NO TIME TO TRAIN? NO PROBLEM! THESE SIX WORKOUTS — ONE FOR EACH MAJOR BODY PART — CAN BE DONE IN MINUTES.
By Alex Savva, PharmaFreak Co-founder
I admit it — trying to knock out this article this month was tough. The deadline looming, I was furiously trying to unpack from my recent move and keep up with an endless “to-do” list at the helm of PharmaFreak. Frankly, I was flush out of time, and my editor at Bodybuilding.com wasn’t interested in hearing any more of my excuses. The thing is, I know all of you can relate. Unless you’re a trust-funder leading the life of leisure, you know how life gets in the way of the best-laid plans. There’s always something that needs to get done, demanding more precious moments of your day. Suddenly, the sun has set, it’s 9 p.m. — and you haven’t even squeezed in your workout yet.
Been there, done that. And I’ve found an incredible solution, one that ensures I don’t skip my training and stay on track toward my fitness goals. How? I got creative, and combined the tenets of the Tabata cardio method with weights for fast, challenging, effective workouts that get the job done in a fraction of the time of a traditional session.
Got Four Minutes to Spare?
If you’ve read my previous articles, you’ve heard me talk about Tabata before. In May, I mentioned it in “The 4 Most Effective Ways to Burn Fat.” To recap: Tabata was born out of a 1996 study performed by Japanese researcher Dr. Izumi Tabata on a group of highly trained Olympic speed skaters.1
The research subjects performed 7-8 rounds of 20 seconds of cycling at 170 percent of VO2 max, followed by 10 seconds of rest. This short-duration workout — about four minutes, all told — was shown to be more effective for improving aerobic and anaerobic capacity compared to lengthier moderate-intensity cardio performed the same number of times in a week.
Another study published in 2013 examined repeating the basic Tabata protocol for 4 rounds with a 1-minute rest between rounds.2 During this 20-minute workout, the subjects burned 240-360 calories —not counting the boost in energy expenditure experienced for days after.
Thing is, Tabata’s benefits aren’t just limited to fat burning. The 20-second bursts are well-suited for lifting, engaging your muscles to near-maximal levels when you choose an appropriate weight — in the following workouts, I suggest you start with 50 percent of what you’d normally use to elicit momentary muscular failure in a regular 10-rep set. As you get more experience with these Tabata workouts, you can increase your loads from there.
As for your rep cadence, you’ll want an explosive (yet controlled) positive contraction, followed by a controlled negative, with no extended pauses. Your goal is as many clean, high-quality reps as possible within those 20-second segments.
Six Sample Tabata Workouts
To get the most out of your Tabata workouts, make sure you warm up well and mix in some exercises that will engage more than one muscle group at a time.
For each of the workout ideas below, you’ll do eight 20-second rounds — in other words, you’d do each exercise listed for 20 seconds, switching between each exercise with minimal delay — and take only 10 seconds of rest to catch your breath between each round. You must complete 2 circuits of the 4 exercises listed in each workout below to finish the 4-minute Tabata workout.
1 Barbell Bench Press
2 Dumbbell Flye
4 Dumbbell Flye
2 One-Arm Row (right arm)
4 One-Arm Row (left arm)
1 Seated Barbell Press
2 Bent-Over Dumbbell Lateral Raise
3 Dumbbell Lateral Raise
4 Barbell Front Raise
1 Jump Squat
2 Stationary Lunge (left leg)
3 Jump Squat
4 Stationary Lunge (right leg)
1 Standing Barbell Curl
2 Parallel-Bar Dip
3 Dumbbell Hammer Curl
4 Cable Pressdown
1 Bicycle Crunch
2 Right-side Plank
3 Hanging Knee Raise
4 Left-side Plank
The Fast Lane to Gains
The exercises above aren’t set in stone, by the way. Feel free to switch out like-for-like movements to freshen them up if you’ve used them a few times.
For instance, the barbell bench press could be replaced with an incline press, a dumbbell press, or a Smith-machine or Hammer-Strength press; the free-weight flyes could be traded for the pec-deck or cable crossover stations; and the push-up could be replaced by a dip. The key in these workouts is the Tabata protocol, and not dependent on exact exercise selection. (For alternatives on the other exercises, see “Quick Change.”)
You can use these workouts whenever you find yourself short on time — either just do one, or combine a couple if you prefer. And if you do have more than a few moments on your hands, you could get diabolical and do a full-body slam, running through each of these workouts. In that case, I’d suggest doing legs and back on the front end, arms and core on the back end.
With that said, I’ve gotta go — back to the grind #neversettle #freakmode
- Tabata, I., Nishimura, K.,Kouzaki, M., Hirai, Y.,Ogita, F., Miyachi, M., & Yamamoto, K. (1996). Effects of moderate-intensity endurance and high-intensity intermittent training on anaerobic capacity and VO2max. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 28(10), 1327-1330.
- Emberts, T.,Porcari, J., Dobers-tein, S., Steffen, J., & Foster, C. (2013). Exercise Intensity and Energy Expenditure of a Tabata Workout. Journal of Sports Science & Medicine, 12(3), 612.
Here are some alternatives for each of the exercises in these workouts:
Chin-up: Pulldown to Front, Pulldown to Rear, Assisted Pull-Up
One-Arm Row: Bent-Over Barbell Row, T-Bar Row, Seated Cable Row, Hammer-Strength Iso Row
Seated Barbell Press: Standing Barbell Press, Seated Dumbbell Press, Arnold Press, Upright Row
Bent-Over Dumbbell Lateral Raise: One-Arm Cable Bent-over Raise, Seated Bent-over Dumbbell Raise, Reverse Pec-Deck Flye
Dumbbell Lateral Raise: Cable Lateral Raise (one or both arms), Machine Lateral Raise, Kettlebell Raise
Barbell Front Raise: Dumbbell Alternating Front Raise, Cable Front Raise, Lying Cable Front Raise
Jump Squat: Step-up, Jump Up to Box, Dumbbell Squat, Barbell Squat
Stationary Lunge: Walking Lunge, Side-to-Side Lunge, Around-the-Clock Lunge
Standing Barbell Curl: Standing EZ-Bar Curl, Barbell or EZ-Bar Preacher Curl, One-Arm Dumbbell Preacher Curl, Preacher-Machine Curl
Parallel-Bar Dip: Bench Dip, Lying French Press, Close-Grip Bench Press
Dumbbell Hammer Curl: Dumbbell Preacher Hammer Curl, Dumbbell Spider Curl, Incline Dumbbell Hammer Curl, Palms-Down EZ-Bar Curl
Cable Pressdown: Rope Pressdown, V-bar Pressdown, Overhead Rope Extension, Seated Two-Hand Dumbbell Overhead Extension, Triceps Machine Extension
Bicycle Crunch: V-Up, Double Crunch, Cable Crunch, Machine Crunch
Side Plank: Standard Plank, Oblique Crunch, Decline Twisting Crunch
Hanging Knee Raise: Hanging Leg Raise, Hanging Knee Raise (holding medicine ball between knees), Lying Leg Raise (off bench or floor)