Tabata training is the hipster of the fitness world. Pioneered by Dr Izumi Tabata, it had athletes doing high-intensity intervals long before they were cool. How it works is simple: You do 20 seconds of all-out effort, then rest for 10 seconds. You repeat this pattern eight times, which takes you to four minutes. Then you find a quiet corner to curl up and cry because it is that intense.

 woman measuring her waist.

Burn fat like a furnace

Since Izumi Tabata first published his findings back in the mid-90s, numerous studies have confirmed that Tabata’s super-short, intense workouts improve cardio fitness and help you burn fat by revving your metabolism for hours after you leave the gym. In fact,  test subjects following the Tabata Protocol consistently get better cardio fitness gains than control groups doing steady-state cardio. But don’t try and train like this every day – your body needs time to recover from working so intensely, so two or three times a week max.

How it works

While the treadmill or stationary bike are obvious choices, you can use Tabata Protocol with any exercise that lends itself to intense repetitions. The trick is you have to go all out for those 20 seconds – no holding back. “This is HIT, high-intensity training – there’s no second ‘I’ in there, you don’t get rest intervals,” says Ceri Hannan, national product development manager at Virgin Active. We tested this Tabata bodyweight circuit as part of Virgin Active’s Grid Test class. The exercises are based on the seven primal movement patterns for humans, so you’re not only getting a killer cardio workout, you’re also getting full-body muscle activation.

Do it

You’ll need: A timer, a TRX suspension trainer or low bar, a box, a grid marked out on the floor (about 2m x 1.5m). Set up all your equipment in advance, so you can move between stations quickly.

Do the exercises in order. For each exercise, do as many reps as you can for 20 seconds. You then have 10 seconds to get to the next station and in position. Once you’ve completed all exercises, you’re done – literally and figuratively! Count your reps and try to do more next time.

Your moves

1 Bodyweight Row

Bodyweight row

Hold the bar or handles of the TRX with an overhand grip, palms down, arms extended. Tighten your tummy and bum cheeks to keep your body in a straight line and squeeze your shoulder blades together as you pull your chest to your hands. That’s one rep. TIP: Use a rowing machine instead and count calories burnt as your score.

2 Hand Release Push-Ups

push ups


Get in the top of a push-up position, hands in line with your shoulders, tummy and bum cheeks tight. Lower your chest all the way to the floor and briefly lift your hands. Push back up to start, keeping that body straight. That’s one rep.


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