom breaks. It helps to refocus before sitting back down at the desk. - 5/26/2013   2:44:43 PM
  • JMB369
    Great idea. My DH just came home from the hospital after major surgery, and my exercise time is almost nonexistent. I will definitely give this a try as a temporary plan, and who knows, might incorporate it into my exercise schedule after life is back to normal. - 5/26/2013   8:47:20 AM
  • 89
    This is new to me! This old gal is going to try it!!! - 5/25/2013   9:51:02 PM
  • 88
    Interesting! Never heard of this before. I think I will try it.

    cj - 5/25/2013   11:23:31 AM
  • 87
    I will definitely try this! I'm not going to ditch my other exercises, but three times a week to shake things up when I'm at work and need something to do with the remaining 5 minutes of my break. This is just what the doctor ordered! - 5/25/2013   9:56:21 AM
    I started doing Tabata twice a week this year with my co-workers from school. Since school is now out we are on our own for summer. Our PE teacher gave us several tabata workouts to do over the summer break. It is a great workout. - 5/25/2013   7:01:36 AM
  • 85
    Hmmm. Okay - I will give this a try. I don't want to do to much jouncing - creaky bones & joints, but I could do it on the stationary bike. - 5/25/2013   7:00:07 AM
  • 84
    I love Tabata! Nothing whips the body in shape like Tabata! - 5/24/2013   6:15:10 PM
  • 83
    This almost seems too good to be true. But, I will try it and see. - 5/24/2013   12:02:06 PM
  • FEYAH12
    I do tabata at my gym and we go through the four minute circuit at least 4 times, normally 5. I highly recommend it when you need a change in your routine. Most people do continue to do other exercises afterwards but like HOJO24 mentioned, its a great way to get your entire body energized and ready to go. - 5/24/2013   11:44:47 AM
  • 81
    Love Tabata!!! Thanks for posting! - 5/24/2013   11:41:12 AM
  • 80
    I like the Tabata drills because who doesn't like getting a workout over and done with in 4 minutes. I actually downloaded some Tabata tracks on I-Tunes that does the count down for you. - 5/24/2013   11:16:17 AM
  • JONICA18
    I was recommended this workout by my fitness trainer instead of my 6-7 mile daily runs. I will tell you that it is intense I have done 10.0 speed on treadmill and done this without weights. I also will say that this is not the only workout I do and after Im done the 4 minutes I definitely feel like I need to do more. At least try it! - 5/24/2013   11:08:21 AM
  • 78
    Please don't forget to include a warm-up and cool down if this is all your are doing. And, yes, this will make the routine last almost 15 minutes. However, you can't go from sitting on the couch to full-out sprints or burpees. It is an invitation for injury to work muscles that hard without a proper warm-up. - 5/24/2013   10:59:33 AM
  • 63NGOING
    Since you cannot record seconds on the fitness chart, I did the 20/10s on my bicycle and recorded 4 minutes of fast and 1 minute of slow riding. That's as close as I could come to tracking this exercise. Not a great calorie burn. ;=) - 5/24/2013   10:16:39 AM
    Have to give this a try. - 5/24/2013   9:44:17 AM
  • 75
    I've never heard of it, but I'm willing to do it! Thank you for the info. :) - 5/24/2013   9:23:12 AM
  • 74
    BUT ------how do you log this on the fitness tracker? It's not listed. - 5/24/2013   8:57:36 AM
  • 63NGOING
    How do you log this on fitness track? - 5/24/2013   8:54:17 AM
  • 72
    I am going to try this now on my "rest" days. - 5/24/2013   7:57:28 AM
  • 71
    Tabata works but is not for the casual workout enthusiast. If you've never done this type of exercise, you should build up to it. To reap the true benefits, you need to give an all-out effort for the 20-second work period. Please use caution and do a little research before diving in. Be well! - 5/24/2013   7:31:20 AM
  • 70
    Great info. Going on vacation for 10 days in a month and have been concerned about diet and exercise. Already planned to take a resistance band with me for resistance training, but was concerned about cardio. This might be perfect! - 5/24/2013   7:17:10 AM
  • 69
    Just did my first tabata workout. It was intense but did not require a lot of time to get a great sweat! Will try it again and love the ideas of how to incorporate into my everday routines.. - 5/8/2013   1:42:54 PM
  • MADSEN56
    I do twist to the sides while swinging my arms down and then up to the sky, last 5 seconds I start to step in place, then rest 10 seconds, then start side stretches. Have helped from keeping me bored. I change it up and add different sets. - 3/7/2013   7:58:53 PM
    I work out at CrossFit and Tabatas are part of the types of workouts we do. Interval training is the foundation of what we do there. - 7/15/2012   9:57:14 PM
    I like it. I am getting off the couch now!!! - 7/15/2012   7:40:09 PM
    I tried it out two days ago. I had 20 minutes in the morning but did not fancy saddling up and going out for a run or hopping on the elliptical (everyone was in that room!!!).
    On youtube I found a woman called Bex who did 11 or so tabata videos. She picked four types of exercises for each video and made a circuit training session out of them. Well, I admit the first video was not really a challenge so I did 3 in a row. Now that was, although overall my heartrate was only 124 with a couple of max 153s. On the other hand I've been seriously feeling my thigh and bum muscles.

