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I bobbed and weaved through five years of working sixty hours a week without gaining weight or losing my fitness level.  You may have even less free time due to work, family, or other responsibilities.   If you’re time-poor and want to get fit take the time to learn Tabata, one of my top tools for the time-constrained.

When I accepted a management role on a critical project for my company, I quickly realized I had to manage the downside risk on my health.  The hours would eat me up and spit me out five years later as a young, old-man otherwise.  I joined a YMCA by work that was open until 10 pm.  That allowed me to get a quick workout in any night of the week I had to work late.  I continued my marathon Saturday and Sunday workouts at the Upper Darby Gym the first couple years before I started CrossFit.  This post is about Friday.

After working twelve hour days four days in a row, do you want to workout on Friday night?  Me neither.  I also don’t like many “off” days.  Enter Tabata.

On Friday morning after rolling out of bed, I’d perform one, two, or usually three Tabata exercises back to back to back.  In less than fifteen minutes, I completed my exercise goal for the day and felt a little happier.  Plus, I eliminated any stress from rushing to get to the gym at the end of a long week.  

My normal Tabata routine is three or four exercises focusing on legs, upper body pushing and pulling movements, and core.  My staples are Squats or Burpees, Push-Ups, Pull-Ups or Inverted Bodyweight Rows, and Double Crunches.  

Now when someone asks me, “what workout can I easily do when I’m short on time?” my answer is – Tabata.  Simple.  Fast.  Effective.  


Tabata is named after Izumi Tabata who published a study in 1996 showing that high-intensity interval training improves aerobic and anaerobic capacity better than moderate intensity endurance training.  Read the full study here.  They performed the tests on an ergometer with the high-intensity intervals structured as 8 sets of 20 seconds of exercise followed by 10 seconds of rest for 4 minutes total.

Pre-Tabata Preparation

  • Download a timer app or get a stopwatch and use the notes in the Appendix at the bottom of the post.
  • Choose your standard exercises using the guide below.  I’d stick to one or two workout variations to keep it simple.
  • Get exercise bands if you plan to perform any banded movements in the Beginner section below.
  • Get dumbbells or a kettlebell if you want them for Squats, Rows, or Pressing movements.  
    • You can get a single set or if you have a hole burning in your wallet, grab these or these.  While you’re are it, grab a set for me too :)
  • Get a Pull-Up bar if you plan to do Pull-Ups or Bodyweight Rows.
    • j/fit Pull-Up Bar – This option is good if you want a bar that doesn’t need to be affixed to a door and you have a doorway you can mark up since it leaves black marks.  


Tabata Exercise and Workout Examples

  • Sample Tabata Video
    • This video shows an example of two Tabata exercises, push-ups and crunches, followed by one final set of push-ups.
  • Beginner Workouts
    1. Partial Squats, Banded Row, Modified Push-Up
    2. Step-Ups, Squat Thrusts, Planks
  • Intermediate Workouts
    1. Squats, Pull-Ups, Push-Ups
    2. Lunges, Burpees, Double Crunches

Handling Time Constraints

Choose the number of Tabata exercises from your routine based on how much time you have and your energy level.  Remember, any Tabata is better than no Tabata. 

Time AvailableNumber of Tabata Exercises
5 Minutes1
10 Minutes2
15 Minutes3
20 Minutes4

Appendix – Written Tabata Routine 

  • I recommend using a Tabata app as noted above, but you can use the text below as a substitute.
  • For each exercise:
    • If you have a Tabata timer, start the timer.
    • Perform the exercise for 20 seconds.
    • Rest for 10 seconds.
    • Repeat 20 seconds on and 10 seconds off seven more times for a total of eight sets.
    • Note – You can break earlier than 20 seconds if needed, but your goal is to work up to 20 seconds straight.
  • After each exercise, immediately start the next exercise or take a one-minute break if needed.
  • Advanced Tip – Establish a high number of reps during the first of your eight sets.  Then try to hit that number for each of your remaining sets.  It’s close to impossible on some exercises (ex. Push-Ups), but you’ll get a better workout.  
This is a diagram of performing 1 Tabata exercise with the colors showing the increasing intensity level and effort required required from left to right.