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pic by johnthescone

The biggest challenge in starting the fitness habit is time.  People just don’t seem to have enough time to begin.  One solution is spend less time working out.  This immediately begs the question: Is it possible to get an effective workout in a short time?  The answer is an unequivocal yes.

The solution: Tabata squats.  20 seconds of all out work, followed by 10 seconds of rest, repeated 8 times.

Duration: 4 minutes.

The name Tabata comes from Dr. Izumi Tabata, a Japanese physiologist most famous for his research with Olympic level athletes.  While working with Japan’s speed skating team he developed a protocol that simultaneously maximized aerobic and anaerobic adaptation.  A study illustrates his results: A group of athletes was analyzed before training.  For six weeks they performed the Tabata protocol 5 days per week on a bicycle ergo-meter (exercise bike).  Measured again at the end of the experiment, the athletes had increased their aerobic capacity (VO2max, or how long and hard you can run) by ~15 percent as well as increasing their lactate threshold (how long you can sprint all out) by just under 30 percent!  Compare this with traditional cardio: 60 minutes of moderate intensity exercise, which over six weeks typically yields an aerobic capacity increase of ~10 percent with no effect on lactate threshold.  Tabata concluded that intensity drives adaptation.

The Tabata protocol can give you greater fitness than traditional cardio in much less time.

WARNING: Do not go all out on your first workout unless you would like to walk funny for the next couple of days!  This protocol is that effective!


Timing:  Get a wall clock, watch, or interval timer.  Even counting in your head can work (don’t worry if the intervals are not exactly 20 seconds).  Time 20/10 intervals (20 seconds of all out work, 10 seconds of recovery).  You’re finished after 8 rounds or 4 minutes.

Mechanics:  Stand in a neutral position with your heels shoulder width apart.  Your toes should be pointed slightly outward, never more than 30 degrees.  Hold your arms extended in front of your face.  This will help you monitor posture.  Slowly move your pelvis backwards just like sitting down in a chair.  Continues until your thighs are parallel with the floor.  Pause.  Your weight should be in your heels.  Can you lift your toes off the floor?  Are your knees directly over your toes?  Is your back erect?  Make sure the answer is yes to all.  Slowly rise, thrusting your hips forward until you are fully erect.  No giggling at that last sentence please.  If that entire process was comfortable then you are ready to workout.  If not repeat it while adjusting you positioning until it is.

WARNING:  Squatting can be bad for the knees IF and ONLY IF you have improper mechanics.  It is worth seeking instruction to insure you are squatting correctly.

Scoring:  At the end of you Tabata squat session, write down your score to track your progress.  Your score is the lowest number of repetitions you do in ANY of the 8 rounds.  If you do 20 squats every round, but only squeeze out 13 in last round, your score is 13.

Scaling: For those just beginning with Tabata squats aim for a score of 10-14 (doing 10-14 squats every round).  As you continue add one rep to each set on every new workout.  So if you scored 10 on Monday, and worked out everyday that week you would score 15 on Friday.  Continue with gradual increases until you’re able to go ALL OUT each round.


  • Tabata Squats will simultaneously increase your leg strength, lactate threshold, and maximal cardiovascular output.
  • Studies show it burns fat more effectively than long slow cardio!
  • It speeds up your metabolism for the rest of the day (you will burn more calories just sitting on your butt!).
  • The lactate generated will instigate a release of natural anabolic (muscle building) hormones, which will benefit the whole body.

Happy Squatting!