Can you really get a workout in 10 minutes?

Matte und Kettlebell

One of the most common excuses we make about why we can’t work out is our full calendar. We just don’t have time to go to the gym and to go through our routine or to get there during open hours.


There’s just nothing you can do about that – that’s what some are thinking right now, with relief. To all who are secretly satisfied with this situation, this post will surely mean nothing. The truth is that a short and effective workout can fit into every schedule. And I really mean EVERY schedule.


A wise man once said – I’m sorry, I don’t remember who anymore – that we never have too little time for something. Every day has 24 hours. The only question is how you set your priorities. But that is a topic for another day.


So how does such a quick workout function, and how effective is it?


Short and Sweet?

Although many trainers believe that short workouts can only be effective as a supplement to regular, longer sessions lasting about an hour, others are convinced that short, intensive sessions can have the same effect. One of these people is Dr. Tabata. In 1996 he published a now fairly well-known study in the prestigious journal Medicine and Science in Sport and Exercise, in which he compared the effects of moderate endurance training with short, high-intensity interval training over a period of 6 weeks.


For the study, he divided the participants into 2 groups:


  • Group 1: one hour of moderate-intensity endurance training on a stationary bike, 5 days a week
  • Group 2: a high-intensity Tabata (4 minutes), 5 days a week


In group 1, the maximum oxygen uptake did increase (by about 5 ml/kg/min). This represents the amount of oxygen that is available for aerobic energy production (endurance at moderate intensity). The anaerobic capacity (endurance at high intensity), however, did not increase. In group 2, the increase in oxygen uptake was greater than in group 1 (about 7 ml/kg/min), and the anaerobic capacity increased by 28%, as well.


The Tabata Principle

One Tabata is extremely simple. It lasts 4 minutes and consists of eight 20/10 blocks. A block consists of 20 seconds hard work and 10 seconds recovery. Usually, a Tabata is completed using two or four exercises that alternate in the work phases.


It is important to choose exercises that really are hard. Arm circles alternating with short walks are likely very relaxing, but will not lead to the results that Dr. Tabata found. Instead, you should do strength training or intensive cardio. For instance, you can complete a Tabata with short sprints while jogging outside or cycling. Bodyweight strength exercises also work well, like push-ups, squats, lunges, sit-ups, Burpees and many more.


In the end, you don’t need to limit yourself to the times that are suggested for a Tabata. The basic principle consists of high-intensity intervals with short rest periods, so the heart rate stays nice and high. This means that you could extend the work phases to 30 seconds or even 1 minute and, for example, could then also slightly increase the rest time. The basic principle is flexible.



  • Short term: activation of the cardiovascular system and metabolism
  • Intermediate term: increased fat burn up to 24 hours after exercising
  • Long term: increase of aerobic and anaerobic performance


Listen to your Body

The choice between short, high-intensity workouts and longer, moderate-intensity sessions is not only a question of time, but also personal preference. While some can really unwind on kilometer-long runs, others find it extremely boring. Although we should all sometimes step out of our comfort zones in order to achieve success and to make progress, when thinking long-term, it is important to find something that is at least a little fun. Otherwise you run the risk of throwing your own plan overboard and of constantly being unhappy with yourself.


One word of caution, this with a wagging finger: If you haven’t been working out, or are older, you absolutely should consult a doctor before starting high-intensity training like that of Dr. Tabata. You will push your body to its limits, which, under certain circumstances, could be bad for your health.


The bottom Line

It is definitely possible to have an effective workout in 10 minutes and therefore, it is possible to fit it into every day. The excuse of not having enough time could ease your conscience, but you shouldn’t let it. You can fit two to four Tabatas into any time gap. This will help you nurture and get the best out of your body, either as an addition on a stressful day, or as a regular component of your fitness program.




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.

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