Tabata workout - no equipment needed!

Got four minutes? That’s all you need to build muscle and improve your fitness and weight loss with Tabata training.
Published 29 October 2015 | Updated 12 June 2024

Tabata is a form of HIIT (high-intensity interval training) named after Japanese scientist Dr Izumi Tabata, who found that short, vigorous workouts had big effects on losing weight and building muscle. His plan is genius – it lasts from just four minutes, combining cardio and resistance training. The structure is: do any exercise as hard as you can for 20 seconds; and rest for 10 seconds then repeat.

What you need

You don’t need specific equipment for Tabata training, but if you have a skipping rope, dumbbells, a barbell, a sturdy step, a punching bag or gloves, then use them. Otherwise, heavy bottles of water can work too.

The plan

A four-minute Tabata workout includes eight rounds of any one exercise, so choose one of these, or a few to mix it up. As you get fitter, work up to 24 rounds, which will still be a short 12-minute workout. Since Tabata is high-intensity exercise, you need a good base level of fitness to start.

1. Step-up with bicep curl

Want to work your arms and legs at the same time? This is the move for you.

How-to: Stand behind a sturdy bench, step or stair with a dumbbell in each hand. Leading with your heel, step up with your left leg and keep your whole foot on the step. Bring your right foot up to meet the left as you curl the dumbbells up. Then straighten your arms as you step down. Swap the lead leg and repeat.

Step-up with bicep curl

2. Skipping

For a full-body cardio workout, skipping is a winner.

How-to: Jump 3-5cm off the floor, leaving just enough space between your feet and the floor for the rope to slip under. Keep your elbows close to your sides as you turn the rope and make sure the movement comes from your wrists and forearms rather than your shoulders.


3. Lunge with bicep curl

Work your legs and arms with this exercise.

How-to: Holding dumbbells at your sides, step your right foot forward and bend your knees until your right thigh is almost parallel to the floor and your left knee is almost touching the floor. As you lunge down, curl the weights up towards your chest. Return to the start position and repeat on the other side.

Lunge with bicep curl

4. Lunge with shoulder press

This works your lower body and upper body, including your shoulders and arms.

How-to: Stand up straight with your feet together, holding a barbell just above your shoulders. Step your left foot forward, bending your knee so it’s stacked over your ankle. At the same time, press the barbell over your shoulders, without leaning or bending at the waist. Lower the barbell back to the start position as you bring your left foot back to meet your right foot. Repeat on the other side.

Lunge with shoulder press

5. Boxing

Build strength in your core and strengthen your arms with a simple boxing move.

How-to: Stand with your left foot in front of your right. Punch your left arm forward – at a punching bag if you have one – as powerfully as you can, keeping your hips facing forward, then punch with your right fist. Pivot on the ball of your right foot as you punch. Do one set with one leg forward. Then swap legs.


Before starting any new exercise routine, make sure to check in with your doctor.