Ah, Tabata. The mere mention of the word is enough to quicken the breathing of the initiated. And if you’re not one of those initiated, trust us when we say it’ll take just four minutes to really understand their reaction.
The Tabata protocol involves working all-out for 20 seconds, then resting for ten seconds, for four minutes in total. It’s a great way to spike your heart rate and is a feature of many HIIT fitness classes as a result.
This particular full-body workout has been created by Ben Leonard-Kane, the founder of fitness studio Flykick. It’s a taste of the warm-up and high-intensity portions of a signature Flykick class. Turn up to its location along Euston Road in London to experience the mobility, kickboxing, core and relaxing warm-down elements.
“Standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, hinge at your hips, keeping your legs as straight as possible and roll forwards to place your hands on the floor,” says Leonard-Kane. “Walk your hands forwards until you’re in a high plank position, then slowly walk your hands back to your feet and roll back up to starting position.”
Lumbar rotation with glute bridge
“Lying on your back, raise your knees to your chest, bending them at 90°,” says Leonard-Kane. “From this position rotate your knees over to the right-hand side of your body as far as possible while keeping your shoulders on the ground. Hold them here for two seconds, then rotate over to the left-hand side as far as possible and hold for two seconds.
“Bring your knees back to the middle, then plant both feet on the ground. Lift your hips off the ground until your knees, hips and shoulders form a straight line, squeezing your glutes and engaging your abs throughout the movement. Hold this position for two seconds, then lower yourself back to the ground.”
Reverse lunge with knee drive
Reps 10 each leg
“Step backwards with your right leg into a lunge and drop until both knees are bent at 90° with your right knee just off the ground,” says Leonard-Kane. “Make sure your front knee doesn’t go past your toes. Drive off your front leg and come back up to standing, and keep bringing your right knee all the way up to your waistline like you are sprinting. Return to standing and repeat the same movement on the left side.”
Prisoner squat with rotation
“Stand with your hands behind your head, gently squeezing your shoulder blades together,” says Leonard-Kane. “Squat down until there is a 90° bend in your knees. Keep your heels on the ground throughout the movement. As you push through your legs to stand back up, rotate your torso to the left, pivoting on your right foot to get a gentle twist through the spine. On the second rep rotate to the right, changing direction with each rep.”
This workout consist of four Tabata-style circuits, each lasting four minutes and targeting a variety of muscle groups, with the focus being your lower body in circuit 1, upper body in circuit 2, cardio in circuit 3 and core in circuit four.
“Doing HIIT workouts like Tabata doesn’t just improve strength and burn fat – it improves your cardiovascular system as well,” says Leonard-Kane.
“For each circuit perform exercise A for 20 seconds, then rest for ten seconds. Then perform exercise B for 20 seconds, then rest for ten seconds. Work through four cycles of this for four minutes of work in total. After each circuit rest for one minute before going on to the next one.”
Most exercises have an easier regression listed in case you’re finding it too tough. A few have harder variations if you need the extra challenge.
Circuit 1: Lower Body
1A Jump lunge
Lunge forwards on your right leg and drop until both knees are bent at 90°. From this position drive off your front leg, engaging your glutes on that side, and leap into the air, swapping your legs so you land in a lunge on your left leg.
Regression: Reverse lunge
1B Prisoner squat jump
Stand with your hands behind your head. Drop into a squat, then drive back up and jump into the air.
“Keep your shoulder blades gently squeezed towards each other and the weight on your heels throughout the movement,” says Leonard-Kane.
Regression: Prisoner squat
Circuit 2: Upper Body
2A Triceps dip
Face away from a bench and hold the ledge with your hands shoulder-width apart and your arms straight. Dip until your arms are bent at a 90° angle, then push back up.
“Keep your lower back close to the ledge to avoid putting too much strain through your shoulder,” says Leonard-Kane. “Make sure you fully extend at the top of the movement to elongate your triceps.”
Regression: Bend your legs more to decrease resistance
Progression: Straighten your legs to increase resistance
2B Wide press-up
Get into a press-up position with your hands wider than shoulder-width apart. Drop your chest towards the ground, then push back up.
“Having your hands wider than shoulder-width apart targets the muscles in the chest, rather than the triceps again,” says Leonard-Kane. “Focus on slow, controlled movements getting your chest one inch from the ground on each rep.”
Regression: Place your knees on the ground
Progression: Clapping press-up
Circuit 3: Cardio
From standing, squat down, place your hands by your feet and jump your feet back into a press-up position, then jump your feet forwards again, stand up and jump into the air.
“When transitioning from press-up position to standing, place your feet outside your hands to take the load off your lower back,” says Leonard-Kane. “And don’t forget to squeeze the glutes and push your pelvis through at the top of the movement.”
Progression: Burpee to tuck jump
3B High knees
Run on the spot, bringing your knees up towards your chest.
“Ensure your legs come up to waist height with every step, engaging your lower abdominals in doing so,” says Leonard-Kane. “Use your arms to help you generate momentum, as if you were sprinting.”
Circuit 4: Core
Lie on your back with your legs extended and your arms by your sides. Simultaneously raise your shoulders off the ground and lift your legs, keeping them straight to form a V-shape. Lower almost all the way to the ground.
“Ensure you fully extend your legs with every rep to engage the lower abdominals,” says Leonard-Kane. “Do not let your shoulders touch the ground in the lowering phase of the movement.”
Regression: Plant your hands behind your torso to stabilise yourself but keep the movement of your legs the same
4B Single-leg jackknife
Lie on your back with your legs straight and your arms extended back behind your head. Lift one leg and raise your torso off the ground at the same time, bringing your outstretched arms towards your toes. Then lower and repeat with the other leg.
Regression: Scissor kick
Progression: Do not let the resting leg touch the ground
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Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.