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Tabata Workout Plan For Women: Is 20 Minutes Really All It Takes?

Holly Smith

By: Holly Smith, M.D. - Osteopathic Medicine, B.S. - Dietetics, NASM-PES Certified Trainer,

Writer, The Fit Father Project & Fit Mother Project

tabata workout plan

We’ve all been there. You want to fit a high powered workout into your day, but you’re short on time. You want a workout that is short but effective. A great Tabata workout plan is your solution!

Tabata workout planWhether it's work, family, or any other of an endless list of responsibilities, I know it can be hard to carve out an hour or more every day for exercise.

That's exactly why I want to show you this amazingly efficient workout that will work multiple muscle groups and burns a massive number of calories in a short period of time. This really does work!

What is Tabata?

Tabata is a type of High-Intensity Interval Training or HIIT. This type of exercise was born out of research conducted by Dr Izumi Tabata out of the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Tokyo.

Tabata protocol - Tabata workout planHis research compared athletes that carried out moderate-intensity workouts to those that did high-intensity interval workouts.

The study lasted six weeks total for both groups. To compare these two types of workouts, the moderate-intensity group worked out five days a week with each workout lasting one hour.

The high-intensity group worked out four days a week with each workout lasting just twenty minutes. This was broken into four ‘sets' of 4-minutes each, with 1-minute rest between.

The four-minute ‘sets' were broken down into eight 20 seconds “on” and 10 seconds ‘off' intervals.

Seriously? Only Twenty Minutes?

Now, you would think there was no way that the group working out fewer days a week, and for only twenty minutes each day would come close to the fitness gains of those working out for an hour.

20 minute timer - Tabata workout planBut in fact, the results proved otherwise.

While the moderate-intensity group had increased their aerobic fitness, they showed little or no results for their anaerobic fitness.

However, the HIIT group showed an even greater increase in their aerobic system than the moderate-intensity group. Plus they had increased their anaerobic system by 28 percent (1).

Short on Time, Big on Gains

This study showed that high-intensity interval training had a higher impact on both the aerobic and anaerobic systems.

HIIT - Tabata workout planThis is why Tabata training has become so popular.

It dispels the myth that you need to work out for hours on end to improve your cardiovascular fitness.

As long as you really push yourself to your limits during these shortened interval workouts, you can still see substantial gains.

Strength and Cardio!

There is more to Tabata training than just cardiovascular benefit. You can do pretty much any exercise you choose in the 20-second intervals.

This gives you the opportunity to train multiple muscle groups while you gain strength and lean muscle.

Calorie Killer

Any workout is going to burn calories, however the higher the intensity of the workout, the more calories you will continue to burn, even after the workout has ended.

Calories burned - Tabata workoutThis is called Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption, or EPOC for short. So if you are short on time, the key is to really up the intensity.

This ensures that even a workout that is low in minutes will be high in fat burning and strength building.

It should be noted that both continuous cardio and high-intensity intervals both produce EPOC. The benefit of intervals is that it can produce the same amount of EPOC in a shorter period of time than continuous cardio.

For example, one study showed that two minutes of sprint intervals produced similar post-exercise oxygen consumption compared to thirty minutes of continuous running at a lower intensity (2).

This is important when you have minimal time to work out but want to achieve the same fitness goals.

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HIIT vs. Tabata

So if you’re thinking that Tabata training sounds like HIIT training, you’re not wrong. It is the same principle in that you are doing high-intensity intervals.

The difference with Tabata is that the interval lengths are shorter and of higher intensity. Also, the rest periods are much shorter.

This is why your anaerobic fitness will see such a dramatic improvement.

Many HIIT workouts may have slightly longer intervals, but also longer rest periods. The HIIT workouts, in general, tend to be longer as well-usually at least a half-hour or longer.

Tabata workouts are only twenty minutes in length broken down into 20 seconds of exercises and 10 seconds of rest. The twenty minutes does not include the warm-up and cool down.

However, even with that, your total work out won’t be much longer than thirty minutes.

Sample Tabata Workouts

Here are some sample Tabata workouts to try for yourself.