    Verdict: useful but like with everything mix it with other types of activities. You won't get slim if you do 4mins of tabata 3 times a week.

    for beginners, I really recommend Bex's videos.
    for false beginners like me, videos are good, make more of them or try to push yourself HARD during the one you do.
    for more fitness savvy people who know what sweats them - just pick your own and push yourself hard during those intervals.

    I'd recommend a heartrate monitor, tabata is about pushing your limits - I certainly wasn't pushing mines though I was sweating and I could feel working out. But still, it wasn't 85%.
    apps: loads of free tabata music videos and android apps are around, so you don't have to watch the clock! - 7/15/2012   10:44:11 AM
  • 64
    That's really interesting! I have never heard of tabata before, but now I can't wait to try it out. - 7/15/2012   3:30:34 AM
  • 63
    Sounds great, and we can all find 4 minutes in a day, but I've never heard of coming to a complete stop between intervals. I thought it was advised to at least keep the feet moving a little--No? - 7/14/2012   9:35:43 AM
    I recently saw an exercise video for quadriplegics that was very effective and presented four people in chairs to follow. Do you have/know about any such taped program for paraplegics or quads. We are all confined to wheelchairs and found this type of program effective and fun too. There are over 50 in my group who would benefit. Perhaps a Tabata type program using upper body exercises only. Thanx for any info. - 7/13/2012   5:52:08 PM
  • 61
    I start my work week at 6am with a class. I love it !!!! - 7/13/2012   4:56:42 PM
  • 60
    Will have to try this. I may try to work in a minute or two of Tabata on the exercise bike between the sets of my workouts. - 7/13/2012   2:02:39 PM
    Standing still after full-blown sprints? If you say so...

    It's also not advised for true beginners - work up to it! :) - 7/13/2012   1:06:43 PM
    It sounds quite intense but a good method of finding time to exercise. Maybe i will start with two mins first, - 7/13/2012   5:05:20 AM
    There is a program called "20 second fitness" I found it on the Web. He takes you trough daily workouts in this style. He has models that demonstrate different fitness levels. - 7/13/2012   3:26:54 AM
  • ELYSE2012
    My spinning instructor started incorporating a Tabata cycle, 4 minutes in a 1 hour class about 2 years ago and I really felt the difference after 2-3 months. They became easier. Then I started doing this with running, after the first 10 minutes of regular run.
    I noticed that after that interval I felt much better and was less out of breath for the rest of my run. So for the whole summer I went more often for a 30 minute run including a Tabata cycle than the previous 3 times a week 1 hour run. Come fall, when I rejoined my running group, I was in even better shape than in the spring.
    It is very powerful. And the 20 second full out is not always as intense, some days, I'm more tired but the 20 sec of pushing harder makes a difference anyways.
    In the class and runs, I never stop completely for the 10 sec rest, just a slow pace.
    I've seen videos with weight training and Tabata. To me that can be dangerous for injury because with using weights and over stretching a joint is a possibility and I think then the moves are more efficient if done well slowly than more times quickly.
    So it's a great add-on to a routine - 7/13/2012   12:05:09 AM
    Tabata,never heard of it so am wondering what exercise I should do for the four min.??I have not worked out in years but need some exercise and this sounds interesting.I am 70yrs. old and in pretty good health! - 7/12/2012   5:50:17 PM
  • 54
    I have done it in the past...and it certainly kicked my butt, I was dripping sweat and saw results. I want to get back to it...and this article is the motivation. Thank you. - 7/12/2012   3:47:10 PM
  • MARTY32M
    I'm 80 years old with heart disease and I hate exercise. I do Tabata training because it's like an exercise pill: unpleasant but quick. I take two 5 lb. dumbbells and raise and lower them from as low as I can reach to as high as I can reach as fast as I can, about ten times in 20 seconds. That engages the whole body so I can do maximum effort. I time it with a big clock app on my computer screen. My heart rate can go higher than my maximum heart rate is supposed to be. The 10 second rest period is supposed to be no movement? I'm breathing hard. I have something like a four day cycle: Tabata, rest, weight lifting, rest, then back to Tabata. Unless I do some hard physical yard work, and that delays the cycle. I got into Tabata slowly. At first I got too tired to continue after just two rounds (one minute), then three rounds, then four, and then after some time off I decided I could do the full four minutes. - 7/12/2012   2:57:01 PM
  • 52
    This workout literally kicks your behind!!!
    I currently do it twice a week and absolutely love the sense of accomplishment after each session.
    I would also suggest that you do a 5-6 warm-up before the actual Tabata Training session and a 5-6 cool-down session afterwards.
    - 7/12/2012   1:31:37 PM
  • 51
    Everyone should have 4 minutes to do one of these! I think I can fit that in each day - perhaps as a morning pick me up to get me going - thanks for the reminder of Tabata! - 7/12/2012   1:23:39 PM
  • 50
    nice, little four minute work outs randomly through out the day will do something a little extra and it'll be fun to have that burst of positive thinking if anything. - 7/12/2012   1:16:12 PM

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