Imagine a fitness routine where you do one exercise, in short, all-out spurts, and after four minutes you call it a day. That, in a nutshell, is Tabata, an early form of High-Intensity Interval Training developed in the ’90s by Japanese scientist Izumi Tabata at the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Tokyo. Tabata was looking for an abbreviated workout to prep Japanese speedskaters for the Olympics, but as it turned out, his method of 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off, multiplied by eight, is a formula with superb results for millions of everyday exercisers.
The key? Push. Hard. Tabata workouts are efficient because they constantly force your heart rate above its 85 percent max threshold: A study from the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse found that the average Tabata exerciser’s heart rate reached 86 percent of its total capacity during these workouts, helping you not only burn more calories but build more muscles than your average treadmill session.
Technically speaking, a Tabata session is complete after just one round of 8 x 20 seconds, or four minutes. But to get a more robust workout, we recommend stringing together four moves that all emphasize core strength — the fancy term for abdominal muscles — for a 20-minute program.
Follow the routine below, which you can do at the gym or in your living room, and feel your belly begin to de-bulge.
They’re often considered a move for the biceps and triceps, and while they will add some serious ripples to your upper arms, push-ups also give your abs a major workout since your core serves as a stabilizing force for the movement. Do as many as you can, as fast as you can, for 20 seconds. Rest for 10 seconds. Go again for 20 seconds. Complete 8 sets of 20 seconds hard/10 seconds rest.
Rest one minute. Sip some water, catch your breath, wipe your brow.
2. Twist Jumps
Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Drop into a deep squat, twisting your torso and arms far to the right as you do. Release arms and torso back to the left as you jump in the air and do a half-rotation to the left. Drop, twist right, jump left again. Do 20 seconds of twist jumping right to left. Rest for 10. Do the next 20 seconds of twist jumps in the opposite direction. Switch sides two more times for 8 sets total.
Rest one minute. Take deep breaths. Try to relax, you’re half-way done.
3. Reverse Pulses
Sit-ups are good for a lot of things, but to really activate those deep abdominal muscles you want an exercise like this one. Start sitting on the floor, legs in front of you, knees bent, feet tucked under a heavy chair for support. Pull your gut toward your belly button and lean back about 45 degrees. Stretching your arms in front of you, begin to pulse up and down as fast as you can (moving about 2-3 inches in either direction), aiming to lean a little further back with each pulse while keeping your abs contracted. Go for 20 seconds. Rest for 10. Do 8 sets.
Rest one minute. Reach your arms overhead and arch your back, giving your abdominal muscles a good stretch.
4. Mountain Climbers
We saved the hardest for last! Kidding… they’re all hard. You’ll definitely feel the proverbial burn with this final exercise. Get down on the floor in an extended push-ups position (legs and arms straight). Engage your core and hold your upper body as still as possible while you raise one knee to your chest, then jump it back in place while raising the other. Alternate legs and “jog” your knees to your chest as fast as possible for 20 seconds. Rest for 10 seconds. Do 8 sets.
That’s it! Be sure to drink plenty of water and stretch gently to prevent muscles from cramping up on you. Repeat this routine 2-3 times a week and (with the help of a healthy meal plan) you’ll start to see results in a few weeks.