Warm up - Tabata workoutsRemember to start each workout with a warm-up. This is important for all workouts, but especially those of high intensity.

You never want to start a workout with cold, tight muscles.

Your warm-up should be around five minutes. This could be a light jog, jump rope, or an elliptical.

Really whatever you feel like that day to get your heart rate slightly up and muscles warmed up.

For the Tabata workouts below, you will perform each of the exercises for 8 rounds of 20 seconds ‘on' and 10-seconds ‘off'.

You will then take a 1-minute rest before moving on to the next exercise.

Body Weight Tabata Workout Plan

Workout 1

  1. Burpees – You can perform these with or without a push-up. As your fitness increases, try adding in the push-up.
  2. Alternating Lunge Jumps – For this exercise, you start in a lunge position. Lower your back knee toward the ground in a lunge while keeping your front shin as vertical as possible. Do not let your knee track over your toe. Push explosively off the ground, jumping and switching the position of your legs while in mid-air. Land in the lunge position with the opposite leg forward. Repeat, switching legs on each jump.
  3. Mountain Climbers – Start in a push-up position. Engage your abs as you bring your right knee to your chest and then straighten it back to the starting position. Then bring your left leg to your chest and back again. Repeat this as quickly as possible for the 20 seconds.
  4. Push-Ups – These can be standard width, wide width, or military push-ups.

Workout 2

  1. Tuck Jumps – Begin with your knees slightly bent. Hold your hands in front of you, palms down with your fingertips together at chest height. Dip into a quarter squat and immediately explode upward. Drive the knees towards the chest, attempting to touch them to the palms of the hands. Land softly with slightly bent knees.
  2. Bicycle Crunch – Lie flat on the floor with your lower back pressed into your mat and legs bent into a tabletop position. Rest your fingers behind your head but do not pull on your neck. Engage your abs and extend the right leg while turning the upper body to the left. Bring your right elbow towards your left knee. Twist at the ribs and lead with your shoulder rather than your elbow. Alternate sides as if riding a bicycle.
  3. High Knees – This is basically just running in place, but try to bring your knees up to the level of your waist. Really engage your abdominals as you do this.
  4. Spiderman Push ups – Start in a standard pushup position. As you lower your body toward the floor, bring your right leg out to the side and try to touch your knee to your elbow. Return to the starting position, and repeat with your left leg.

Kettlebell Tabata Workout Plan

Choose a light weight that will allow you to complete the full four minutes.

  1. Two-Handed Kettlebell Swings – Start with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Place your arms in front of your body and use both hands, palms down, to hold the kettlebell. Slightly bend your knees into a squat position. Explode up and drive your hips forward while swinging the kettlebell forward and up to shoulder height. Lower the kettlebell back between your legs in a controlled manner and repeat.
  2. Two-Handed Kettlebell Squat and Press – Stand with feet slightly wider than hip-width apart and hold a kettlebell in front of you. Squat down and then explode up while at the same time pressing the kettlebell above your head. Return to the starting position and repeat.
  3. Kettlebell Figure 8’s – Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, gripping the top of the kettlebell handle with your right hand. Bend your knees slightly, then hinge forward at the hips to bring the kettlebell between your legs. Bring your left hand behind your body and under your butt to meet the weight, and hand it off. Stand back up as you pull the weight from the left side of your body to your chest. Bring your right hand to meet the weight at the top of the movement. Then use your left hand to again bring the weight between your legs and hand it off to your right hand behind you. Keep alternating the movement, essentially threading the weight between your legs like a figure 8.
  4. Kettlebell Bent Over Rows – Hinge at the hips to bend forward, keeping your back flat. Hold the kettlebell handles with your palms facing in. .Lift the kettlebell to your rib cage, engaging your back as you pull. Pause and lower back down.

Mixed Equipment Tabata Workout Plan

  1. Box Jumps – Stand in front of a box with your feet shoulder-width apart. Start with a low height at first. Bend into a quarter squat, swing your arms back, then swing them forward and explode up off the ground. Land on the box as softly as possible with feet flat and knees slightly bent. If you land in a deep squat instead of a quarter squat, you should choose a shorter box. Jump back down and repeat. You can also step back down one leg at a time if this move is new to you.
  2. Battle Rope Waves – Hold the ends of the battle rope at arm's length in front of your hips with your hands shoulder-width apart. Slightly bend your knees and engage your core. Raise and lower each arm explosively with the ropes. Keep alternating arms for the 20 seconds.
  3. Jump Rope – Jump rope as quickly as you can for 20 seconds. You can do just standard jump rope, or do another variation to challenge yourself. For example, double-unders, or single leg jump rope.
  4. Russian Twists with Dumbbell – Sit on the ground with your knees bent and your heels about a foot from your butt while holding a dumbbell in both hands. Lean slightly back without rounding your back. Twist slowly to the left, bringing the weight to your left side. Then rotate to the right with the weight. Continue alternating sides. Make sure you are using your abs and not just swinging your arms. You can do this with your feet on the ground, or you can hover the feet above the ground for an added challenge.

These are just a few examples of what your Tabata routine might look like.

At first, it might sound like 20 seconds isn’t much. But if you truly do as many reps as possible with only ten short seconds of rest you will quickly realize that 20 seconds never seemed so long.

You can combine really any exercises into a Tabata workout plan as long as you follow the general guidelines of 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off.

After each workout, you should always include a cool down and stretch.

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Just Twenty Minutes To Fitness

Tabata workout plans are really great to incorporate into your fitness routine. Tabata training is a wonderful option on days when you're strapped for time.

Since the workouts are of such short duration, and many can be done without equipment, there's never an excuse to miss a workout!

Tabata training is also something that can be done at home, which is another way to fit exercise into a busy schedule. Plus there are great health and fitness benefits.

High Intensity, High Rewards

HIIT and Tabata will both provide you with substantial health benefits.

High Intensity ExerciseHigh-intensity interval training has been shown to produce similar calorie-burning potentials over 24 hours compared to a longer bout of lower intensity endurance exercise.

This is despite being much shorter in duration (3).

There are numerous different combinations of Tabata workout plan that you can put together yourself. This will ensure that you are always challenged and never bored with your workout.

Adding a Tabata day or two a week to go along with the Fit Mother 30X program is an awesome way to step up your fitness gains. Life can get busy, but a short Tabata workout plan can fit into almost any day!

Your new friend & health coach,

Holly Smith
Writer, The Fit Mother Project

Holly Smith is a board-certified physician specializing in internal medicine and nephrology with a bachelor's degree in dietetics.

A strong interest and passion for health and wellness, Holly is also a NASM certified personal trainer with a performance enhancement specialization.

Holly enjoys long-distance running, competing in Ironman triathlons.


(1) – Tabata, Izumi & NISHIMURA, KOUJI & Kouzaki, Motoki & HIRAI, YUUSUKE & Ogita, Futoshi & Miyachi, Motohiko & YAMAMOTO, KAORU. (1996). Effects of moderate-intensity endurance and high-intensity intermittent training on anaerobic capacity and VO(2max). Medicine and science in sports and exercise. 28. 1327-30. 10.1097/00005768-199610000-00018.

(2) – Hazell TJ, Olver TD, Hamilton CD, Lemon PWR. 2012. Two minutes of sprint-interval exercise elicits 24-hr oxygen consumption to that of 30 min of continuous endurance exercise. Int. J. Sport Nutr. Exerc. Metab. 22(4): 276-283 Medline, Google Scholar.

(3) – Skelly LE, Andrews PC, Gillen JB, Martin BJ, Percival ME, Gibala MJ. (2014). High-intensity interval exercise induces 24-h energy expenditure similar to traditional endurance exercise despite reduced time commitment. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab.39(7):845–848.

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If you’re a busy mom who wants to finally lose weight, get healthy, and actually keep the pounds off for good, this is the simple program you’ll love sticking to…

Our Fit Mother 30X Program (FM30X) is the answer you’ve been looking for. Inside FM30X, you’ll receive:

  • The simple & delicious Fit Mother Meal Plan with easy recipes for you and your family.
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  • VIP email coaching where we’ll personally walk you through the program.
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